Godly Children, Emotional Maturity, and Screen Time  

Members of the Tikkun America Apostolic Team asked me to write an article on this subject after I expressed my deep concern on how children were being raised in our western societies (I include Israel in this).  

When Patty founded our full-time school for children (Ets Chayim School) in 1980, the motto was “Raising Children who are Mighty in Spirit.”  We did not mean by this that the school would raise the children instead of their parents, but that the school would be a support for the parents in this goal.  What could be a better goal of education? Watchman Nee, the great Chinese Christian soul wrote, that a spiritual person is one that is in such a degree of unity with God that he or she hears the voice of the Spirit in their inner spirit with accuracy and easily obeys.  This voice comes through when Scripture is understood, and the Spirit empowers to obey.  Fellowship with the Father and Yeshua and sensitivity to the Spirit is the center of life.  From this center, we are led into studies and maturity in understanding the content of the Bible and its teaching.  From this, a young person begins in teen years to develop a biblical worldview.  This provides a basis for a critical evaluation of literature, art, science, philosophies, politics, and the larger popular culture.  This education continues after high school and after and into college and beyond for those who go into higher education.  

There are many helpful involvements to this end.  Some of the most important is prayer times and reading the Bible with children including teaching them to hear the voice of the Spirit subsequent to their being born again and being filled with the Spirit. Yes, they can prophesy.  The goal is a deeply trusting relationship with Yeshua from the youngest ages.  One element that is key to this quest is training children to love to read good books, indeed creating a reading culture. This begins with parents reading to their children.  Laura Bush, the wife of President George W. Bush, was a great proponent of such reading.  Reading trains the brain, expands both imagination and reasoning ability.  When this is rooted in the family, it is part of bonding and growth with parents.  

There are many other activities that help greatly in developing a fuller personality. 

  1. Team sports is a wonderful experience where the members bond together in the joy of sports.  I believe this waS very important in our children’s development.
  2. Great vacations that are meaningful are very helpful.  Hiking and learning about nature is part of the program.  
  3. Family day trips are great bonding and teaching times as well. Some trips teach about history.  From the Mid Atlantic to North East, history lessons are everywhere. 
  4. Developing musical ability is a great gain. Playing in an orchestra develops team friendship and the joy of experiencing great beauty. 
  5. Teaching the appreciation of beauty, both in nature and art, is important. Doing artwork together is great fun.  

And I can go on and on and you can no doubt add to this list. 

Many parents are thwarted in their goals.  They have been blindsided by the internet and the ever-present screen that captures the attention of their children.  I had placed the theme of this article on my to-do list, but before I got to it, I read an article in the Jerusalem Post, Nov. 26, 2021.  One of my favorite JPost writers, Amotz Asa El, decried the whole phenomenon and recommended a book by a noted author, Micah Goodman, Broken Attention, How to Heal a World Fracture by Technology. Sadly, the book is now only in Hebrew, but I expect an English version.  Much of what he said is not new but is documented by leading psychologists.  It is worth quoting Goldman, but I note first that other studies by mainstream psychologists have documented a decrease in some important cognitive abilities, including the ability to give long term attention to reading and sustained presentations of content, and the ability to engage in logical debate and the weighing of evidence.  People with a new short attention span can only engage with sound bites of material.  I am not speaking of everyone, but that this is a tendency that affects many.  You can imagine how bad this is for spiritual life which requires serious and meditative Bible reading and quiet listening to the Spirit. God-focused living does not seem to fit into the limitations of the attention span of the screen-produced brain/mind. It also leads to a decrease in the ability to experience friendship intimacy which is based on face-to-face communication. 

I quote Goodman (who is confirmed by so many others including some of the social media founders), He asserts that the “Cyber era’s social media, gadgetry, and habits (are) clinically addictive, politically ruinous, and socially destructive.”   These are “fixtures of an unplanned revolution that begs moral correction.”  

Asa El continues, “To understand the addictiveness one need only look at today’s teenagers, kids, and even toddlers to understand that we face an evolutionary crisis.  People spend hours and hours gazing at plastic screens instead of interacting with each other.  Worse, even when they do face each other, people often let the smartphone interrupt the conversation.  It is but one symptom of a global plague.”  

“Mankind has unknowingly fallen prey to corporate interests that turned human attention into a commodity,” according to Goodman.  “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google, Amazon, and the rest of the digital era’s social media, search engines, and marketing behemoths mine our attention and sell it to business interests while exacting from us an exorbitant social and psychological price.”  He goes on to note that what at first was seen as an answer to loneliness by connecting people, that rejoined old friends, became an engine of alienation.  

There is a “sharp rise in social network users’ sense of loneliness, sadness, and fear. . . Digital interactions are for the mind what candy is for the body; it feels like food, but it isn’t nutritious, and in fact, is poisonous.”  

“Technology sterilizes communication.  Content is transmitted, but energy is not.  ‘The more people are technologically connected the more they feel psychologically lonely.”  Many will note the correlation of screen addiction with suicide rates.

Games on the screen are also included in the destruction.  Again, it contributes to decreasing a broader level of brain functioning and replaces the kind of comradery gained in in-person sports and team sports.  Thumbs replace the functioning of the whole body.  Winning and losing with thumbs brings a satisfaction but of a different kind.  Some hold that it feeds a predator instinct.  

Goodman also noted how bad it has been for politics where serious discourse has been replaced by slogans and soundbites, but this is not the concern of this article.  

I have raised the alarm before, but I frequently see parents who think it is beyond them. Breaking the addiction will elicit a response of anger even if the parents explain.  Parents want to avoid the anger.  It is like removing a drug.  Requiring activities that rebuild broader brain and soul functioning is the challenge that follows, but until the young person reaches majority age, it is crucial to have the conversation and enforce standards.  Strict limiting of screen time will be necessary and in some cases as with alcoholics, none at all can be allowed.  Maybe phone calls and replace social media.  For younger children, some counsel to avoid screen time totally except for stories that parents oversee and games played with parents.  For example, Monopoly can be played on an Ipad.  

The answer is to screen addition is to create a culture of personal interaction, prayer, Bible, reading, great books, missionary stories, miracle stories, other great books, great art, great music, great movies, personal face-to-face friendships for children, and more.  The home should be mostly a screen-free zone when there are times set for personal interaction, art, and reading.  Screen time can be good for writing, homework, and yes, research for older young people. Yes, serious research articles are available!  So there is good via the internet.  However, when we have family interaction time, all devices need to be put aside. 

It is my goal in our network to see the leaders of congregations give leadership to families on these issues and for the leader’s family to be an example.  Here is the conclusion of Asa El.  He joins this conclusion to the Feast of Chanukah. 

“Beyond that struggle lurked an even deeper confrontation one that pitted Judea’s quest for national assertion, religious freedom, and personal sovereignty against idolatry’s scorn for introspection, morality, justice, and truth.”

“There, in a nutshell, are also the elements of the digital era’s threat, whose defeat will require the same conviction, courage, and resolve that the Maccabees displayed 2,188 years ago, and our candles will salute Sunday tonight.”

Dear reader, did you note that he nails it that screen attachment is idolatry that replaces personal love attachment?  Asa El’s article is entitled, “Hanukkah and the New Idolatry.” Whenever something is valued or given attachment outside of God’s order of valuation, it is idolatry.  Screen attachment is idolatry.  People find way too much meaning in it and invest way too much time and energy in it. No wonder it leads to deadness in spiritual things and to greater depression and suicide. Human beings were not created for this false type of habit-fulfillment, no more than pornography or drugs.  I hope a movement grows up to shut off the screen. Even now some secular leaders who developed social media are ahead of us and are removing devices for their children!  Let’s develop a godly and deeper counter-culture.