Parenting in the Digital Age

Readers! It’s been a long time.  Sorry for the absence.  In the midst of this summer, there’s been a lot on my mind.  Here’s the latest….

Not so long ago, I was in elementary school, where watching TV in the summer was a luxury.  My parents were cautious enough to limit our television watching to 5 hours per week (this is today’s equivalent of 1 day of television consumption, while I do realize there is much more internet consumption today as well).  TV was limited even further with a little monetary incentive.  Ten “TV coupons” were issued each week, each good for one-half hour of television watching, which could be redeemed at the end of the week for 50 cents (you could buy a lot more in the late 80s and early 90s for 50 cents than you can now).  Given that an extra $3 per week could be added to my wallet by rationing my television to two Gilligan’s Island reruns and a wonderful episode of The Price is Right with Bob Barker, I was quite frugal in my use of TV coupons, using the extra funds for an ice cream at the lake, a pack of gum, whatever.

Fast forward twenty to twenty five years and I am now raising a little munchkin myself.  My two-and-a-half year old watches streaming video on our computers, will never understand that her parents had to watch a show the afternoon or night it was on or miss it for years to come.  Yes, there was a time that Costco, Amazon or Hulu did not sell multiple series of episodes of Friends, Madmen, or Grey’s Anatomy to name some shows for adults, or Curious George or Dora the Explorer, for more age-appropriate shows related to this blog post.

No, Ellie will not understand those things because the world she is growing up in has multimedia at our fingertips, either wired to the TV or wireless through her parents’ laptops or cell phones.  Recently, as I’ve pondered this topic, I’ve observed kids with their own iPads or Kindles and they are absorbed in them, playing games or drawing virtual pictures.  While I don’t consider myself a techie, I know a thing or two about technology and still I wonder what the long-lasting effect, if any, is on our culture where we readily turn on the boob tube, fire up the laptop to check up with our “friends” on Facebook or watch hours on the television.

And still, the information available to us is amazing in what it lets us see.  Wikipedia is my constant friend for learning about things that would have taken much more effort to learn previously.  Youtube brings about humor like sneezing pandas, and recordings of Mister Rogers and vintage Sesame Street.

I think that as a parent, finding the balance for my child is what is needed.  She needs active, live play with others.  She needs rest from a busy day.  This with learning via the occasional TV program, while learning about the available technology that will be so much more common in her life than mine, is a way to do that alongside other things that stimulate her brain.

In closing, I would love to hear your comments on this topic, dear reader.  How do you see the access to nearly everything via our digital fingertips to be a positive influence in your family?  A negative influence?  And, mostly, how do they impact our ability to connect with one another and with God?  I’d be grateful for your insight.

Flavor of the Month

Back in the day, Baskin Robbins used to have a flavor of the month.  Remember that?  And it would be something pretty special.  A unique combination that you’d want to be sure to try because you knew you would like it.  Well, fast forward some years later, and a part of me has taken a liking to the idea of problem of the month.  It’s gotta be something pretty special and doesn’t everyone want to know about it because you know that they’ll want to worry about it with you.

 

In recent months, it’s occurred to me that my flavor-of-the-month syndrome doesn’t really help me much.  Because as soon as one perceived problem is solved another one pops up to replace it.

The truth of it is that so much of my worry is learned.  I’ve learned over time that it’s normal to worry, that something in my life must bring me to a place of fear and dread.  And yet in the back of my mind another part of me knows that problem-of-the-month just doesn’t cut it.  It’s the part that wants to believe Jesus words in Matthew 6 when He told His followers:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:25-34).

Live for today.  Remember that Jesus’ Father knows what we need—that is, what we truly need.  And in our seeking first God’s kingdom, it will all work out.  That’s been the journey as of late.  And it’s been fun to see how God has showed up “more” than He has previously.

Try it with me this week.  And as you do, remember that we’re in good company!  The Apostle Peter encouraged those to whom he wrote his first letter to cast their anxieties on God.  King David asked God to search him and know his heart in Psalm 139.  May we follow their examples, be brave and rest in the fact that God is right next to us in our own lives.  And may you remember that as we seek His kingdom, all else falls into place.

Burnout and the Willing-Doing Gap

I’m back from my travels. Great to be home, great to have caught up with friends and good to put the suitcase away for some time. Having not been on the road for awhile, I’d forgotten what it was like to catch a plane here and ride the rails and have a meeting there all while trying to have some semblance of rest and peace. Needless to say, I feel for many of my fellow Americans for whom this is the norm.

One of the main things I saw during my travels was the effect of burnout—long-term exhaustion and diminished interest—in the workplace and in the Christian life in general. Many of the people I saw and even new folks I met in passing told me of their busy lives and how that lifestyle does not help them to rest or connect well with God. James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful God talks about how the number one enemy for Christian spiritual formation is exhaustion and that we live beyond our means not only financially but physically as well.

Oftentimes we believe that if we just try harder in the spiritual life, things will get better. Yet this belief is false. If we’re to have any long-lasting impact in how we counter burnout, we need to slow down, which is quite a paradox from the “try harder” mentality we might usually think would work. Theologian Klaus Issler says that “willpower alone was never meant to carry the weight of right living. It is too limited to defeat the various temptations we face and to change the sinful habits and compulsions we have developed over a lifetime. Will power is also too weak to bring about positive change—we cannot will joy, peace, kindness. We can will certain actions, but not character traits. Rather, as Jesus taught, our mode of life is primarily directed by our inner life or heart.”

May each of us this week examine our lives and see where we are nearing burnout. Let’s also take Smith’s suggestion of sleeping more so that we can be more alert to others, our selves, and to God.

Try this with me this week (quoting Smith): “At least one day this week sleep until you cannot sleep any more. If you need to, find a day when you can sleep in. Your aim is to sleep, or stay in bed, until you can finally say, ‘I am completely rested. I do not need to sleep or stay in bed a minute longer.’” As you practice this discipline this week, what, if anything, did you learn about God or yourself in the process? Keep me posted on how you progress in this easy way to fight burnout in your life.

T-Minus Ten Days and Counting…

Wasn’t it just two weeks ago that we were up to our elbows in turkey and dusting off the Christmas decorations from the garage rafters? We’re now two weeks in to Advent, the time of preparing for the coming of Jesus, and Christmas is just around the corner. This is most evident as one drives the roads between 4 and 6 in the evening—it seems that there is just not enough time to get all the things done done, nor parking spaces at the local shopping center!

Take heart, however. Martha’s begging of Jesus that her sister Mary serve their guests during a dinner party of their own is an important reminder for us to remember during this busy Christmas season. What was it that Jesus told Martha in response? He said that “Mary has chosen the better part” which would not be taken away from her. The better part, for Mary, while her sister was distracted by much serving—errands, hustling and bustling—was to be with the One for whom their own party was for.

Take a moment and reflect on your own Christmases past—what memories do you recall? What presents do you remember receiving? If you’re like most, the memories of spending time with family and friends are more vibrant, fond and worth holding onto. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, may we remember the example of Mary Magdalene, and for Whom Christmas is all about, and choose the better part.