I’d like to take a moment and consider the word binge. According to Webster’s dictionary, a binge is “an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence.” Another definition is “an act of excessive or compulsive consumption.” Of those definitions, I find the word “compulsive” to be the most significant and the most frightening. The implication is that if I’m binging, I literally cannot stop myself.
When I was a kid, the word had an inherently negative connotation, and was typically associated with food or alcohol. Modern technology has changed all of that. Netflix, and other streaming mediums, have very much changed how we consume entertainment, and how we discuss it. We laugh about how we may binge a new TV show, or YouTube channel, or video game.
At our house, after the kids have been put to bed and the long hours of two full-time working parents start to fizzle out, we often use Netflix, et al., for detoxing our day. The problem I find is that when I intend to take a short break, maybe an hour (or an episode), suddenly I’ve watched four and it’s well past when I should have gone to bed. And those papers I needed to grade now need to be squished into tomorrow’s responsibilities. I almost always regret my choices and wonder what kind of example I am setting for my kids. (Do as I say, but not as I do.)
We’ve all heard about the literature for what technology does to the brain, specifically children’s brains. It has been studied and documented to negatively affect their growth and development…but I didn’t need that empirical evidence because I have watched it firsthand.
After two separate week-long stays in our local children’s hospital, my eldest daughter was early-diagnosed with asthma at 18 months old. Prior to this, TV wasn’t really a part of her life. She never seemed interested in it, and since we basically have strong emotions of disdain for most kid-themed music and cartoons, we never really pushed the issue. But post-diagnosis, she was required to sit still for 45 minutes of breathing through a nebulizer, sometimes more than once in a day. If you have ever attempted to get an 18-month-old to sit still for 5 minutes, you’ll understand the dilemma we faced.
TV quickly became integral to this process, and initially we were watching educational shows (hello, Baby Einstein). By the time she was two, she could contentedly sit through the first half of The Sound of Music, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or Mary Poppins in its entirety.
Fast forward a few years and television is now engrained into our family function. We routinely would all sit in front of the TV first thing in the morning (especially weekends), while eating, or as the final slow-down from our day (like my frequent nighttime Netflix binges). Some days, all of the above.
We also had a very temperamental and strong-willed 3-year-old with, it seemed, anger issues.
One day her behavior went too far too many times and she was “grounded” from TV for an entire weekend. I won’t lie to you and say that it was easy to hold our ground. Her initial tantrum was of epic proportions. That Friday night was awful, and eventually she cried herself to sleep. The following day, when we would normally have watched some cartoons in the morning, we saw another monster tantrum. By that evening, we could tell she was starting to lose some steam. Sunday was a glorious day that was not only tantrum-free, but also was generally a good day. After this, she didn’t even ask to watch anything for several weeks.
The change in her behavior was palpable. We could see immediate reactions to any exposure to television or electronics. When we used a movie or short TV show as a reward, it almost always backfired into bad choices and tantrums. Even now, the same behavior vortex has proved true with phones and tablets as well.
We see that when Grandma comes over and hands her an iPad (which we don’t do), in less than 30 seconds she becomes so zoned into what she is doing that I often have to physically remove the device from her grip to bring her back to the real world. This is true even if her screen time is educational or artistic in nature.
Removing technology from both of our daughter’s lives has been a change for the better. We do watch TV together sometimes, as special treats…and of course when they are sick it can help to stave off the boredom. But we have never once regretted adding a layer of separation from what my childhood friend calls, “The Great Life-Waster.”
I’m not naysaying the value or opportunity that is possible when technology is correctly utilized. I’m not saying we should never let our kids near a screen. But my observation has been that it can easily control us more than the other way around.
At our elder daughter’s recent 6-year checkup, the doctor wanted to confirm that she was getting “less than two hours of screen time a day.” We were surprised. That seems like a lot for a six-year-old. But when I sit back and think about my own methods of daily detox, or exposure to “screen time” in general…I almost always exceed the two-hour mark.
Does my marriage benefit from those three hours watching Game of Thrones, or could we have used that time to sit outside and actually talk? How present was I while “playing” with my kids? That probably depends on whether or not I had my phone out the entire time. Did I sleep better or worse as a result of falling asleep while scrolling Facebook or Twitter? The list goes on.
Perhaps I should start holding myself accountable to the same restrictions that I have for my kids. I think the mere act of asking myself these kinds of questions (however uncomfortable I may find them) is a good place to start.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on digital technology from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.