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Getting a Handle on Your Screen Time

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
November 24, 2023 2:00 am

Getting a Handle on Your Screen Time

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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When his wife became pregnant with their fourth child, Greg panicked, but a Focus on the Family counselor put everything into perspective. He said, the first thing you need to realize is kids are a blessing. They're all a blessing. They're gifts from God. The second thing he said was kids value relationships, not stuff. I'm Jim Daly. Let's give more families hope.

Any gift you send will be doubled at slash gift. I see little kids now in stores and they're in strollers and they've got their own little kids tablet. Okay. What are you training them to do? You're training them when they're bored to go to a screen. Right. Don't do that. Train them to be in the real world from the beginning.

Set limits right away. That's David Murrow. He's our guest today on Focus on the Family talking about our tech obsessed culture and how we as Christians really can react better to it. David has some great practical advice on keeping technology in its proper place.

Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller. John, technology is more and more relevant to all of us all the time. And it's an issue. It may be the number one parenting issue that we get asked about here at Focus on the Family, right? Probably.

I mean, there are several things, but that's got to be at the top because it's everywhere. Well, I know for Jean and I, it was the case. I mean, we delayed that smartphone until I think Trent was 17 and Troy was 15. I thought we did pretty good, but they would ask us, you know, when did we get a phone? Well, let me talk to mom about that.

We just didn't respond. It was a good strategy today. I know many parents are struggling with this. So we're going to cover this issue with a wonderful guest. And he has spent much of his time, his adult life in the media business. And he comes with a really insightful perspective. So if you want to help yourself or your children navigate this crazy world of technology and honor God with your time, we have some great insights for you today. David Murrow is a bestselling author and is passionate about helping anyone, everyone overcome screen addiction. And we're going to talk about some of the content in his very in-depth book. There's so much here. The book is called Drowning in Screen Time, a lifeline for adults, parents, teachers, and ministers who want to reclaim their real lives.

Stop by the website for more details about David and that book. David, welcome to the program. Thank you for having me.

It's great to have you. You mentioned in the book, which is really good, I identified with this, how much time your family, I'm assuming late 60s, 70s, maybe I'm wrong, spent in front of the screen. And we're kind of that way, too. I was kind of raised by television. But thankfully, those shows were pretty good back then. Mayberry RFD, Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island.

Gilligan's Island. That one was frustrating to me as a child. It's like, look down, you can get off the island. Just look down. You know, they always miss the clue. It bugged me to death, I'm telling you, even as a nine year old.

But explain that experience that you had. Yeah, we grew up in a family where if we were awake, the TV was on. We started the day with the Today Show and we ended with the Tonight Show. So screens were an ever present factor in our family. And I hated that growing up, became a Christian at 15. Part of my faith walk was I'm going to divorce myself from this example of being obsessed with screens. Well, then came the internet, and I got a portable computer and Wi Fi. And pretty soon in the mid 2000s, I was on that thing as much as my dad had been on the television. So my family actually had to have an intervention with me because I was so obsessed with screen time. And you know, what's ironic is I work in the screen business. I've been a television producer for four decades.

Yeah, I know the tricks that people like me play. I'm in the screen addiction business. And yet I still fell victim to it. I still got under the spell of these devices. And it was it was robbing me of my time with my children.

And with my wife and I had to take some very serious steps to pull back. Let me ask you about that. I think that was occasionally a point of conversation with my boys and I because I, you know, some ways parents who grew up on TV would justify being able to watch news, weather and sports. It's just information.

I'm getting updated. And my boys would sometimes say, Well, you're watching TV as much as I'm on the screen. So think of that comparison.

How would you coach us as parents, not to differentiate? Maybe it's both screen time. It's both taking you away from other things you could do.

Yeah, that's the thing. We you don't realize how much of your real life you are displacing when you spend time on your screens. And with the first piece of advice I give to parents is get your own act together first. I mean, if you if you're the type who's always got the TV on, or the moment you sit down, you're grabbing your phone and, you know, scrolling this and scrolling that kids are going to do what they see you doing rather than what you say. So step one is get your own screen life under control.

And then you would be in a much better position to explain to your kids that, hey, you're missing out on life because you're you're absorbed in Snapchat all the time. You know, Jean did a my wife did a really bold thing. We probably for 10, 12 years, I can't remember the amount of time but she noticed when the kids were really young that they were watching, you know, good cartoons. We would, we would try to screen the bad stuff, obviously. But you know, just even good, pleasant cartoons, but the amount of time really bugged her.

So we just cut it off, we got rid of the cable and, you know, and we did that for a long time, which really soured my football watching. But you have to make some sacrifices, right? And I think our boys grew up with wonderful imaginations and problem solving ability that maybe they wouldn't have developed.

Yeah, it's, again, it's it's displacement. If if you're just absorbed into screen all the time, you're not developing the real world skills that are going to make you successful as a man or a woman. You have to spend time with people you've got to hoping to get married someday, you've got to learn how to deal with the opposite sex.

And if you're absorbed in your screens all the time, those those serendipitous interactions don't happen. The addiction that you had, I mean, I would think you would call it that the screen time addiction or an obsession. You said your family had an interdiction with you.

Yeah. How did that go? And what did you walk away with after that environment that that question that they asked you? I was ashamed.

And I couldn't believe I'd fallen from into my own trap, you know, hung on my own gallows, as it were. So I just had to take some very serious and deliberate steps to pull back on my screen time. The minute my kids came into the room, I shut my laptop.

That was one of the things I did. This is in 2005. This is, you know, Wi Fi was a brand new thing.

There was no Facebook yet. Yeah. And then, of course, I've never been a big one over watching TV. But I do know a lot of people who, you know, have learned to shut the TV off, unless they're going to watch a specific show. That's one of the big pieces of advice I give people is don't just have the TV on his background noise, learn to interact. Families need to have these casual interactions all the time. And if we're all absorbed in our screens, we don't have those. So the only thing we do as parents is nag our kids, we take the screen away, or we say, Hey, why haven't you got your homework done?

We're preempting those healthy interactions that make a family healthy. Yeah, you have four parables in the book that you point to one is the fishbowl. I want to kind of tap that one because it's it's really powerful. So how does the fishbowl analogy work? Yeah, I wish I had my fishbowl in front of me for the video audience. But what picture of fishbowl in front of you filled with ping pong balls, the fishbowl represents your brain. The ping pong balls represent all the things that you have to think about and do during the day.

But even when the fishbowl is full, there's still little bits of air space around the balls. That's the time our brains use to reset to meditate to pray. Remember that we used to play downtime, that's downtime, our brains need that to heal. When we started carrying these devices around with us all the time, we began filling that downtime with screen time, quick game of Candy Crush, quick check your social media, quick check of the news, right? So our brains never rest. And all this anxiety and depression.

It's not necessarily because of the content that we're consuming. It's because our brains have never rest and we're on high alert all the time. Our brains are like any other muscle. If you went on a walk and you walk continually for nine hours, you'd be exhausted. Our brains need time to rest as well. And if people spend nine hours a day on their screens, their brains are getting exhausted. And we need time to think, to meditate, to pray, and just daydream. And we don't do that anymore. When you look at the amount of time the average person, are you the average person?

I doubt it. When you look at the average consumption of screen time, I think the number is something like nine hours a day. You are correct. So that space you're talking about where the water fills up, I mean, you use that illustration of filling the bowl with water, right?

The fish bowl. And but that represents about nine hours out of our day. That is a huge amount of time. It's pretty much, especially with young adults, if they are awake and they're not doing something else, like in the shower or driving a car, they're on their screens. So we're just not allowing, we're not allowing God to speak to us. Or, you know, I remember, you know, I'd stand in line at the grocery store in the old days and I would pray for somebody or I would try to help somebody who was struggling with their cart or something like that.

How can you do that if you're just looking at your screen? You can't love your neighbor if you can't see your neighbor. Yeah, that's so true. First Corinthians 6 19 says, Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You're kind of connecting those dots, right? We'd often I like to work out and I feel good, the temple that I'm managing the temple, maybe not perfectly, but I'm working out and doing what I could do. Describe that application to the brain part again.

You touched on it. But how do we need to recognize that this is God's created body and mind? How do we manage that? Well, well, I mean, our brains are designed by God to respond to threats to wolves, as I say in the book, you know, if you were taking a walk through a nice forest and you wouldn't you'd notice the trees and the flowers and the butterflies. But if a wolf came across your path, your brain would instantly go into a state called hyperarousal. And what the media does is they give us a constant parade of wolves threats that keeps our brains on hyperarousal and it's wearing us out. We are not meant to see a wolf every 10 seconds or every 20 seconds. That's not the real world anyway.

It's not. But the media is going to tell us the world is getting worse and worse and horrible and horrible. And, you know, the more partisan you are, the more you're going to see it through this lens. You know, it's going to filter through.

I'm putting a pair of sunglasses up to my eyes. You know, we still see the world through the media, but the media is filtering it for us. And they're going to give us the worst version of reality, the darkest version of reality, because those are wolves. That keeps us clicking that that gets our hyperarousal going and then advertisers buy our attention. So they are manipulating our brains to get us to buy their products.

And I'm sick of it. The difference between passive and interactive media use. Let's describe that for us, because we probably don't think about it, especially if we're not in the business. Yeah. So all media was passive until 1972. You sat down in front of a screen and you either watched a movie or you watched a television show, but you didn't change what happened on the screen. It's not interactive.

You don't interact with it. Yeah. OK.

In 1972, they invented something called Pong, the world's first video game. Did you play that? Absolutely. Yes. Boy, that seems really slow now when you go back and play it.

Yeah. And then came the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Mario and Space Invaders. But we began interacting with our TVs for the first time. And then personal computers came.

And then came these things. And we manipulate what happens on this screen six, seven, eight hours a day. Now, passive media is like going to a museum and looking at the paintings.

Interactive media is like painting something yourself. It's much more taxing to the brain. So I tell parents, you can give your kids a couple of hours of good, wholesome television, and you're not going to rev up their brains as much as if you give them two hours of gaming or two hours of scrolling or two hours of Internet. Because what you've done is you have caused their brains to hyperarouse, hyperactivate. And that is much more injurious, much more addicting than just watching Gilligan's Island or some TV show. Something passive.

Something passive. And the long-term effect of that, have you looked at the brain science on that to see what damage is done actually? Children have very neuroplastic brains. Their brains are forming. And so if you give them a lot of screen time as a kid, especially interactive screen time, you'll see lower test scores. You'll see higher levels of ADHD, hyperactivity. Because what we've done is we've trained their brains to be stimulated all the time.

So downtime feels weird. If they're not being stimulated all the time, it's like something's wrong. So they will find out, they'll act out, they'll find things to rev their brain up. To get that dopamine. To get that dopamine. And so they become disciplinary problems in school and all these things manifest themselves because calm seems abnormal. Whereas calm has been normal for thousands of years. And we've flipped that on its head. So that overstimulation is really causing great damage.

How does a parent, A, recognize that? And then, I mean, we did it too. You had the iPad or whatever you might have and you put it on something good. I'm not saying something bad.

But you put something good on there and you hand it to Junior while you can get some things done. Yeah. Okay. All right. How many have you seen Lord of the Rings?

Yep, we've seen it. Okay. Frodo had a magic ring. I'm holding a ring up right now.

Yeah. When you put the ring on your finger, what happens? You become invisible. You become invisible. Parents, you have a golden ring called a screen. And if you need your kids to be invisible for a few minutes, you hand them an iPad. You hand them a phone and they become invisible.

All their crying stops, all their fighting stops. But what else happens when you put the ring on? Remember Gollum wore the ring all the time? You get twisted. Your values, you get the world's values and not Christ's values.

And here's the other thing. When you put the ring on, you become visible to Sauron, the evil Lord who knows where you are. When you give your kids that magic ring of power, that device, you are making them visible to advertisers who want their money, influencers who want their opinions, and predators who want their body. So you are opening up doors to all sorts of evil. David, we'll dig into that more because that is a profound statement.

I mean, as a Christian parent, that really puts it in perspective, boom, right there. Technology, though, it gives us a lot of choice in our lives to do this, to see that, to read this. I mean, there's positivity to some of it. I mean, I'm better informed. You can do Bible study on there. It's really good to look at all the notes you can have access to and all the concordance material and history of when that disciple wrote that book and why he wrote it, et cetera. So there are positive things in that environment.

But talk to the issue of choice, the impact that all that overwhelming choice has on us. Yeah. How many of you have seen the movie Bruce Almighty?

Did you ever see that one with Jim Carrey? Suddenly he's given all the powers of the Godhead and it ruins him. We now have God-like powers thanks to our screens.

I have a daughter who lives in Australia. I can call her on my phone and see her in real time 7,000 miles away. Before 2009, only God could do that. Now I can do it and it costs me nothing. We have been given all these powers.

One of the parables I talk about at the beginning of my book is the parable of David the shepherd boy who goes from powerless to a palace. All of us now have digital castles. We can create this digital kingdom over which we reign as Lord and Master. We decide who comes in, what ideas come in. We're on a constant state of vigilance like a king.

We can clap our hands and any food appears at the door in 15 minutes. We can summon a harem of beautiful women to fulfill our every desire through pornography. I mean we have become digital kings and within this kingdom we reign. We have total decision. We can cancel anyone.

We can banish anyone, send them to execution by unfriending them or doxing them or whatever. We function as digital monarchs and we're seeing this manifest itself now in the real world. This is what's happening on college campuses. Young adults who grew up in the digital world canceling things are now trying to bring cancel culture to our universities. So that's where you think that is rooted in. That's interesting. They've been doing that since they were kids.

Unfriend, cancel, blah blah blah. That's why they don't want to tolerate any ideas because they have been raised as digital monarchs and presided over a digital kingdom over which they are the sole authority. That is really insightful. What's the most important thing for parents to know and what advice would you give them in this area?

I mean you've said some profound things today and I'm sitting here thinking oh my goodness. My boys are in their 20s now. I wish I would have known this when they were three, four, and five. But what's kind of the core core for parents to know what to do? Okay, so if your kids are little and they haven't been exposed to screens very much, do a screen use plan and stick with it. So what does that look like age-wise?

I mean from zero to 18 I guess? Sure, I mean as long as they are under your roof. Make it clear that every screen is under your control. You can check it for any content all the time. If you're going to give your kid a smartphone, you darn well better have some parental controls on it and you have to let them know this is my phone that you are using and that I have the right to check it anytime for anything because there are predators out there.

It's not that I don't trust you. It's that bad things are coming through these phones and I need to be able to check that thing. So how do you approach that you know in your age breakdown, zero to two and so on? Well, start as early as you can. If your kids are already habituated, I mean if they're 13 and they've had a phone since they were eight, I'll pray for you. I mean that's tough because they've already learned.

But I mean even here's a really good piece of advice. I see little kids now in stores and they're in strollers and they've got their own little kids tablet, okay? What are you training them to do? You're training them when they're bored to go to a screen.

Right. Don't do that. Train them to be in the real world from the beginning. Set limits right away. One of the most practical limits is no screens at the dinner table, okay?

And put yours away as well. Do screen-free evenings. Read books together. Build pillow forts. Do the things in the analog world that are going to make them more well-adjusted adults. So zero to two, you said basically don't introduce them to any kind of screen.

And then three to five, limit the time maybe an hour. Television. Yeah, yeah. Well-chosen television shows are fine. Focus does some great, I'm going to put in a plug for your guys' stuff.

Yeah, there you go. Yeah, just stream some of Focus's stuff for kids. And then as they get a little bit older, you can give them some more interactive screen time but put limits on it. Be careful using it as a carrot. If you clean up your room, you can have an hour of Super Mario. Now you're setting it out as this, you know, golden thing that they're going to get if they're good. A prize.

Yeah, yeah. Screen time is a prize. Something you should fight for. Describe the parental conversation by age, you know, when your kids are really young.

What does that sound like to protect you? This is why I'm doing this. But, Daddy, I want more screen time. They're not going to say it like that.

I want to watch whatever. But describe those relevant age and stage kind of conversations you might have with a single digit child in age 5, 6, 7 versus a 13, 14, 15 year old. Yeah, well, I mean, starting about age 7 or 8, you've got to have the conversation about lewd content because it's going to find your kids. By 7 or 8? Yeah. That's a big one, everybody. By 8, most kids have seen a nude image.

Okay. Either by a friend or by accident. These things seek us out. So we don't have to go looking for them. They find us.

So by about age 8, I recommend that you have that first conversation. You don't have to get graphic, you don't have to get detail, but you have to explain. You know, you may see a naked person on a screen that this is out there to hurt you.

The person behind this is trying to hurt you and you need to also, and if you see such an image, come to me and I'm going to buy you an ice cream cone to thank you. Incentivize them to come to you. That's something you do want to incentivize when they're looking at... Yeah, truth.

Yeah, hey, if you see something like this, come and tell me and you're going to get your favorite, you know, cherry chip ice cream. Yeah. How do you, I mean, part of that is kind of inoculation, right? I think we as Christian parents, we assume maybe we can build a wall high enough that will keep them from these things. The reality is it's not going to happen. You cannot build a wall high enough to keep your kids from seeing things that the world wants them to see.

And it's not a point of defeat, it's just a realism. So then the question becomes how to create good spiritual discernment, decision making, a good heart so they're doing the right thing. That's what is good about that ice cream idea when somebody is trying to show you something evil, then come and let's talk about it. But I would think part of that is just having good dialogue with your kids from the time they're young about what this environment's like and be age appropriate in the boldness in which you describe those things. Yeah, you just have to let them know that you love them and, you know, you're not doing this to be a killjoy.

You're doing this for their protection and they won't believe you. But hopefully some of that will get into the back of their minds. And when they do see things that are harmful, like the word you used was discernment. We have to teach our kids discernment because we can't be with their we can't we can't build a completely impregnable wall.

Yeah, we do need to build a wall. Yeah, but arrows are going to get it over. Right. And so when the arrows come, the kids have to be they've got to have their shields up.

Well, and I think in the past and it still plays out today. But I think when Christian young men and women go off to college out of high school and they're out from under mom and dad's roof, it's kind of an analogy to what you're saying with what they do with screens. It's just mom and dad may not know it. You know, they now they can go party and do things.

And if mom and dad have not had those discussions with them about what does it mean to be on your own, be responsible for your life now and making good decisions. That's really not good. And it's the same thing with screen time.

Yeah. And there are a lot of voices out there that want to pull our kids toward extremism. You know, they really and I think a lot of kids are falling for these pitches because they're they're couched in the word of compassion and love.

And, you know, let's be kinder. And it's just it's pulling the young people that have a very compassionate heart and activists know this. And they use screen time to manipulate their views and to turn them away from Christ. You know, Christians are just a bunch of bigots. They're not compassionate and all that stuff. We all know that that's false.

Christians are the most compassionate people we know. But they're redefining things and our kids need to have discernment so they can understand that, you know, that they're being manipulated there. It's it's it's a filter that's going on.

And they're the truth is being filtered through these glasses. You know, David, I'm thinking of that frustrated parent. They're doing it poorly.

The kids are doing it poorly. All of that. How can we more fully embrace what God has for us when we limit our time on the screens? We only have 24 hours in a day and we are devoting nine of those to screen time. God has a mission for us. God wants to speak to us. God wants to use us. And it's very hard for him to break through now because screens are the object of our worship. The Bible says, fix your eyes upon Jesus. Our eyes are fixed upon our screens. So we've got to tear our eyes away from our screens and put them back on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

Let's end here. You use the analogy of rehearsing a play for interacting with the real world. How can that help us understand better the importance of getting off the screens? The final story I tell in Drowning in Screen Time is just a little parable of an actor who comes out on stage completely unprepared. He flubs his lines. He stands in the wrong place. He knocks over the props and the other actors are busily trying to cover up for his flubs.

I think what we're seeing with a lot of young adults who have grown up, you know, seven, eight, nine, ten hours a day on their screens is they are flubbing their lines. They haven't practiced. They haven't been to rehearsal. Real life takes lots of rehearsal. We have to learn how to be in community with people who might say things that offend us. Yeah, wins and losses. We have to learn to take wins and losses. We have to learn how to come out of our digital castles and encounter real life.

Our car breaks down. We have to learn how to get a deal with it. All these real life situations that we're insulating ourselves from by being on the screens, we're flubbing our lines and we're missing out on real life and the real joys that are available to us. So the purpose of my book was to teach everyone how to get people out onto the stage, back into real life, so that we can create an award-winning, how does my analogy go, to fulfill our mission in life. That's the whole goal of it is not to deprive us of something that's good.

It's to give us the opportunity to fulfill the mission God has given us. Well, this has been great material. I mean, you've had a few ahas in this short discussion we've had. There's so much more in the book, Drowning in Screen Time. Get it from us. And John, we'll give you the details in just a minute. Please support the ministry and be part of the outreach here at Focus on the Family to save babies lives, save marriages, and help struggling parents. And for a gift of any amount, we'll send you David's book as our way of saying thank you for standing with us. And when you're online, be sure to check out our Plugged In ministry. We have an entire department that spends time going through the offerings that you and your kids are consuming. They really are very wise, and we also have a podcast called The Plugged In Show that releases every week, so check those resources out.

All the details are in the show notes, or give us a call. 800, the letter A, and the word family. David, again, thanks for being with us. This was really, really good. Thank you, Jim.

Well, we hope you have a great weekend with your family and your church family as well. And then plan to join us on Monday as we hear the incredible testimony of Virginia Prodan, who came to Christ while living behind the Iron Curtain. I started to share the Gospel with him. He put the gun down. He noticed several times.

His shoulders relaxed. I have to tell you that I recited the Gospel to him. And I watched him melting under God's Word. And thank you for joining us for Focus on the Family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

Feel that nip in the air? It's time to put on fuzzy socks, drink some hot cocoa, and decorate your home with a new season of Focus on the Family's Christmas Stories podcast. This year, we'll talk about the nativity story in the Gospel of Luke. Join us as we chat about how Christ's birth inspires us, how we celebrate the season, and ways we find that childlike wonder again. Listen to the Christmas Stories podcast on your favorite podcast app.
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