While this topic may potentially offend some people or make me seem like a zealot or a super-strict mom or any number of other things, I think I’d still like to approach it because I think in our world of ever-dominant electronics devices, it’s a good idea to take a step back and think carefully about how we use them, where, and when.
This weekend we had a large gathering at church, one we do about twice a year, where all the members of our church in our area came together to listen to inspirational messages. As with most of our weekly meetings, the Sunday-morning meeting included adults and all ages of young people: babies, toddlers, teens and all in between. With a gathering this large, I had occasion to glance around me during the meeting to see how the young people were occupying themselves. Two- and three-year-olds were invariably snacking on Cheerios or other bite-size goodies or looking through quiet books; six- or eight-year-olds were either sitting mostly quietly or sometimes looking at books or drawing. Teens were listening to the speakers or sometimes supervising younger siblings. And in the hands of kids of any age I saw quite a few smart phones. Little kids were playing simple games; teens might be doing the same or texting. No matter the age, bright little screens were being employed in every row.
I had a few reasons for feeling dismayed at this sight. But first, I will explain my expectations, having four daughters myself. I definitely do not expect toddlers to sit still and do nothing but listen during any kind of church meeting. Three- and four-year-olds can often sit mostly still, however, and occupy themselves with books or coloring. And any kid older than eight is usually capable of sitting still and listening to speakers without needing distractions or toys. No, they won’t necessarily get a LOT out of the meeting, but they can pick up bits and pieces of truths that are imparted over the pulpit, and they can practice sitting still and being patient during a time they may still at that age consider to be “boring.” After all, they are at the age of eight already in school and heading toward a stage where they will frequently be sitting and listening to teachers “lecture,” at least for an hour at a time.
I can also make clear that I’m not a big fan of electronics for kids. Period. I do love gadgets (see my kitchen gadgets post and my ode to my Kindle), so I’m by no means a Luddite. I think that we have some amazing technology, and it’s very helpful in its way, at the proper places and times. But I also believe that children still need fairly limited times interacting with any kind of screens, be they TVs or computers or portable devices. Young children need time to be free and have opportunities to create and imagine and use their own minds to keep busy. It’s vital for their healthy development. Giving them a gadget of some type to stay busy with just trains them to turn to electronics whenever they’re bored. I try to limit the time my kids spend watching TV or movies or using the computer or playing on the Wii or Xbox, and they don’t get to play with my iPod Touch.
Now back to the church setting. It dismays me a bit to see iPhones or other little games in the hands of small children because it’s training them to turn to electronics rather than draw or create or read. But it doesn’t bother me a great deal because I respect that for some parents, it’s one of the tools in their arsenals to keep those little ones quiet and busy during a church meeting. Even though I haven’t chosen to have my little ones play on electronics devices, I appreciate it is useful for some other parents.
What bothers me the most is seeing teens or tweens using these gadgets at church. Kids of these ages are perfectly capable of sitting still and listening and getting something from a religious service, and allowing them to distract themselves via video games or texting or surfing the Web is depriving them of the opportunities to learn patience, sit still for an hour, and experience the peace and soul-satisfying feelings of religious worship. Some people out there may not consider faith or organized religion to be important, so they can probably just disregard this whole post. But for those parents who value the role of religion in their lives and the lives of their children, I say, make sure your children aren’t distracted so they can actually feel the good feelings that come from being in a religious meeting. I personally think it’s absolutely crucial that my daughters learn to feel the Holy Spirit, and understand how it can guide them in their lives. I want them to know that God and Jesus Christ are there and that they know them and want to help. Our family devotions of reading scripture and praying are part of that process of helping them to know those things and to turn to God for help. Church services are another piece of that important puzzle. I wouldn’t dare to distract them when they have the opportunity to experience peace and the Holy Ghost at church, and electronics are an easy distraction.
I don’t want to be judgmental, but at the same time, I wonder how many parents have given serious thought to how much electronics can take away from valuable experiences that require quiet and contemplation. Computers and the Internet and games and all of those things can be real sources of distraction, and it’s not a minor issue. I thoroughly enjoyed an article by David A. Bednar called “Things As They Really Are,” which addressed the issue of “cyberspace” interactions and experiences. In it, he said, “Sadly, some young men and young women in the church today ignore ‘things as they really are’ and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value. … A young man or woman may waste countless hours, postpone or forfeit vocational or academic achievement, and ultimately sacrifice cherished human relationships because of mind- and spirit-numbing video and online games.” And I think those last words are revealing: these devices are numbing. They do not challenge us or encourage us to grow in any way; they simply numb us and prevent us from feeling or thinking too much at all. And why do we attend church? To grow, to ponder, to commune with the divine. We go to be inspired. How can we do that when our minds and spirits are being numbed by electronics? Bednar went on to say: “Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, earbuds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience.”
As parents, let’s not get enmeshed ourselves in these potentially destructive uses of technology, which can really be a great blessing in so many ways. And let’s not allow and encourage our children, who are in such tender, formative stages of development, to be distracted and numbed, especially when they are in a sacred place like church, when they could be feeling the best of feelings and influences. Let’s think more carefully about how we use our electronics, when, and where.