Slaying Summer Media Dragons

We’ve tried on all different types of armor to fight the beast.  The thing is… we have a love-hate relationship with the dragon.  We all have our favorites.  While I am glued to my laptop (except for my mandatory sabbatical until my new hard drive arrives), my teenage son struggles to manage his time with the Xbox and Ipad.  For the girls its the good old television which beckons from the basement to them within 10 minutes of their waking in the summer.

Over the years we have tried many things to help us reign in the time suckers that distract us from engaging in shared family time.  Not only can media keep us from spending time together, it has the potential to do harm to our souls depending on what we are ingesting.  Just as some substances can poison our bodies, some words and images (especially at tender ages) are toxic to the spirit.  Psalm 101:3a says, “I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar.” (NLV)  In the NASB is says, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” 1 Corinthians 14:20 also says, “Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil.” I’m not even going to go there with Philippians 4:8, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Yikes…

For this gal who is fascinated by crime shows, these verses bring conviction.   Where is the line between taking some leisure time to watch a good story unfold and exposing my mind to the vile and vulgar?  I find other things less dark can also lead me to places of lust(I wanna be skinnier), jealousy(I wish my home looked like HGTV), and the more subtle deadening of my conscience through repeatedly watching and listening to things that our offensive to my Savior.  However, I don’t believe the answer is to smash the remote.  Rather the issue is with my own fingers making the decision of channels, time management, and finding the OFF button.

We’ve taken many different approaches to curbing our media appetites.  They’ve all served their purpose for a time.  Some of them have been:

  • Taking a month fast from TV.
  • Only allowing our kids to watch shows we had DVR’d so we had control over the quality of the programming.
  • Cancelling cable altogether and just watching library movies.
  • Requiring all Ipods, Ipads, and Cell phones to hit the charging station on my dresser by 9pm.
  • All hand held technology is purchased, maintained, and kept up with by our children so we aren’t responsible to buy and protect it.  However, we maintain the secret Itunes password so all purchases run through the parental grid.
  • Taking a media-free day on Sundays. (This September an article I wrote on this topic will appear in Lifeways’s ParentLife magazine.)

All of these things helped us.  However, when we cancelled cable, we ordered Netflix and began to consume show after show.  Unless we plan to become Amish, media will be a part of our lives and our children’s as well.  Not only do we need to help our children discern the messages coming through the screens, we also have to help them know when to hit the off switch.  (How is it so entertaining to help plants kill zombies for hours on end?)  I don’t believe they will learn their own limits by us controlling every media minute.  When they leave our home and have no more timers in every room and parents hovering, it could be a media feeding frenzy if they never learn for themselves.

One morning I found my son reading in the living room.  He had a friend over the night before and they had fried their brains on Xbox.  He said he felt gross and unproductive like he’d wasted the whole evening.  I smiled and told him I knew how he felt and then encouraged him to remember this feeling next time his friend came over to think about making some plans to vary their entertainment hours. Some things they have to learn for themselves.

Many years ago I read Scream Free Parenting by Hal Runkel.  My biggest take-away had to do with raising children who learn how to self-monitor.  “If you want your children to become self-directed adults, you have to face the truth that you cannot do it for them.”  (72) He doesn’t abdicate parents of all responsibility for training. He talks about creating space for them to fail and then helping them learn the benefits of making wise choices for themselves.  They need to set limits because they love God and want to please Him not just bide their time under their parents authority waiting for the day they can fly out of the cage and do whatever they want.

So how do we help them learn to be self-directed with their media dragons?  For us it starts with prayer.  God, how can we help our children at their ages, with their personality bents, and in a way that honors You?  As my husband and I talked it over, prayed, and then listened, we came up with our summer dragon-slaying plan – open to adjustment at any time.   Right now we have generous limits which give them some freedom but not endless hours of soul rot.  Our teenage son gets this:

  • 1 hour of Ipad
  • 1 hour of Xbox
  • 1 hour of TV

This daily total of 3 hours can be interchanged with permission.  (For example, 2 hours of Ipad and 1 hour of Xbox for no TV.)  Then our girls who have no penchant for video games get:

  • 1 hour of Ipod (when they aren’t grounded from it)
  • 1 hour of TV

We will make special allowances for friends over or a family movie night.  How do we enforce these limits?  We have timers by all media outlets.  If we find one of them engaging without a timer set, they lose the priviledge for the next day.  Without a timer, its easy to lose track of time spent in screen world.

We also mandate that all chores must be completed before any media time is granted.  (More on chores next blog!)  We continue to make Sunday a day of rest from all media (including parental laptops.) That one day without it helps us appreciate the opportunity to work on laptops, putter on FB, and watch a favorite show on a rainy day like today.  However, the parameters keep us mindful that there are walks to be taken, bikes to be ridden, and books to be read.  So who knows what we will plug in or out of our media methods this fall or next summer, but for now we have a new set of armor to wage the war.  So go ahead ipods, TVs, and laptops… bring it on!  We are armed and ready for battle.



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