OKLAHOMA CITY — With the school year underway, many parents are breathing a sigh of relief. For far too many families, the summer hours were spent not with fun in the sun but in endless screen time in the form of movies, TV shows, music and the ever-present video games.
According to Fortune Magazine, one video game alone — “Fortnite” — “has snagged more than 125 million players in less than a year, mostly kids under the age of 18,” sending the “gaming world into a frenzy.”
Just how bad is it? Southern Baptist seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. drew attention to the fact that the World Health Organization has gone so far as to recognize “gaming disorder” as a diagnosable condition.
How does the World Health Organization define “gaming disorder”?
— A pattern of behavior for at least 12 months in which gaming is out of control.
— The pattern of behavior must show an “increasing priority” given to gaming to the point that gaming “takes precedence over other interests and daily activities.”
— A “continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences,” or behavior that affects one’s relationships, education or occupation. This could mean that a teenager may play video games instead of doing homework and end up failing a test.
Whether “gaming disorder” should qualify as a real condition, we can debate. What’s not up for debate, though, is that video gaming is seemingly out of control in society, in our families.
Yet before we harp on “kids these days,” we need to stop and look in the mirror. Who is it that bought the video gaming machines? Who is it that allows children and youth to spend endless hours in front of screens?
It’s us. It is mom and dad, grandma and grandpa.
Not only are we failing to provide some safeguards and boundaries, we ourselves are exhibiting bad behavior. A study published by CommonSenseMedia.org found that 9 hours and 22 minutes is the average time parents spend with screen media daily, 7:43 of which entails personal screen media (not work-related). At the same time, the study found that 78 percent of all parents believe they are good media and technology role models for their children.
What this shows is that we — parents and grandparents — are not demonstrating restraint with screen time (even though we think we are); therefore, we cannot expect our kids and youth to do so. I myself struggle greatly in this area of too much screen time.
Here are three ideas to get at the root of the problem:
1) Set it down. If your smartphone is not in your hand, it will tempt you less. Find ways to remove yourself from the temptation of aimless screen time (Matthew 6:33).
2) Look up. God has placed you in a specific time and place. Look at the people immediately around you. See them. Interact with them. Be present (Matthew 25:31-40).
3) Unplug. From time to time, all of us need a break from media technology. If you skip social media and screens one day a week, or one week a year, the world will go on (Colossians 3:2).
With these and other small steps, Christians of all ages can get a better handle on this new disorder, or at least our disorderly conduct.