Screen usage has been debated since the days of television. I remember my 6th grade teacher, God love her, calling it the “idiot box.” Today, I find myself telling my own 6th grade students to get off their phones at every chance I get– and I may or may not have called them “idiot boxes” in the process.
The difference between my sixth grade teacher and me? The problem has greatly increased. Since the dawn of the smartphone, the conversation regarding our relationships with tech has moved into a more public discourse. Now, with thousands of books, podcasts, and apps dedicated to digital wellness, there’s a whole slew of research that ranges from the scientific to the philosophical and everything in between, pixeling the problem at a rate that is coming close to a crystal clear, 4k picture of how we should be using our screens.
The only theme missing in this conversation is the most important – spirituality.
For adults, the problem is very simply stated– we have devices that have the potential of making our lives happier, we have a Catholic faith that has proven to be effective in making our lives perfectly happy. Where do these two meet? For each person, the answer will be different based on not only your spiritual state, but your employment, your relationships, your hobbies, your goals, and everything else that makes you you.
My book Detached: Put Your Phone in its Place addresses that very question.
Once a parent reads that book and confirms that their screen is causing them more spiritual harm than good, that’s typically when they reach out to me and say something to the the effect of:
“I read your book and loved it. But now I have a dilemma. Before, I set no limits in my household for screen usage. Since I was on them all the time I felt like a hypocrite keeping tech from my children. Now that I realize the darkness that devices possess in those who possess them, I’m having difficulty getting my children to see that. I know I have to establish some boundaries, but I don’t know how. What do you do with your kids when it comes to screen time?”
Without further adieu, the screen rules in place at the TJ Burdick household:
Rule # 1: All private devices including laptops, tablets, cell phones, etc., are only allowed to be accessed on the main floor of the house, preferably on or near the kitchen table where it can be viewed at any time by an adult.
Rule # 2: All public devices such as televisions and projectors are only allowed in public places.
Rule # 3: Use of personal screen time is limited to 20 minutes per day. This includes all non-necessary educational and non-educational entertainment, research, digital creating, etc.
CAVEAT: These 20 minutes are earned by reading for 30 minutes and ensuring that your room is clean before accessing the screen.
Rule # 4: Use of screens for educational necessity? Take all the time you need.
Rule # 5: The television can be viewed with other family members after 6:30pm (we pray together at 7:45 for an 8pm bedtime). Those watching take turns viewing what they want.
Poor behavior throughout the day will cancel all use of screens except for necessary educational purposes.
If ever you see a man or woman in clothes that don’t cover up all of their private parts, we’ll be super proud of you if you came to us and let us know. (We then backtrack the viewing history to find/block the source).
If there are people using bad words, you have the responsibility to change what you are viewing to protect your younger brothers and sisters.
Is this method foolproof? No.
Nothing is foolproof, and as the children get older and require a cellphone for a more efficient transition into adulthood, we continue to keep vigil, to watch, and to change our rules based on age, maturity, and expectations.
But it’s all rooted in love.
If these rules weren’t rooted in love they’d simply be obstacles to worldly pleasure that our children would rebel against. If rules work at all its because we’ve explained to our children that we love them enough to limit their screen time, and that the world is so much more than addictive slot machines that cash in on the dopamine hits we receive from pings, dings, and rings.
They get that.
I can’t wait until the adults get it, too.
Image by Ceri Breeze on Shutterstock