Few parents feel more distressed and besieged by the course of today’s society than those whose faith in God is at the core of their family life. More than ever, the shiny toys and empty pleasures of modern culture have threatened families by convincing our kids to swap “family time” for “me time,” and to play hooky from the school of godliness that is the Christian family.
Nowhere do we see this displacement more clearly than in the enormous amounts of time kids are spending glued to their screens. We already know a great deal about the dangers of unbridled internet-surfing and smartphone use. A recent report from the University of Michigan revealed just how much time kids are spending playing video games — time not spent with family or working to strengthen, rather than fall further away, from their faith.
According to the research, parents of teenage daily gamers tend to underestimate how many hours their kids are logging each day. Interestingly, the poll also suggested that most of these parents — a whopping 78 percent — think their kids are playing less than others.
More important than squabbling over what constitutes a “normal” amount of screen time, though, is to highlight just what our teens are missing out on when they trade real life for these new digital worlds. You probably don’t need research to tell you that family activities are first in line for the chopping block when teens need to fit in just one more Fortnite mission. As I explain in my book Raising Upright Kids in an Upside-Down World, the corrosion doesn’t stop at your family, but creeps insidiously down to the next generation:
The chief gamers are not solely adolescent boys, destined to outgrow their obsession as adulthood beckons. They include men ages eighteen to thirty, much to the ongoing frustration of their girlfriends and wives. Gaming is preempting their relationships, family life, or dad-kid time.
One wife spoke for many when she pleaded: Moms, if you want another reason for controlling your sons’ game mania, think of the women in their futures. Will they have to endure a grown-up adolescent still consuming hours of games each week or even each day? Will they feel neglected and less appealing than the virtual world?
I echo her words. Too much gaming won’t affect just your family. It could someday affect his family.
You have the power to slow down or stop this bad habit whenever you see fit. Your guiding principle in deciding whether, when, and how to curb your teen’s screen time should be the question, “Do these games bring my child closer to God, or just the opposite?”
You know your teen best; you know how to answer this critical question. If you find that game time has gotten out of hand, here are some ideas on how to take back control:
• Set parental controls on your children’s devices. These may include passwords, filters, and other device-specific restrictions. Not sure how to do this?
• Institute time management rules. You might give your teen a daily allowance of time he can spend on video games — just be prepared to consider appropriate consequences if he overspends his allowance. In my book, I suggest setting a ratio: for example, each half hour overrun means one day without video games. Remember, you’ll have to be as creative in setting rules as your kids are in circumventing them.
• Keep computers and game consoles in plain sight. This is of utmost importance: nothing substitutes for your watchful eyes motivated by love.
Today’s culture can be relentlessly intrusive. At times its voices may seem too many and too strong to silence. But your voice is strong, too. And you also have within you the strongest voice of all: prayer.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is a Catholic father of ten adopted children, a clinical psychologist, author, professional speaker, and national radio and television host. His radio show, “The Dr. Is In” can be heard on over 440 stations and Sirius XM channel 130