Hi everyone, Rob here.
A recent article in The Atlantic highlighted the dangers of excessive screen time and a heavy diet of social media for today’s teenagers. Feelings of loneliness, despair and worthlessness were common. They struggle to connect face to face with people with relationships being carried out via their smartphones. There’s a sense that they have no identity outside of their social media profile. This means they never feel known. Now, every new generation of teenagers causes their parents to shudder in some way, but these behaviours (which are not limited to teenagers by any means) have serious mental health consequences and leads me to ponder afresh how we can model healthy spirituality to this generation and our own children.
The first thing we have to confront is our own relationship with the screen. Smartphones are our alarm clock, our calendar, our newspaper, our bibles, our encyclopedia, our entertainment, our mobile office and, thus, they feel indispensable. They have become an extension of ourselves rather than a tool. So while us older ones may not be as addicted to gaining likes on Snapchat we still struggle to put the screen in its place. I certainly do and my kids are noticing. My invitation is to remember how much better it is when the phone goes away and we play board games or do puzzles or work together on a project. It is to get everyone outside and active. It is to be fully engaged in conversation. It is to “forget” to take my phone on outings. It is also to model how to use it well. I need to model when to pick it up as well as when to put it down.
The second thing is to live a sensory life. The screen deadens the senses. You can’t taste or smell the food on Masterchef for example! Living a sensory life is to be present to every moment. It is to savour every bite of my meal. It is to notice the suns rays warming me as I walk round the park. The other day I was entranced by the cloud formations as I sat by a tree and took in my surroundings. A breeze was blowing and making the grass dance in front of me. God was bringing me back to the playfulness of his heart. I would have missed it if I was inside. It is to truly listen to music and for it not just to be background noise. If we’re truly present to the moment, engaging our senses, then even our daily shower becomes an exercise in experiencing joy.
The third thing is to seek adventure. I would love to hike the Himalayas but it doesn’t have to be that epic and expensive! It can be as simple as walking and not having an endpoint in mind. It can be driving down a road you haven’t been down before. One time, my wife Kiley, took us all on a night walk to see glowworms. It was just 10 minutes from my house and I had no idea they were there. Adventure is a mindset of intentionally stepping out from the familiar and the comfortable. I need it. my kids need it and I believe that God wants us all to have it. It provokes wonder and invites us to walk with Christ into the adventurous life of God’s kingdom.
This afternoon I head off on a pastor’s retreat. I’ll take my phone but it will be on mute and ‘forgotten’ often. I’m going to try and practice these 3 points and come back more whole. I pray that wherever you are you’ll do the same.
Grace and peace.