Back in the days before broadband internet, YouTube and Facebook, my parents enforced a strict “screen time” policy on my brother and me. They had a plethora of reasons for the decision, chief among them the need for me to “rest my eyes” and “focus on homework.” I didn’t see the sense in it when I was a kid, but I have since started to wonder if they might have had a point.
Nowadays it would seem ludicrous for anyone, even a 10-year-old, to spend only 30 minutes looking at a screen. Technology has infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives in the last 20 years — from our pockets to the office to our classrooms and even our refrigerators.
While surely there have been great technological advances in a variety of areas, it seems like the biggest change in lifestyle for our generation has been in the quantity of entertainment we consume, especially visual entertainment. Thanks to smartphones, the amount of time we spend on things like streaming TV shows, mobile games and social media is staggering.
I have nothing against watching TV or playing games; in fact, I’m currently halfway through season one of The Flash. But I’ve come to realize that I’ve got to put strict limits on the amount of media that I consume. Why? Well, because I’ve got better things to do.
We as Christians (and all people, really) are here on this earth for a purpose. We all have work to do, people to bless and light to shine. Hours spent consuming media, alone and away from others, are hours that we lose carrying out what we’re called to do.
No doubt, rest is also important, and different people rest in different ways, including those who veg in front of screens. Also, entertainment is a great way to engage with culture and is helpful in developing relationships with people who might think that Christians are hopelessly out of touch with reality. So I don’t think the solution is to cut all media from your life, but rather to make sure you can control it. That looks different for everyone, but here are some of my personal guidelines:
1. Don’t keep your smartphone in your bedroom overnight.
I originally did this because I didn’t want to be awakened by calls when I was sleeping, but I have since realized that it also removes any temptation to watch YouTube or browse Facebook because I “can’t sleep.”
2. Decide ahead of time why you’re going to look at a screen.
I watch YouTube for certain types of news, and I watch that news while I’m traveling to work. I watch TV when recovering from ministry events and thus need to rest my voice (I talk too much when I’m out with people). And when I’m doing cardio, a good TV show distracts me from how much my legs hurt. Know why you’re going to be looking at a screen, and it will help you keep healthy boundaries around how much you’re watching.
3. Use your boredom as motivation to do something important.
Keep a list of things that you need to get done, and when you feel bored, go do them. I’ve been on several media fasts in my life, mostly for one-month periods. Those were some of the most productive and spiritually fruitful times of my life. Instead of pulling up a show, getting on YouTube or stalking people on Facebook, I would fix up the house, run some errands or (gasp!) do additional quiet time.
Life is too short and our calling too important to be constantly glued to a screen. Let’s wisely make the most of what God has given and live our lives fully for His glory and the good of those around us.
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NLT).