When we think about the culture of the home and how it relates to entertainment and digital media, we often forget that the word “culture” had its origin in agriculture. It was about cultivating plants.
Raising plants and raising children have always had their challenges since the fall of Adam, but this modern era has ushered in unprecedented obstacles when it comes to cultivating a godly home. The digital age has swept rapidly upon the world, bringing many new blessings but also new burdens.
The Christian response to the digital age covers a broad spectrum. At one end of the extreme is aversion and disallowance, and at the opposite end is heedless enthusiasm. Between those two extremes, we can also find Christians who yield submissive compliance to the strong cultural current. But there is a better response: deliberate discernment, reasonable convictions, careful handling, purposeful use, and self-control.
As parents, we are responsible to cultivate a healthy understanding of media and entertainment, and to establish good habits through instruction and example. The world we live in seems to be one, huge, all-you-can-eat media buffet. We have cultivated two major habits that are unhealthy. The first problem is overconsumption; we are continually piling too much on our plates. Remember that a good athlete will exercise “self-control in all things” so as to win a perishable prize, but we are running to win an imperishable one.
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
The second problem is a lack of discernment about the content of what we are consuming, which is often unhealthy—or worse yet, spiritually and morally toxic.
My family and I have aspired to navigate this area of life with wisdom and caution while trying to avoid unreasonable extremes. We have not done that perfectly, but the following are some lessons we have been learning along the way.
Make your family’s presence a priority. Technology allows us to connect with acquaintances, and even strangers, from around the world through social media, email, blogs, and a myriad of other digital outlets. Yet, there is a growing tendency to ignore the people that are nearest to us. Make an intentional step towards solving this problem by creating a “phone-free zone” at the dinner table and then expanding it to other times and places in your home that would benefit your family. It is an ongoing challenge to know when to turn our devices off, put them down, or get rid of them.
Matthew Henry wrote, “The branch is easily bent when it is tender.” The younger a child is, the more easily influenced he can be, like a flexible young branch of a tree. As young children develop media appetites in their early years, it is likely that those appetites will only grow larger and more rigid.
If you have young children, then your role of providing guidance in this area is much easier now than if you wait until your children are older and you are left to respond like a firefighter putting out fires. Teach them while they are young to have a healthy respect for and fear of “fire.” Show them how to handle it carefully.
One of the hardest hills to climb when it comes to providing leadership in your home is to be a good example to your children. Before you can effectively mentor your children in wise media choices and use of technology, you have to be a living example. Demonstrate that the technology in your life is under your control instead of you being under its spell. Show your children that you have a vision and direction for your elective time other than the common default of zoning out in front of a screen. Let them witness your willingness and ability to set aside your smart phone, tablet, or computer in order to give your attention to them.
Lead your family in a media fast for a day, a weekend, a week, or even a month. Eliminate non-critical screen time during the agreed-upon fasting time. Fill that time with things that you have been neglecting. Sit down and write a list of activities that you would like to do together. Spend time in God’s word and prayer as a family, and don’t neglect playing a board game, going to the park, working on a project together, playing Frisbee, or reading your family a good book. The list is endless.
During your media fast, ask the Lord for help to recognize ways that you or your family members are becoming numb to the injurious things of the world, and seek the Lord for the cleansing of your heart and the renewing of your mind. Ask Him to convict you of any toxic media in your home that is poisoning the hearts and minds of your family.
Many parents, like myself, have decided to homeschool because they do not want the godless influence of government schools to destroy their children’s souls. Yet many homeschool parents have foolishly turned their children over to innumerable teachers, without supervision or guidance, through the internet and popular entertainment. The evangelist Charles Finney is not without controversy, but the following exhortation to parents about discipleship is very pertinent to this topic.
“I would rather pay any price at all within my means, or even to satisfy myself with one meal a day, to enable me to educate my children at home sooner than give them over to the influence of public schools. Remember that your children will be educated, either by yourself or by someone else. Either truth or error must possess their minds. They will have instruction, and if you do not secure to them right instruction, they will have that which is false.” –Charles Finney
There are times I wish we could go back to the 1800s. Since that is not possible, we must go forward with wisdom and train our children to become discerning followers of Jesus who will faithfully help the next generation in the continuing digital world.