Creeping Screens: How Technology Threatens Family Life

How Technology Threatens Family LifeEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column is about how technology threatens family life.

When my babies were first born I was home with them full-time. And babies don’t talk. They may cry, but conversation isn’t their strong point.

And so it was that I turned to television. Every day, from 1-5, my TV was on non-step. First it was three soap operas in a row: Days of Our LivesAll My ChildrenGeneral Hospital. Then, at four, came Oprah. In fact, my TV was on constantly, so that I could hear some voices in my house (and not just in my head).

However, I began to notice that I was rather melancholy when bedtime came around. Every Thursday night I would wander into my bedroom forlorn. Keith would try to talk me out of my mood, which is never a good idea, because we women like having our moods.

And one Thursday, while I was obsessing about my inconsiderate husband, the lightbulb went off. I realized that I was always melancholy on Thursdays because that was the night I watched ER. What a depressing show! Every week someone died in a car accident, or some child was horrendously abused, or someone lost a limb. It was terrible.

I didn’t want to live consumed with the ugliness or life, so we got rid of our television, cold turkey. I became much happier. I had more time with my girls. I sought out friends for conversation. Life grew bigger.

Last week I was at a bloggers’ conference, and this topic came up. I know a bloggers’ conference sounds insane, but I actually get quite a bit of traffic to my blog (I mostly talk marriage and relationships), and I wanted to network with some of the women that I know online. One of those women was a younger blogger who was trying to balance her online community with raising two small children. She asked me what I thought about all of these young moms blogging. Are they ignoring their kids?

I replied that I was thankful blogging wasn’t around when my children were young, or I would have been sucked in and it would have taken too much of my time, just like it has now.

And at that moment I had another epiphany, just like the one I had that Thursday night fifteen years ago. For the last decade and a half I have been so proud of myself for being able to give up television. I realized, though, that over the last few years I have simply traded one vice for another. Yes, I have gotten rid of the TV. But blogs, and Facebook, and Twitter, and Pinterest have eaten up just as much time—if not more.

Technology creeps. We spend so much time in front of screens that we ignore those we love. Men play on video games until the wee hours of the morning, leaving wives wondering if their husbands still have libidos. Women spend so much time talking to pseudo-friends on Facebook that their real live families feel ignored.  And teens create communities on their computers, not in their living rooms.

I can’t quit the online world cold turkey because it’s my job. So my only recourse, over the last few years, has been to head outdoors. When our family needs to connect, we go walking or hiking or biking or birding or camping. We get out, where the computer can’t touch us.

The Unwired MomYet I see another threat on the horizon. Currently I have a Blackberry, and I’ve always found it a little cumbersome to check things online. But I’m due for another free phone upgrade, and I’ve been tempted towards an iPhone. I think, though, that I may say no. I don’t want technology to follow me even when I’m walking and hiking and birding and camping. I still need time just with my family. I hope this time I can keep my resolve.

Feel like technology is taking over your life and keeping you from being an effective mom? Sarah Mae has an awesome book out called The Unwired Mom which can help you draw boundaries–and be there for your kids.

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  1. Great post! My sentiments exactly–between how much time I spend on a PC at work and when I get home, I admittedly already have a problem. :( That’s why I neither have, nor want, any mobile device (not even a digital audio player). Getting outside for long walks where I can think and pray has been a great help to me in this regard.

    If you want a sobering look at how technology is affecting us (not to mention issues like data mining, identity theft, etc.), this is a good place to start:

  2. I was so addicted to soap operas when I was younger also. I finally quit when my oldest was five years old and started watching them with me. No way did I want her to get addicted to that junk. Technology absolutely has taken people’s ability to hear that still small voice…
    Lori recently posted…Are GMO’s Bad For You?My Profile

  3. Great reminder to check how we are using our time. Anything in EXCESS is bad. But I want to caution others to not condemn those who use tech because it may be the very thing that is keeping their family together!

    I am so thankful for tech because my Hubby travels 90% of the time. With tech, we can FaceTime & text each other. He can text, email & FaceTime the kids. Tech allows for him to be integrated more into our daily lives when he’s on the road, something that would have been extremely difficult even 10 years ago.
    Joyfulmomlea recently posted…Painful PraisesMy Profile

    • Yes, I totally agree. My husband’s been away this week and it’s technology that has kept us together. It’s all a balance, but I do find that it creeps into my life when I DON’T want it to far too much!

  4. You just told my story: from daytime television and ER just for the sake of hearing real people to the internet to remind me that people live outside of the walls of my house. Not only have my husband and I become addicted to outside virtual connection, my preteen and teenage kids have. And as kids can be great mirrors to us as parents, I realize that we need to find a way to disconnect far more often.
    One thing my husband and I have been discussing is that each night we can choose to pursue our current habit of spending a couple hours on the internet, OR we can spend that time with the kids, get them to bed on time and happily, and then get mentally prepared to spend quality time with one another. It really is a trade off. We cannot have both hours of internet and quality time with each other on the same night. It is a tough habit to break, and we fail often, but we are aware of it now. On the nights that we remember we are blessed with a more fulfilling evening and a better night’s sleep.

  5. I do have a tendency to put on something so the house is not quiet too. Lately I’ve been making the choice to turn off the TV & turn on Christian Praise & Worship music. It’s made a difference in my whole outlook. Why don’t I do this more?
    Joyfulmomlea recently posted…Painful PraisesMy Profile

  6. Ditto . . . but I gave up facebook and blogging last year for family/spiritual reasons, and I am determined to stick with my “go phone” for a long time. I follow a few blogs like yours and some friends, but I have to be very careful of my tendency to let too much screen time creep in.

  7. Thanks for this post. One thought is that our phone could stay home while we go outside, unless of course we’re waiting for a call from another one of our immediate family. I, too, find too many reasons to be on the computer. I appreciate your willingness to “go there”, and take us with you. :)

  8. Awesome post. I’ve struggled with the computer. For me, it was Myspace and a parenting debate group I was in. It was a lifesaver in the beginning, because I was with a needy newborn who didn’t like to be left alone and I needed the mental stimulation. But it became too consuming, and I kept having to “quit,” only to find myself being sucked back in again. Now I’m not on Myspace anymore, but I have the same problems with Facebook, blogs, etc. I just try to keep a handle on it, and when I notice it consuming too much of my time at the detriment of family and other responsibilities, I pull back. I can’t get away from the computer either because of my work, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to eliminate it completely — we have family and friends on the other side of the country, and Facebook is the best way to share photos and stories and keep in touch regularly. But it is a constant struggle for balance. And I refuse to ever get a smartphone, unless I absolutely have to for my business, which is doubtful. I have a hard enough time staying off the internet when I’m at home. I don’t need the temptation when we’re at the park.

  9. Ha! I wrote a post on this exact same thing a few months ago and here I am still struggling with this problem as I type away on my iPhone. It is such a tricky line, as a blogger and a writer who also has seven young children. I don’t have an easy answer, obviously! Self control is really what it boils down to

  10. That’s one of the reasons I don’t want to get a fancy-schmancy phone. I know too many people who spend more time looking at their phones than making eye contact with the humans in their presence. I started feeling like they liked their internet friends more than they like me. It’s super awkward when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and they just randomly grab their phone and start laughing at something some mommy-blogger somewhere is Tweeting. RUDE.

    Thinking about it, I’ve realized something. All my dearest friends, I had before social media reached this crazy saturation point. We stayed close by, oh, TALKING to each other – on the phone, through letters, or *gasp!* face to face. Now, that’s not to say technology hasn’t made communication much easier – it has and I’m grateful for that in a lot of ways – but let’s not trade substance for ease. I think of it like making a pre-packaged microwave meatloaf dinner versus taking the time to do it from scratch. It takes time to put together the meatloaf, cut up the potatoes, boil them and mash them, and steam some fresh veggies, not to mention babying the gravy on the stovetop! But which one is going to be more satisfying? That’s kind of how I try to approach relationships. Technology make make things “easier”, but it’s not what gives relationships true substance.
    Melissa recently posted…Schmack!!!My Profile

  11. My solution to my smartphone addiction: I turned off my notifications. It really helps to schedule times for me to check my facebook instead of just taking a look every time I got a notification. I can also now check things and read on the go instead of having to sit down at my laptop. I think that i often get more carried away when.on my computer because I’m settling into a comfy chair or couch instead of standing up aomehwere. But I typically dont check my phine when I’m having a visit with a friend. that is such a rude thing to do!

  12. I totally agree. It takes discipline that’s for sure! I often feel like back when my mom stayed home with us, when the phone was attached to the wall and there was no Internet, that it must’ve been so much simpler and freeing. I will say that having an iPhone has kept me off the computer more. But it’s still a great distraction from my kids and I try to keep it out of sight out of mind when I’m spending time with them.
    Lindsy recently posted…Giving up good.My Profile

  13. This is a great post! I really love being online. I’m home with a 1-, 3-, and 5-year-old and I need adult interaction from time to time. But I find I am so much happier, and my kiddos are too, if I give myself just about 30 mins. in the morning, and 30 mins. in the evening. Seriously, is it that big of a deal who comments on my status? Thanks for this reminder! Balance is the key, for sure!

  14. We are definitely a technology type of family from tvs, video game systems, and definitely computers and the big world of the Internet. However, we definitely make sure that our kids get plenty of outdoor time with us without technology involved. (Of course, where we take them outside there is no Internet. ;)) I LOVE iPhones, and am counting down until I get another one!!! I won’t go to any other type of phone now.
    Crystal Green recently posted…Major Milestone for ZevaMy Profile

  15. My family struggles with the computer. I constantly check in on my faux friends on FB. I have social anxiety, so FB is a relief sometimes, but all the fake relationships also leaves a gaping hole in my heart.
    Ameriah recently posted…Is Santa Real?My Profile

  16. I have an old fashioned basic cell phone. I am not tied to my phone and reading lots of ‘blogs’ on that small of a screen if it was a blackberry would drive me crazy. I do spend a few hours on the internet throughout the day but I am a 57 year old gramma and can do that, I do watch my nieces three year old but I only check ‘internet’ when she is safely watching tv or asleep.
    I do write a blog but try to not let it consume me.
    I did watch those soap opera’s when my little ones were litttle plus Oprah and who knows what else. I am often wondering about the internet. I think it is positive and doesn’t allow isolation for new mom’s but also it can be isolating if one just sits in front of a screen and not do ‘real life’.
    Both are true.
    Good post today.
    Sharon O recently posted…A reasonMy Profile

  17. I have struggled through self control issues and addiction to instant gratification since childhood, I was 13 when I got my first phone, mid teens when myspace first happened, I have been online 10+ years a lot of it through the most impressionable age, I have had a lot of habit training in this area, it is so hard to break but God is walking me through it step by step, grace in abundance. I also know I do not want to get offline all together, I enjoy blogging, pinterest and chatting as long as it is placed where it belongs on my priorities list and is done to the glory of God and edification of the body of Christ. Tara.
    Tara recently posted…From My Heart To YoursMy Profile

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