I’ve had it with screens. Computer screens, television screens, smartphone screens. Screens on toys, screens in homes, screens in restaurants, screens in stores. Wherever you go, the screen is never far away, threatening to lure you in and squander your time in a parallel universe where communication appears limitless even though real human interaction is non-existent.
Screens are like a magnet for our attention. Televisions in restaurants vie for our gaze no matter how much we love our dinner date; and it doesn’t take long to observe how much power the smartphone has over the virtue of self control.
Technology is wonderful in many ways. It allows us to keep in touch with long distance friends. It allows my children to see their grandparents who live on the other side of the country without ever stepping foot outside our door. It helps us grow in knowledge, and even helps us gain inspiration for more fully embracing our faith.
But how do we maintain a proper balance between the use of technology and the love of our human relationships? How do we ensure that ipods, smartphones, and computers are not interfering with the reception of God’s voice?
“Temperance is simply a disposition of the mind which binds the passion.”–Thomas Aquinas
We must remind ourselves often of what our real passions are. I love God and I love my Catholic faith. I like to read about my faith in books, and on Catholic blogs and websites. But this is no replacement for time spent in prayer–for time spent just being with God. I love my family. I love my kids, and I am passionate about leading them to heaven. I like to read books, blogs, and Facebook pages that inspire me with ways to do this. But their journey to heaven can only begin when I spend time teaching them, loving them, and simply being with them.
Technology has its time and place. It’s even a wonderful tool for a bit of respite from the demands of everyday life. But it exists only to enhance what God calls us to do. It is not who we are.
“The things that we love tell us what we are.”–Thomas Aquinas
I am seeking to convey this truth to my children by the way we manage our screen time in our home. We have had days when I’ve been ready to literally throw all screens out the window. However, I recognize that technology is a part of our world, and it is up to me to teach my kids how to use it with temperance and prudence. Hence, the “unplugged” rule.
There is now a sign hanging in a prominent place in our home that reads, “Screens Are…” and just below it, space for a sign that reads either “Open” or “Closed”. This applies to the entire household, although some leniency is granted to adults who have legitimate “boring” work to do on a screen.
This rule is simple, clear cut, and easy to manage in a household of seven. It conveys the message that there are times to be plugged in and times to be unplugged. It allows our entire family to be available and in tune to one another at once, rather than always having one person who is using his or her “screen time” for the day.
This rule allows us to relate to one another, to work through disagreements together, to learn who we are through each other, and to give space for God’s voice to be heard.
Establish household technology rules that work for your family’s schedule. Monitor what your children are doing during their screen time. Model moderation of technology to your children and they will follow your lead. Establish your own set times that you will respond to e-mails, answer texts, and check your Facebook page. Then shut down and turn it off. Spend the rest of your day soaking up this glorious world God gave us. Truly be present to your kids and spouse and show them that they are, indeed, more important to you than that screen you’re holding. Because when the screens are closed, our hearts are open–and that is the kind of reception with which we should never interfere.
You can find some helpful resources here, including the slides from Lisa Hendey’s presentation “Raising Faith-Filled Families in the Digital Age” that I heard recently at the Midwest Catholic Family Conference.