I’m not a huge TV person by choice. I’ve been moving our family slowly away from time spent in front it — no huge TV, just a tiny one. No cable. Intentional choices to do anything but that. Usually it’s not that hard since we run a pretty busy schedule. Evenings are normally spent at small group, dance, Awana, or soccer. If we have a free night, I’m working at our Allstate agency – but that’s where it gets dicey. I feel guilty for sucking up our family time at work and my hubby has cable at the office (and a pretty big TV) so while I talk to clients for hours, my kids essentially binge on stupid Disney shows that teach them how to be sarcastic and rude. I can just picture them a decade down the road in their college dorm rooms, binge watching Netflix and filling their minds with garbage that they can never un-see, all because I started terrible habits in their formative years.
On the other hand, I am a teensy bit addicted to social media. My kids have been annoyed many times because my cell phone gobbles up the bits of time in my day between all the other stuff. They feel like they are vying for my attention while I’m uploading pictures of what we just did, or a funny soundbite. Not that I don’t think it’s a valuable way to stay connected, but I saw that it was causing a break in the connectedness with my kids.
Enter the media fast. Christmastime always brings a fast of some sort in our house. This December was screen time. I talked to my kids for a couple weeks in advance, warning them of what was to come. No TV, no video games, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Pinterest (except to get a recipe or craft project I had already pinned in advance), no internet except to look up things we really needed. No random surfing. I seriously adore my kids. They took this like champs! While there were skirmishes when determining the rules of the month, and one meltdown mid month, they were amazing. They had the most beautiful attitudes toward my crazy, counter cultural idea. I have tears just thinking about it! Anyway, the ground rules were set. We would have 3 pre-planned nights of television – 1 Spartans game, 2 Christmas movie nights. That has been adapted a tiny bit since the Spartans made it to the Cotton bowl and they play tonight – Dec 31st. We are totally watching them! The kids wanted to know what they should do if they are at friends’ houses. We determined that they should try to do play as much as they could first; however, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if a screen entered the picture. Over Christmas we were guests in people’s homes, so we determined that gratitude and relationships trumped media fast, so they would choose other activities first but not exclude themselves from screen time.
What a month. As I look back over the last 31 days, I am overwhelmed at what I learned. First, I’m super addicted to cheesy Christmas movies! I own a headband business, so it’s normal that December is crazy (if you think you can’t wear headbands, you should really try mine. They are non-slip and adjustable so they don’t slide off or give you headaches! Shameless plug!)
What was I saying? Right. Sewing a lot in December. I have multiple nights that I stay up until the wee hours sewing headbands to fill orders. Normally during those times I turn on Netflix or Hulu and watch movie after movie. They are all predictable and corny, but I love it! This year I listened to audio books. I filled that time with Too Busy Not to Pray, The Barefoot Church (twice!), 7, For the Love and Interrupted. Way more life changing…but I did miss the love stories and Christmas miracles!
I also learned that I have way more time than I thought I did. Read? Who has time to read? Journal? That’s ridiculous. Way too busy. Um…I was wrong. I had the time. Actually lots of pockets of time. I just chose to fill it with tiny bits of crap that add up to lots of hours of crap. The biggest thing I noticed this month was that I was more relaxed. I felt like I had more time during the busiest season of the year! All those pockets of 5-15 minutes that I would use to flip through Instagram or Facebook throughout the day were idle, so I could ponder. My Facebook surfing right before bed was replaced with reading an actual book or journaling to process through what I was learning. I was hit by this verse a long time ago
Psalm 119:15-16 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
I was struck by the fact that every pocket and sliver of time I had to meditate, consider or delight, I filled. So even if something struck me in my morning quiet time or church or Bible study or a book I was reading, it sort of flitted away because I couldn’t catch it and gnaw on it for a while. I couldn’t quite figure out how to stem the tide, though. I’m glad I went to the extreme to see how much I really needed to give my brain the space to ponder, to roll ideas around and consider them. I learned this month that sometimes you can’t just take baby steps. You have to radically change for a period of time to get the clarity, then move toward change from there.
My kids learned a lot too. I have asked them throughout the month at different points what they missed and what they liked. It is unanimous that they loved being creative and crafty and playing together more. There were tons of games, outdoor play (thank you, NorthEast Ohio, for the mildest December on record!), puzzles, audio books, ukulele and guitar strumming, wood burning, compost screening, reading, duct tape projects (yes, we used You Tube tutorials), and making hilarious videos. They fought less and came together as a team more. If you remember our week without screen time, we experienced the same thing there. Why didn’t we continue it?!
That takes me to my next thought. It’s great to do something radical for a time, but it’s easy to get sucked back into our culture in a heartbeat. I’ve done it many times in the past. This time, I’m ready for it. We had a long drive home from Christmas in Michigan and spent some time trying to lay out a new plan for what screen time and social media would look like in our home. We think we have come up with good ideas that all stem from intentionality. In the past, we sort of let life run away with us. All of the sudden we look around and realize we aren’t doing what we wanted, all because we weren’t intentional. TV will be more structured. We LOVED our Christmas movie night because it was limited. It took forever to decide what we wanted to watch so we could make sure it was really worth it. We looked forward to it with anticipation. And we enjoyed it immensely. I love that. We also have ideas on video games and social media to be more intentional about it, rather than letting it seep into our days unannounced. We don’t want to regulate and stipulate and time and chart. We just want to be thoughtful about it and choose wisely.
The last thing I learned this month is that sometimes it’s good to tell yourself no. Our society is extravagant. Anything you want, you can have. Just do it. You deserve it. You work hard. Another shirt to add to your plenty? Sure. Go out to dinner with a house full of food because you’re tired? Ok. Binge on TV until 2am because it’s a good show? Why not? I’m seeing things differently now. I’m seeing that the consequences of those self absorbed decisions play out in our lives in more ways than we know. We don’t have time to care for others because we choose to fill it up. We don’t have energy for our families because we choose to expend it elsewhere. We don’t deny ourselves a thing because we don’t have to. But then we pay the price. This little exercise was a way for me to open my eyes and be aware that the discipline of denying myself is important. Saying no to myself isn’t something I often do, but I found that it feels really good.