TV is not evil.
Simcha Fisher (who just switched over to blogging on Patheos, and if you don't read her yet you really must start!!) just wrote an interesting article over at The Register today. She's pondering what it means to be "un-plugged" and how to keep your kids (and yourself) from getting too addicted to screen time in the summer months. It's really well written so hop on over and read it if you haven't already!
Getting her morning Netflix "fix."
It's probably no secret that our family is not a "screen-free" one! But, we do view screen time as something that makes the most sense when in its proper place.
Not long ago I read a fantastic blog post (can't remember where, but if I find it again I'll be sure to link back to it!!) about, in so many words, having the "a time for everything and everything in its proper time" approach to screen time. That is, kids don't need to be screen-free, but they do need to see that screen time fits into the day in it's own slot, but that there are a lot of different things to do each day - reading, playing, praying, eating, sleeping, etc. The Abbot and I were both raised this way by our families, and that's definitely the mentality we want to to pass on to our daughters (and any future children) - the idea that TV, internet, etc. are not evil but that they need to be relegated to their proper place. For example, in our family, Sister Stinky is allowed to watch some kids shows on Netflix first thing in the morning (which allows me some quiet to say my morning prayers, check my e-mails and blogs, etc.) and she may watch one show or part of a show with the Abbot and/or me before her bedtime story and prayers. Any other time of day that she asks to "watch movie?" we remind her that watching movies is only for one of those two times a day. And normally, she accepts that because she knows that we're true to our word (unless someone dramatically misbehaves and loses her "movie" watching privileges).
This, I should mention, was a reaction to my first trimester hyperemesis state. Far from family and with friends raising kids of their own (and therefore only being able to take her for occasional stints), Sister Stinky watched LOTS of movies and cartoons when her mother was bedridden and her father was desperately trying to finish out his second to last semester of doctoral classes. (He is sooo happy to be finally working on his dissertation proposal now, by the way!) As I began to recover from the bedridden portion of pregnancy, we began to work in more playtime and started cutting off her Netflix time earlier and earlier in the morning.
BUT, watching Netflix was a great tool for us to use in a difficult spot! There are tons of wholesome kid shows on there, and I think she actually got more creative and more talkative from watching them!
So, today what I'm really reflecting on is not screen time...but on this tendency that the parents of my generation have to feel like they need to do everything perfectly.
I'll admit, I fall smack dab into that category along with all of my young parent friends. Everyone is always worried about whether or not their child(ren) are eating healthy enough, getting enough time to play with other kids, are watching too much TV, etc. etc. etc. Having awful hyperemesis back in late November through January (and even on the days when it is particularly bad this late in the game) was made more stressful by listening to the TV on in the other room while Sister Stinky watched The Muppet Movie for the millionth time. I would just lay in bed, so upset that my daughter was watching tons of TV and I wasn't even capable of laying on the couch and keeping her company while she watched it (because, yes, I really did live in bed at that point!).
BUT here's where hyperemesis has been a true blessing to me. I had to let go and realize that there was nothing else I could do but let Kermit the frog babysit her for a few hours every day. I had to learn that I didn't have to parent perfectly to be living out my vocation.
And this, friends, is what I think is important to keep in mind when we talk about screen time, or making any other decisions for our little ones. God does call us to do the best with them, but that's all. He doesn't view perfection the way the modern parenting world does! He just doesn't. I can just about guarantee that you won't get held up at the pearly gates because St. Peter glances at your file and is like, "Oh, wait...you let your toddler watch two and half hours of TV every day? You know that's over the recommended limit, right?" But I can tell you what is more likely going to keep my behind in purgatory a bit longer...lack of humility. Lack of the kind of humility that says, "God, I can't do this parenting thing perfectly...but I'll trust on your grace to do what you're calling me to do."
Now, for some families...that might mean nixing the screen time before a certain age (because they don't need to use it as a tool for their families). But, in our family, it means that I have to realize that a little time with the Muppets didn't hurt my Stinker, but maybe even kept her happy in a time that could have been intensely stressful (sometimes when I tell the Abbot I'm feeling nauseous she starts crying and says, "No, Mommy! No nauseous!" so...yeah. Stressful.)
So then, the question becomes not, "What's the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested amount of TV viewing for a 2 year old," but rather, "Can I allow God to work through even Miss Piggy and Fozzie and Kermit to help our family through a difficult time? Or will I cling to the little 'god' I am tempted to make of no TV time?" Hyperemesis didn't give me much choice in the matter, but it still wasn't easy. It still challenged me, to realize I physically couldn't do things the way I wanted but had to do them the way God was guiding our family.
Rare non-screen time in the wake of the hyperemesis monster.
Of course, there are two sides to this - no-screen time can become a "god" as much as too much or unhealthy attachment to screen time can be.
And this is where we get to the crux of the matter- ultimately, many of the things in this world are good...but they are not the ultimate good! God is the ultimate good, and all other goods (even that wonderful thing called Netflix) are goods meant to point to God in some way. All other goods are tools - tools that help us think about and learn about life, tools that help us to be encouraged to do what is right, tools that help us recognize what is good and beautiful, tools that help us to relax and bond with our loved ones (because yes, watching Dr. Who episodes on Netflix while resting with your spouse can bring you two together...Tardis, anyone?). The key is to discern (as an individual and as a family) how God is calling you to use those tools! And that answer will be different for different families and individuals at different times, but the purpose of these tools remains the same - to point us to God and the life He is calling us to lead in some way!
A realistic picture of how messy things could get during non-screen time this winter...
Humility is the key. Humility to let God work through these tools in our lives as He sees fit. For this hyperemesis mom and our family, God has worked a lot through Netflix :-) How have you seen God at work in your life through TV, internet, etc? How have these things helped you to grow closer to God?