screenager3gimp‘Mom, can I have a new phone?’

‘But you have a phone’

‘No, I want a real phone’

Ahh, she means a smart phone with all the video, pictures and internet access not just a flip flop thing that makes phone calls.

‘Why do you want a smart phone honey?’

‘Because I’ll be cool…Because I’ll be connected with everyone...Because I’ll have something to do in awkward situations.’

Our church youth group organized a full cinema screening of ‘Screenagers’ to support parents in their job of raising kids in a screen dominated world. The film is a documentary made by an American (or was it Canadian?) mum who is a doctor and concerned about the health impacts on children, especially her own.

With three kids, all with iPads that have internet access at home, plus the creep or shall we say, ‘pressure’, toward functioning smart phones as they get older, we decided to go see the film as a family. I’m glad we did. Here's what you're missing out on...

Boys and screens versus girls and screens

Some things were unsurprising. Like what girls use screens for versus boys.

As someone who does a bit of substitute teaching to pay the bills, I can tell you straight up that kids are constantly on screens. They’re use is swamping the classroom, providing a never-ending cycle of distraction, unless we confiscate the damn things. Oh, and when you do, then they carry on like you just amputated their arm and 'it was mum texting me anyway, sir'. Yes mum, you are always texting your child during class according to your kids.

What are your boys doing with their screens? Boys are on the screen to play video games while girls are stuck on social media, like Instagram. And it’s not just the occasional swipe away from what they’re supposed to be doing. Oh no. Its addiction. Our kids are becoming totally addicted to the distraction of playing with their screens to keep at that silly little game or that feed validation or comparison with someone else’s life or body.

‘Because I’ll be cool…...’

OK we all understand cool. Peer pressure, being part of your group, doing and having what you friends do and have is really important to teenagers.

But this does raise the question of how much you want your child to be influenced by peer pressure. Do you want your child to be a sheep, following the flock off the cliff or do you want them to build some independent mindedness and resilience?

‘Because I’ll be connected with everyone…’

Being connected kind of makes sense. After all this is how people are keeping in touch now. We don’t use land lines. We don’t use emails to say ‘Hi’. We don’t use letters. We don’t drop round…not even if it’s across the playground. You can understand your child feeling left out of the social loop without a smart phone. But there’s a whole lot more baggage that comes with having a smart phone and being part of the social loop through the phone.

‘Because I’ll have something to do in awkward situations...’

But the third one, ‘having something to do when it’s awkward’, don’t you just cringe!?

Isn’t this the ‘thing’ of our time.

People are face down in a screen, even if they have nothing to look at.

Yet so many of us do this…we’re waiting in line to get a ticket or buy petrol and out pops the phone just, so we can fill the 5 seconds of wait time with screen-time, so we don’t feel stupid for having nothing to do with ourselves except wait our turn and buy our ticket.

No more day dreaming on the train station. No more looking for someone to talk to at a party. Heck no…you just pull your phone out and you have insta-friend. You’re big. You’re popular and You’re big and popular because, well, look you have a screen and it needs you.

Feeling Awkward? = Social skills 101

If you’re feeling awkward it’s probably an opportunity to step up, say hello, day dream, pray, sing in your head a great tune, reflect on your life, observe the world, smell the flowers. It’s a skill, being present. Isn’t mindfulness the big ‘self-development’ industry buzzword at the moment?

Removing any opportunity for awkwardness means that our kids:

-Won’t learn social skills. They’ll lose the ability to look someone in the eye. Relationships will suffer.

- There’ll be no downtime in their life, no air. Instead of allowing minds to rest, recover, rejuvenate they’ll be filling every dull moment with screen time and dare I say it but their mental health will suffer.

The Virtue of Self Control - A gift of the Holy Spirit

A key finding of the documentary was the value of learning self-control

One of the key qualities needed for success it seems is self-control.

Researchers explained in the documentary that the learning of self-control is a key contributor to success. Those that do not learn self-control, perform far worse.

Now self-control isn’t a particularly popular notion these days is it? Nobody is allowed to tell no-one, nothing about limits on their life. Yet, go to the Scriptures and we see that one of the most important outcomes of keeping in step with God’s Spirit is self-control (Galatians 5 or 6).

Here, with screen usage amongst our kids we have a big opportunity to teach our kids one of the fruits of the Spirit that will greatly enhance their life ahead.

Self-control is needed so that kids learn the skill of saying no and choosing what to do with their time.

So, it’s not about taking the screen away or telling our kids off, its about helping them to develop ‘backbone’ and priorities for self-care and personal growth. They need to own it and see the benefits of it…and they’ll need the Holy Spirit to really pull it off.

The addiction to screens is impairing our kid’s ability to succeed socially and academically.

Screens are creating addiction. The pleasure centre of our kids undeveloped brains is being hard wired to return time and time again to seek out the reward of the game, the insta-life, the likes, the loves, the thumbs up.

Our kids are getting dumber

Experiments were conducted with rats to determine the effects of screen light on the rats’ ability to perform tasks. The outcome showed that the rats with no exposure to the screen light outperformed the rats that had been exposed. They also discovered something quite disturbing…that the impact of the screen time for the rat’s brains was permanent. Yes, they were permanently disadvantaged, and so will our kids be if we don’t help them develop self-control in the use of their screens.

But the solution probably isn’t to remove screens.

Our world has changed. Screens aren’t going away and our kids will need them to work and perform jobs in the future.

What are we doing?

We still don’t let our kids have social media.

We also discourage our kids from playing games, though it isn’t hard having girls instead of boys.

If they have a phone it’s text and call only and no internet access outside the home.

We’re also looking at limiting their time on screens through apps that time them the iPad usage on internet tv programs at home is a little off the scale.

We can also set the example for our kids by not being hypocritical and making sure we don’t make the same mistakes.

We should keep clear eye contact and not be distracted with a screen when talking to our kids or partner.

We shouldn’t use devices in the bedroom. (This also sets the example of using devices in public not private, so content can be observed by others)

The doco also showed how families came up with other activities for their kids to do after school so they weren’t sitting around with screen time baying for their fingertips.

Here’s a summary of what the Screenagers doco recommended considering changing for your kids:

  1. Don’t allow screens in the bedroom of your kids, make sure they’re in view.
  2. Limit the time usage per day
  3. Encourage face to face interaction with family and others
  4. Discourage them from using it just to cover ‘awkward moments’
  5. Encourage other activities with family, friends like hobbies, music and exercise, so that it gradually ‘weans down’ the amount of screen time.
  6. Parents must also set the example with usage, screen in bedroom and avoiding being distracted while talking to their kids.


For more info about screenagers go here:

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