Screen Time

You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3

I have had something in front of my face a lot this year that isn’t the Lord: a screen. That’s not a problem in itself. I started a podcast, dove deep into writing, and stayed connected with loved ones during a pandemic. 

But unless I’m very disciplined, I find the screen becomes a bit of a false idol–something I appeal to for a solution before I turn to the Lord or another local human for help and connection.

Maybe it sounds extreme, but I believe smartphones are to my generation what cigarettes were to my grandparents and great-grandparents: widespread, addictive, socially acceptable, and loaded with unintended consequences. 

I’m not here to say that screens are evil and that we should go back to papyrus. One minister I know says, “Technology is neutral.” My phone and computer are tools, and it’s what I do with them that matters. 

Aspects of my devices are addictive, though, and I notice that I can get distracted from the useful work I’m supposed to be doing, caught up in thinking about the image I project, or annoyed that I’m being interrupted. During 2020/2021 especially, I notice I start retreating to my screen if I feel lonely, when I could engage with my family or holler at the neighbor from my front yard. 

The Heavenly Doctrines give us a formula that sounds a lot like a program for overcoming addiction: “Real repentance is examining oneself, recognising and acknowledging one’s sins, appealing to the Lord and beginning a new life” (True Christian Religion 528).

Here are some ways I’m trying to loosen my dependence on my screens:

  • Schedule times to be on social media, and avoid it at other times of day. For me, that’s during the kids’ quiet time and while nursing the baby at night. That way, I never feel that prickle of annoyance at an interruption while I cruise Instagram.
  • Put a piece of paper on top of my phone. To avoid getting sucked into the screen, I simply write down what I want to do, like order peanut butter or send a non-urgent text. That way, when I do use the device, I’m much more efficient. 
  • Turn the phone off. If I’m not expecting a call, sometimes shutting down the device provides a good obstacle to using it mindlessly.
  • Try not to use my phone in front of my kids. I want them to have healthy relationships with screens, so I try (and often fail) to give them my presence and attention.
  • When I do need to use the phone in front of my kids, I try to narrate what I’m doing. It keeps me honest, and it lets them know that I’m not playing the awesome game they wish they could play on my phone. I’m texting Dad or ordering peanut butter.
  • Watch my triggers. I joke that my phone is my “loneliness box,” and the pandemic has made that more true than ever. Am I sending a text because I’m feeling isolated or bored? Am I checking social media because I’m feeling insecure or unfulfilled? The big question: could I be doing something that doesn’t involve a screen to help with those feelings?

I don’t always succeed with these strategies, but I try to approach failure with curiosity and mercy. I’d love to hear what others have done to notice screen-worshipping and head it off at the pass.

5 thoughts on “Screen Time

  1. This is oh so relatable. Great insights and tips, Taryn. I needed this. I especially relate to that prickle of annoyance at interruptions. Is what’s happening on my screen really more important than the child asking me for something? Sure the fussy tone might not win the kid any points BUT they remain far more important than my newsfeed. Thank you.

  2. Dichotomy here as I read this on my iPad and am responding the same way. It did feel a relief to delete Facebook but I see so many uses with my iPad as well. I talk to my niece on Facebook messenger and as she is mute it is a good way to keep our communication open. I agree that we always need to be aware what we make as gods in our lives. I love that you are so aware of using your phone in front of your kids.

  3. This is brilliant- thanks Taryn! I have tried many different ways to limit screens. I used to have a certain amount of time allotted each week for my most visited sites/apps-Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. Like Monday and Wednesday I would get 30 minutes on Instagram. Tuesday and Thursday I’d get 30 minutes on Facebook. I LOVE the idea of a piece of paper though! Because I often do pick up my phone to do something useful, but then I am easily distracted by Instagram, etc. In our new apartment which is all on one level (as opposed to the 3 level house I currently live in), I plan to have a little basket/base for my phone so that it can sit there and I’m not carrying it with me everywhere (and therefore more likely to open it up and get sucked in).

  4. Whew—yes, thank you, Taryn!! This sure hits home. Something I needed to read too as I continue to try to find the balance. That irritation at interruptions really hit a nerve (in a painful but useful way).
    I have a 15min daily social media lock on my phone, which definitely helps… and then I find myself scrolling through photos, texting people or endlessly checking the weather just out of that need-to-pick-up-my-phone impulse. So so hard to cut back on the need to constantly check. I try to intentionally leave my phone behind on walks or outings when I’m with my husband and when we’re reachable through him.
    I like the idea of training myself to simply put it down more and only checking at times when I’m not in active mom mode.
    Thanks for putting the thoughts (and reminders) out there!

Comments are closed.