I grew up in a home where asking questions during a TV show was not permitted. When I did, I would get shushed and asked to wait for a commercial break. (This was before the ability to stop live TV.) This began, in many ways, my addiction to TV. I was being subtly and unintentionally trained that the TV was more important than human interaction.
This kind of training is common in our culture. Whenever we say something like: "Lexy, go put a movie on, the grown-ups are talking" or "Pause it, I need to grab something" we tell our children that they are safe with the TV and that whatever is on TV is not worth missing out on. We teach them the importance of the almighty TV box. Screen time becomes one of the most coveted times for our children, but only because we made it so.
Before we get too far into this topic, let me stop and say there are benefits to all forms of technology. Video games have been proven to increase hand eye coordination, problem solving skills, memory, and learning. Social media keeps us in quick and instant access to information about friends, events, and global affairs. Netflix and Hulu give us documentaries and knowledge of foreign concepts and cultures. Technology has a place in our society and in our lives, but we, as sinful people, have an innate ability to turn anything good into something sinful. It’s all too easy for us to see that the fruit is a delight to the eyes and good to make us wise (Genesis 3:6). What we’re talking about today is how we have taken something good and made it an addiction.
Alan Noble was recently interviewed on the podcast Mere Fidelity and he stated that he sees this kind of addiction with his college students. In periods of stress he students will say to him “I know I have a test coming up tomorrow, but I watched ten episodes of Friends last night, instead.” When we ponder why they did that, the answer is obvious: they’re dealing with their stress by turning to something else. Technology, in its various forms, is insidious. It helps alleviate our stresses while presenting us with more. We turn to social media to escape and while it alleviates the stress in the moment it does nothing to resolve the real issues we’re dealing with and makes them worse by delaying necessary action to fix them.
This issue came up often with customers at my last job. Parents and grandparents would come in to our board game store and ask how a board game store could be successful. The conversation often went like this:
Them: "Are board games really popular?"
Me: "Yes! And growing in popularity."
Them: "My child would never play a board game, they love video games too much."
Me: "Part of the reason board games are growing in popularity is that a lot of people are leaving video games to play board games. Video games isolate, it's you versus the computer. Board games socialize, it's you versus the people in the room. There are some video games you can play that pit you against other people and allow interaction, but it's not the same as having people in the same room interacting and socializing. Board games create social opportunities."
I had a coworker, Kyle, who replied a bit differently, he would say: "If you'll play with them, you can get them away from the screen. What they crave most is time with their parents." Kyle is right on the money. Video games are addictive, but it's because we've taught kids that they are important, and that they are a distraction from real life troubles. They allow you to leave the real world for a time and cozy up with mindless adventure. They allow you to forget, if briefly, the struggles and cares of this world. Kids don't get addicted to that because they crave being removed from the interactions of this world, they get addicted to it because they feel isolated already. Try it yourself. Give your child the opportunity to play with you, or sit in front of a screen. 99% of the time, they'll want to play with you. (If playing with you means you'll be playing on your screen, then they might not choose to play with you because you're still isolating yourself.)
For me, this addiction was most evident in my life in college. I had multiple roommates over the years come to me and question why I watched so much TV. They wanted to know how I could be honoring God when I spent so little time with Him and spent so much time following what Hollywood would teach me. I responded pridefully that TV is only a danger if you don’t think about you’re watching and what is really true. TV can be a tool to help build friendships, and I did use it that way. But what I missed was the obvious need to focus on God. I let TV become a sinful decision in my life, to the point were it became a habit. I could come home and flick on the TV and watch it for half an hour before even realizing I had turned it on. Do you do the same thing with your phone? How many times a day are you checking Facebook? Pulling up your favorite game? Do your actions show that you are a slave to these things as I was to TV?
Romans 6:16 says: "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" Addiction is slavery. If you are addicted to TV, your cell phone, or video games then you have become a slave of them.
This addiction effects us in our marriages. It prevents us from pursuing Jesus as we ought, it prevents us from serving our spouses as we're called to do (Ephesians 5), and it insidiously separates us from our spouses. When we spend our breaks at work focused on our phone we miss opportunities to tell our wives that we love her and are thinking about her. When we spend hours scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest we miss an opportunity to demonstrate respect for our husband. The worst thing we can do in this addiction is run to our phones instead of our spouse when company leaves or when we're getting ready to fall asleep. How much would our marriages improve and grow if we demonstrated genuine interest in our spouse throughout every day? How much deeper would our relationships grow in Christ if we talked about the little things and the big things each day?
As godly married couples, we need to make sure that our addiction is Jesus. We need to Prioritize Jesus in everything we do. When we do, we'll find that we're more prone to seeking out social interactions and sharing the joy Jesus gave us. We'll be so enveloped in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that it'll seep from our pores and pour out on the lives of those we touch. It'll envelop our marriages and grow us into God honoring couples desperate to be and do all that God wants of us!
Parents, you need to teach your children that Jesus is more important than screen time. Make Jesus your priority. Show them the importance of interacting with people by interacting with them. Live a life so honoring to God that your kids will see your good works and glorify God (Matt 5:16). Your kids are looking to you, what master do they see you serving?
Are You Addicted?
Are you living in a way that makes others want to give God praise? It's a difficult question, isn't it? Here's 4 questions to ask yourself to see if you're living with the right perspective toward God and technology:
- Do you find yourself absentmindedly looking at your phone when family or friends are around?
- Do you find yourself avoiding conversations/confrontations by running to video games, TV, or social media?
- Do you find times and places to use technology away from your spouse because you're worried about how they will view your use of time?
- Do you spend more time playing video games, watching tv, or scrolling social media than you do meditating on God?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you may be addicted to technology. But there's hope, you can change! Your relationship with your spouse can be better than it is now. Begin now by putting down your phone and opening your Bible and meditating on truth. Make an effort this Christmas season to be with your family and not merely in the same room as them. Meditation is the key to successfully overcoming sin (Joshua 1:8, Psalms 119:9-16, & Colossians 1:9-10), and it is the first step toward a healthy walk with God and with our spouse.
As I began to battle my addiction to TV, I had to take proactive steps. One of the biggest steps that helped me was moving the TV out of the living room. We downgraded our bedroom to a guest room and turned the master into an entertainment room. This may seem like the perfect opportunity to get lost in TV and video games in there, but for me this change helped me focus on other things. I spend most of my time in our living room and in move the TV out, our living room became an even more natural place to hand out with couches on three walls! What kind of change do you need to make? Maybe you need to put time locks on your phone so that you can’t use it during dinner time. Maybe you need to hand it to your spouse when you get home and be intentional about playing with your kids and seeking out teachable moments to help them grow. Maybe you need to invite your spouse into the conversation, explain that you want to work on being present with the family and being a godly example and you’d like their help in thinking of creative ways to put off your sinful habits. Whatever action you need to take, I pray you take it and that you begin a journey of endless joy and intentional commitment to the family God has given you.