Ep. 117 || “Mommy, Can I Watch a Show?”: Screen Time & the Gospel Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood! I’m Emily, here with my sister-in-law, Laura.

Laura: Hey, guys!

Emily: We’re excited to jump that most every mom faces into today’s topic: screen time. But first, we want to let you guys know we’re going on a Christmas break at Risen Motherhood. We’re going dark on social media; our website will be up, but we won’t be posting new content from December 22nd to January 1st. We do this to rest and recharge as a team, and to trust that even though we’re not producing new content or putting things out there, God still uses the ministry to reach people with the gospel—even when we’re enjoying time with our families, celebrating the birth of Christ, and looking forward to his return again. That’s what we’ll be doing during that nice black out time!

Laura: We’ll be back in January with a whole new season for you. We’ve already planned all the content, and we’re really excited. It’ll be full of some great shows for you. Now, onto our topic for today: screen time. We thought this was kind of apropos, because a lot of your children—at least ours—over the holidays probably—

Emily: Also, it’s winter! We’re inside. What is there to do? [Laughter]

Laura: —are watching a lot of tv. Right? [Laughter] Or maybe you’re traveling and you have the flip down tvs in your car. That’s why we want to tackle it today. We know all of us—at least Emily and I, and we think you’re like us—kind of want to know, How much is too much? Pediatrician, just tell me. Well, they have told us. It’s two hours a day.

Emily: We’re talking about a holy amount. Just tell me the amount that makes me a bad mom. [Laughter]

Laura: What’s godly? Yes, mhmm. That’s right!  [Laughter] So, what’s that perfect formula for knowing this is how much screen time to give and this is how my kids will turn out in a great way. But it doesn’t play out that way; every day is a little different in the life of a mom. This topic tends to be a bit divisive. So even if you want to bring it up with your mom friends, you’re not really sure if you’re dropping a bomb or not. [Laughter[

Emily: Exactly. We’re going to be discussing how the gospel applies to the How much screen time? question today. But before we jump into that, we want to clarify what we’re talking about. The screen time conversation runs the gamut from the type of content you’re showing them to how you define screen time. (What do you mean? Do you mean full access to the internet? Do you mean on a tv screen? Is it educational?)

Laura: Education is a different category. [Laughter]

Emily: So today, we’re going to narrow in on the assumptions we’re making for this conversation:

  1. We assume we’re talking to a mom who’s already using wisdom and monitoring the content. She knows what shows and videos her children are watching. She’s discussing with her husband or critically thinking on her own about what’s appropriate for her kids to watch.

  2. We assume we’re talking to a mom who’s already aware of the research out there on screen time—quantity and content quality—in terms of how that can impact development. She knows there are implications—just like in the food conversations—to the amount and type of screen time her kids are getting.

We assume you guys already know that stuff. You’ve read the Facebook articles and whatever there is out there. [ Laughter]

Laura: That’s right. All the terrifying articles. [Laughter] Instead of addressing, Are screens good or bad? or parsing out the type of content you should show your children, what we’re going to do is talk about our hearts. What is driving your use of the screen? That’s the question for today. So Emily, do you want to tell our own problems to everybody? [Laughter]

Emily: I love this part. [Laughter] Well, yeah. My biggest struggle with screen time is wanting to use if for my own convenience. Sometimes things get chaotic in our home, and I feel, This is getting really stressful, really loud. How can I get everybody to calm down and quiet down? Oh, there’s a screen for that! That can be a real temptation for me. I’ve done lots of thing throughout the years to curb that and think through that, so that’s not to say it’s unchecked. However, that’s a struggle each day as I’m think, Oh, we’re getting ready to have a little screen time here, I need to always ask myself that question, because underneath that things may feel a little too hard in parenting. Sometimes I want to use screen time instead of depending on the Lord and pressing into a really hard parenting moment. So, that’s my problem.

Laura: That’s a good one. So, as usual, Emily and I are polar opposites. I can easily feel a lot of guilt about screen time. I have a tendency to believe there’s a right and wrong amount of time for my kids to be in front of a screen. I wouldn’t say it’s a hard line; it’s a feeling of my own line I created. If they’re sick, there can be a little bit more. If they’re not, let’s stay well within those guidelines I’ve set. It’s definitely something where if I feel like I’ve surpassed the certain level, I’ll feel guilt and that there are major potential implications down the road for my children. I’ll even try to hoard up screen time. They haven’t watched anything for a couple of days, so—

Emily: No, that’s a real strategy!

Laura: Oh? Okay! It works! [Laughter]

Emily: I mean it sounds really normal! [Laughter] It’s a mental game. Well, they didn’t watch any yesterday, so we can do double today.

Laura: Double.

Emily: I hope some of you are laughing out there. [Laughter] My kids are watching double right now.

Laura: But again, the educational videos are totally a different category, right? If they’re learning to draw while watching YouTube videos, that’s “Arts and Crafts” time, not TV time. [Laughter]

Emily: As Laura and I talked through our own heart issues with screen time, we thought this was pretty representative of two big pitfalls mom can fall into. We know there are a lot of others and everything in between. We want to speak to the mom that relates to the feeling of, My screen time choices for my kids are driven by my convenience, what’s easiest, and what gets my to-do list done. And we want to speak to the mom that relates to the feeling of, I have lots of rules, everything is firm and controlled; if I hold to this standard, everything will be okay, and they’ll develop wonderfully. We want to speak the gospel into both those situations, and maybe you’ll fall somewhere in there.

Laura: We’re probably oversimplifying the heart attitudes around it, but we’re using ourselves as case studies. So, the gospel for each pitfall or tendency:

For the mom who lets convenience direct her screen time, remember God’s design. God gave moms a specific role and job to do with her children: to train, to give them instruction, to raise them in the ways of the Lord. This includes being thoughtful about screen time, using it as a tool rather than as a crutch. We have a limited amount of time with our kids, so we need to be good stewards of that time, helping them walk in what’s wise and not unwise. I think what’s important to remember is God promises he’s going to be with a mom ever step of the way, he will equip her for every good work—even when things get hard.

Emily: Another thing for that mom is to acknowledge the struggle. She’s not going to get the balance right every day. Her bent might be towards finding what’s easier either through finding the temporary fix for a situation to avoid the hard feeling or hoping to do better tomorrow. There’s good news: because of Christ, we’re a new creation. This is something I have to repeat to myself: God doesn’t want us to use our new life or our freedom in him as an opportunity for sin. He wants us to use our freedom and the grace he’s given us for good works and service. I often have to remember—and maybe the mom struggling with this pitfall has to remember too—God can work through the Holy Spirit, he’s powerful, and he’s able to help grow, change, and equip a mom. She can remember to focus on God and the design he has for her life, and to trust him to help her accomplish that.

Laura: Just a quick note: the sin issue isn’t her handing her child a screen or turning on a show. That’s not a sin; it’s the heart attitude behind the reason for why you’re running to that show. Are you running to a TV show or to God? We’ll parse this out later, but when we talk about sin, we want to clarify it’s the heart.

Okay, the next mom. We’re talking to me. [Laughter] This mom uses screen time’s rules to feel in control. She often believes—whether spoken or even known—it will aide in a specific outcome. I often think, Oh no, I don’t believe it’ll make my child a better child. But deep down, as I think about all the things I try and want to control in my children’s lives, that’s my ultimate goal; I think finagling these things will help me produce more godly or well-rounded children. Again, we need to remember God’s design for this mom. Ultimately, remember God is in control of all things, not her. He’s in control of the hearts and lives of our children. A mom doesn’t have control over how her children turn out; even if she manages the screen time perfectly, she can’t manufacture their future, personalities, or tendencies. It’s so important for me to remember external regulations don’t change hearts; they reveal how short we really fall.

Emily: Yeah, and underneath that, it’s a pride issue of wanting to play God or being legalistic about how she can check a box or follow the rules—instead of thinking how to love others and love God. That mom can remember the good news: her righteousness isn’t found in keeping all the rules she’s made for herself or holding to certain screen time standards; her righteousness is only found in Christ. His blood and payment for her sin is the only thing to justify her or her children in life.

Laura: I think it’s good to remember God doesn’t love a family that watches TV more or a family that watches less; it’s not a means of our justification. However, God often uses screen time, or TV, or move, or all those things for our sanctification.

Emily: This mom can focus on loving God and loving others. She can rely on him one moment at a time, one day at a time, and assess situations through the lense of, How can I love this person right now? Sometimes that might include being more flexible with the rules—

Laura: This mama needs to relax. [Laughter] I’m preaching to myself.

Emily: And sometimes it does mean loving them by keeping those standards. We’re not saying to sin against your conscience. Think through those things and check if the standards reveal your beliefs are biblical and conscience-binding or because it’s an arbitrary line you made up.

Laura: As the measure of your good mom status. There are a lot of circumstantial and cultural influences around screen time as all of us know. The Bible doesn’t prescribe what the right amount is for each family. This is so good for both moms to remember. What does the Bible tell us to do? Well, it tells us we’re justified by faith, not the law. We’re to live out the Great Commision and greatest commandment. We’re to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. We’re to bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We’re to teach God’s word and commands diligently to our children. We’re to teach them to walk in the truth. As we walk out in obedience what God and his word says, the Holy Spirit is going to be faithful to convict you and to guide your screen time decisions as you take it step by step, day by day. Know that it’s probably going to change at different times throughout the day, weeks, and years.

Emily: Let’s get into some practical. I want to go down a tangent right there, but I’m going to stop and move on. [Laughter] We want to throw out a question to ask yourself as you try to live according to the word, through the power of the Spirit, as you do this day by day:

What are your family values and how do your screen time practices help you achieve those or hinder those? If God’s design for us, as moms, is to disciple our children, minister to our families, value the local church, practice hospitality, and all these other things like jobs and community work—that’s going to take a lot of time. We have to consider all the complexities and understand there may be some times our kids may use more screen time while we complete those things; there may be other times when we realize we’ve eaten up a lot of productive time for the Kingdom by entertaining ourselves or our children, so we need to watch less screen time in order to minister or disciple our children. It could be both. It could be either. And it could be all in the same day. [Laughter]

Laura: I love it. [Laughter] We have a few concrete examples. I think I may have shared this on the show before, but a girlfriend of mine texted us all before a playdate and asked, Hey can we put on a show for the kids, so us moms can take time to pray and talk about the deeper things of the heart? And all of us moms were like, Oh yeah! So there can be times when you’ve all agreed on a helpful use for screens. But there can be other times, like Emily said, when instead of watching an evening show, we should have family quiet time, spending time reading the Bible or reading books together. Maybe one of your family values is building a culture of literature, which means a little less time watching screens. It’s very much a matter of heart and your purpose for the screen time; you have to be thoughtful and intentional. We really believe the Holy Spirit is going to convict every mama and in a slightly different way. Emily and I are convicted differently in how we use screen time in our families, and that’s okay.

Emily: Yeah, and those are super helpful examples. There also doesn’t have to be a super holy reason for using screens. We don’t want to overthink it; we’re not saying to overcomplicate it. Over the course of time—whether it’s weeks or months—sometimes we’ll see a pattern developing. It’s more when you see that pattern, or you’re feeling conviction regularly, or something seems off, that maybe it’s time to sit down with your husband to evaluate this against the Word of God. Dig into the guilt a little bit—

Laura: Or fear.

Emily: —yes, or fear. See what’s under there, and see if that aligns with the truth or where it’s coming from. It’s a good reason to dig.

Laura: Dig a little. The second thing we want to bring up are a couple of thoughts to help you think through your screen time and  figure out which way you lean or if you’re feeling guilt or fear:

Do you feel a need to justify how much or how little screen time you use? Emily’s probably saying things like, I have a lot of kids, it’s been a hard day, I was up all night. And I’m probably saying, Oh, I’m so thoughtful and careful about quantity levels, because this is so important to brain development. There can be things we both say in our hearts, say aloud, or even use to convince others to convert to our way, whether that be, Hey, just be a little more relaxed about it! Or, Here’s some education and research you can think about! Those are some things to ask yourself about what you’re saying to yourself and to others, and what you’re thinking in your heart when another mom talks about the way she uses screen time.

Emily: We’re all going to have different personal convictions around screen time, and that’s totally fine. We’re asking ourselves how we reflect Christ’s love to our family and to those around us, what we’re known for, and what we love the most. That leads to the question of, How do we change in this if we want to be healthy? It doesn’t start with coming up with new rules or different rules. It might include that, but it starts with being in relationship with God and others, daily renewing our minds with the Word of God and the truth of the gospel. Out of the overflow fo that, God may give us practical ideas or encourage us that part of walking this out is taking a break from the screen for awhile or slotting it into a specific part of our day. We may need to relax for a little while, trusting God and praying when it comes up. There are a million practical ways we could respond. The practical, we hope, follows the heart transformation through focus and dependence on God.

Laura: I think that sums it up really well. I think it’s a big responsibility to raise children in the Lord, but God has also given us a life we can enjoy. No matter which way you swing, love holiness more than you love the screen. With that, we hope you’ll head to our show notes to check out more information on this topic. We’ll dig up some good resources and share them with you. Of course, you can follow us on social media @risenmotherhood on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Thanks guys for joining us. Have a wonderful holiday break!