“Why is the stupid internet not working again?!” I was met with the exasperated words of my 12 year old son on a recent Saturday morning. We try to limit media/screen time in our house during the week, so Saturday mornings are a time he looks forward to, as the rules are relaxed for a few hours of Minecraft or other gaming of the like. I tried to calm him down while I checked the usual suspects for a solution. But while doing so I lectured him on his angry response. I began with platitudes of “you know, you don’t really NEED the internet, its not necessary for life…most people around the world…etc.” All perfectly true statements, but ones that seemed to sail over his head. I, then, got exasperated over how to get the point through to my kids the importance of not getting too “hooked” on these things, “son, people can actually get addicted to these things, and it starts to take over you life, kind of like drugs..” and at that point, I was hit with one of those wonderful moments when God steps in and helps to make clear who it was that needed to be taught a lesson that morning. It wasn’t necessarily my son. It was me. And the way this moment of truth came to me had a sense of humor to it, which is how I was pretty sure it was God trying to show me something.
If you grew up in the eighties you might recall those Public Service Announcements about keeping kids off drugs. Well, there were plenty of those back then, but one in particular showed a father approaching his teenage son about a bag of drugs he had found in the boy’s room. “Who taught you about this?” the father asks. And then, the son’s dramatic response:”You, alright, I learned it by watching you!” The lesson was “Parents who use drugs have kids who use drugs.” It was a good a true message, but one that was parodied endlessly in the eighties, sadly, almost becoming a joke. But it was a line that stuck in my mind, to resurface all these years on a Saturday morning argument about the internet. The message for me was a reminder at all the times I had become angry when my technology didn’t work right, and worse, the times that I yelled at an inanimate object, a computer, a phone, a printer, in front of my kids. My son’s reaction this morning mirrored my own reactions in my worst moments.
“Parents who stress out about technology have kids who stress out about technology.”
The truth is that our reliance upon technology and the temptation to be constantly “connected” actually can have the same kinds of affects as chemical addictions if left unchecked. The addict feels that they cannot survive without the chemical they are addicted to. The addict may feel very much “in control” of the situation at first but will slowly develop a life that returns again and again to the chemical. This constant urge for the chemical takes up more and more time and energy of the addict, to the neglect of other apsects of life, until it completely consumes them. And here’s where it hit me on that Saturday morning: The addict will get very agitated and desperate when the chemical is not available to them at their bidding. This necessarily affects the relationships with people around them.
Technology, the internet, social media and the like are not evil in and of themselves. There are many useful even appropriately entertaining aspects to the “connected” world. But it presents a very great temptation. The temptation to NEED it, to spend more time using it than in making real connections with people in our lives. The temptation to neglect what is most important in our lives, namely the health of our souls, and our responsibility to help and serve others, because of the time and energy we give to our computers, our phones, our tablets. St. Peter’s words come to mind: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). The Devil is, of course, found in the bad, destructive things one can find on the internet, but he also works in a subtle way with our time and energy. He desires to keep us as a divided self, anxious about many things, unfocused. He wants to make us believe that our worth comes from how many “likes” we get on Facebook, or how many texts we get, or how many people look at our pictures on Instagram. These are all false and have nothing to do with who we are created to be. Our worth comes from the fact that we are created good in the image and likeness of God. We are His beloved. It is a simple, uncomplicated reality in a world that will try to complicate us.
So how, practically, can we be sober and vigilant in the face of this? How do we follow the words of Solomon who says in Proverbs: “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”? I would suggest a few practical steps to begin.
1) Limit time on the internet. Have specific times and places where you are deliberately “unplugged”. Some of us work in an environment where being online is essential to the work. Try to unplug when you get home, or only open up what you need to do your work, with a limited time on other distracting sites. There are even programs and apps available to limit time on various sites. I’ve found these to be helpful from time to time.
2) Deliberately spend time in silence each day. It is so easy to go through an entire day without having any time for silence and prayer. We have to set this time aside, write it in your planner if you need to!
3) Pray before going online. Ask for God to help you approach the use of the internet with a calm, sober spirit, one that will not get entangled or become anxious.
4) Remind yourself that real life occurs away from your computer. Drive this point home by going outside, listening to music, playing a sport or game with others, spending “unplugged” family nights at home.
Its often hard to convince kids that limits on things they have fun doing are not about taking something away. Its pretty age appropriate for my son to react when the thing he was having fun doing is suddenly taken away. That’s where changing our lives as adults comes in. That’s where showing what we value by our actions will speak louder than any reprimand. That’s also where we will be able to then speak without hypocrisy when we need to put those limits on.