Media has changed so dramatically over the years that knowing how to navigate it for my own kids feels overwhelming. No longer is “screen time” confined to the TV in the living room. Screens are everywhere – they are even in our pockets.
The average time American children spend in front of a screen is conservatively pegged at four hours and 41 minutes per day. That’s 33 hours a week. Increased screen time has been linked to obesity, violence, over-consumption and learning disabilities. The secular community sees and decries these negative effects. But how should the Christian parent respond? Should we aim to beat the average? Should we ban screens from our homes? I want to suggest three points for Christian parents to consider in navigating the role of media in their homes.
All media communicates a message. Every song, show, movie, video and app has something to say. Not all media messages are harmful, but many conflict with the greater message Christian parents are charged to communicate. Children have limited ability to recognize and interpret media messages and need parental involvement to screen, filter and interpret them.
Most parents know to dodge obviously bad media messages like sex and violence. But watch out for subtle messages like imitative behavior: Children are often socialized by fictional characters. Even if a program is rated age-appropriate, ask yourself if its characters behave in ways you want your children to.
Most of us would never allow our children to talk to a stranger – we would certainly not invite a stranger into our home to teach our children his worldview. But unmonitored screen time can do just that. Talk about media messages. Limit, supervise and share screen time to ensure that your worldview remains intact in the hearts of your children.
On average, parents spend 38.5 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their children. Screen time sabotages a climate of conversation in the home; it steals eye contact and mental focus from people and places it on screens. When screens hover around the dinner table, dominate car trips or fill up potential moments of boredom, they rob our families of sacred spaces where conversations develop.
Deuteronomy 6:7 commands parents to “teach [the commands of the Lord] diligently to your children, [talking] of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” In a world where media walks with us every step of the day, parents must discipline themselves and their children to value face time over screen time.
Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Advances in modern medicine have added to our days: Between 1909 and 2009, life expectancy in the United States rose from 51 years to 78 years. That’s an impressive gain of 27 years. Now think about this: If a child who begins watching four and a half hours of screen time a day at age 4 maintains that amount of screen time to the age of 78, guess how much time he will have spent consuming screen media? That’s right – 27 years. Christian families cannot afford this wastefulness.
Number your days and the days of your children rightly (Ps. 90:1-17). Give them the gift of face time over screen time. Give them the gift of an uncluttered mind and a heart of wisdom open to receive the most vital message of all: the gospel of Christ, given through the gracious media of the Word and the Spirit.