Parents—and grandparents—are concerned about technology’s impact on children and teens. CL associate editor Janae Rempel talked via Zoom with three members of one extended family—grandmother Norma Warkentin, who attends Reedley (Calif.) MB Church, daughter Shelly Spencer and 16-year-old granddaughter Ellarie Spencer, who attend Butler Church in Fresno (Calif.)—about “screens.” Here are excerpts of their conversation.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “screens?”
Ellarie: Honestly, I think of my old phone or tablet just laying there collecting dust in my electronics drawer.
Shelly: When I think of screens, I think of all the negotiating that has to happen between, “Did you get your homework done?” and “What do you want to watch now?”
Norma: My husband said when he thinks of screens, he thinks of window screens, but this kind of screen is just the opposite. A window screen is a filtering mechanism, where a (technology) screen opens you up to a world of possibilities, some of which are good and some which aren’t.
What are your house rules for screen time?
E: They’re different depending on what day of the week it is and what time of the day it is. Often at night, for my little sister, it’s “If you’re ready to go to bed, then we can watch a video while we brush your hair.” For my other sister, it’s more like, “Get your homework done and go to bed before 10.” For me, I make my own decision about when to go to bed, and I know when it’s getting too late. When my parents think I’m having too much screen time, they’ll tell me.
S: On school nights, you have to have your homework and your responsibilities done in order to earn some screen time. At least for the younger kids, they have a limit. When your time is up, you have to earn a little bit more and also go to bed at a decent hour. It’s hard to stick to. I want to be mindful of each person’s specific context, but it makes it hard to be equitable.
N: We don’t have any rules.
What are your concerns about screen time?
S: My kids didn’t grow up playing outside. It’s so sad. They’d rather be sitting in front of a screen than make up their own play. I wonder what they’re taking in from a screen when I’m not with them.
I ask myself, “How does our screen time lineup with what we were created for?” This question helps me to watch out for when screen time becomes a negative while trying to fill a need—to not miss out on something good, to feel more secure by being informed or to avoid a certain task or situation. Sometimes it’s just a way to “recharge” but can leave us no more filled than when we started. I often need to heed the small voice to reclaim a boundary, put it down and walk away.
If we’re strong enough to set healthy boundaries and make healthy choices for ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, then I don’t think that a screen is anything to be afraid of.
N: I think it can be addictive. It takes away from being outdoors for kids. I think it limits social interactions. I’m concerned about how it is influencing their view of life, especially in the climate of culture now. It’s distracting from our mission. It can be a tool used for positive, definitely, but Satan wants to use it the other way.
E: For myself, other than headaches or being frustrated with some friend issues, I don’t necessarily think that I have many concerns about screen time. I do sometimes feel like as kids become more exposed to screens the younger they are, then the harder it is to connect with them or establish boundaries with them.
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.