Psalm 19:1-6 (NLT)- The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. The sun lives in the heavens where God placed it and moves across the skies as radiant as a bridegroom going to his wedding, or as joyous as an athlete looking forward to a race! The sun crosses the heavens from end to end, and nothing can hide from its heat.
Like many of you, I spend a significant portion of my working day in front of a screen. I serve as a marketing professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and co-own a marketing agency, and much of my interaction with my students, clients, and team members occurs online. Without the buzz of my FitBit to tell me to get up and walk, it’s incredibly easy to remain sedentary for hours upon end. It’s ironic that the days that I move the least are the days that I feel the most exhausted, mentally and physically. And yet, unable to sleep.
Chances are that a lot of you have a similar story.
Extended screen time like this has led to the notion of constant availability, leaving us increasingly stressed because we’re never able to (or at least we never think we’re able to) “turn off”. During a therapy session last year, my counselor wisely pointed out that this was quite narcissistic because I felt like the success of projects solely hinged on me. This false sense of importance has us glorifying our devices in an unhealthy (read: creepy) way. A 2014 Boston Consulting Group survey reported that before giving up their phone:
— 46% would give up one of their off days from work
— 45% would give up their vacation
— 33% would give up seeing friends in person
— 33% would give up sex
Yeah, read that last one again…
Sadly, our kids are already picking up on these habits. 8-12-year-olds spend an average of 4 hours and 44 minutes per day on screens, while teens jump to 7 hours and 22 minutes, not including schoolwork or homework.
We’re failing our kids when we do this by not only imparting added stress on them but actually fostering the same bad habits in them. Even more than our time, our kids want less-stressed, less-exhausted parents. Scientific study after scientific study echoes the example that the Bible, and Jesus’s own example, provides by recommending time spent in nature as the only solution to stress. In Matthew 14, right after Jesus fed the 5,000, he sent his disciples ahead of him to their next stop so that he could go “up into the hills” by himself to pray. Before his trial and ultimate crucifixion, Jesus went to spend time in an olive grove called Gethsemane to pray.
I get how hard it is to make time to do this. Trust me, I do. But a few recommendations from a fellow dad who is in the trenches as well:
- Your kids are relying on your leadership to break the screen addiction. Be brave and make a plan to go outside. Lead by example and turn your phone off, including taking tons of pictures. Your Instagram followers will survive.
- Make an achievable plan a few days in advance and stick to it. If your main goal is to be in nature, then you don’t necessarily have to couple that with exercise goals. These things don’t take a massive budget or gear, but they do take planning.
- Don’t “reward” this time in nature with a treat or additional screen time. You’ll be instilling that time away from screens and time in nature is a chore to suffer through, rather than a time to enjoy. With kids ages 3 and 5, we’ve found it helpful to do things like having our kids solve a riddle with clues given at intervals or having them look for signs of wildlife.
- Build it up! If your kids are young, work some books like Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots or Whose Poop is That into your nighttime kids reading. If your kids are pre-teens, consider things like having your kids test the pH of the stream you’re hiking near or letting them help pick the destination. If your kids are teens, consider having a deeper conversation with them about why this important to you. Your kids are smart and experience the stress and anxiety that screens can cause. You can also talk to them about climate change and why it’s important to protect and enjoy God’s creation.
- If your spouse is reluctant, take the time to explain that this is about more than just adding another thing to the calendar. This is about helping the mental, physical, and spiritual lives of your whole family. Our family enjoys The Green Bible, which highlights verses about nature in green text, includes studies that focus on nature, and several great essays about nature from authors.
I hope your family will turn off your devices and turn to nature for rejuvenation more this year. We’re committing to it in the Russell household. I pray that your time spent in nature is as important as it is to me and my family. Even more, I hope it becomes as important to you as it was to Jesus. He proved it made a difference in his ministry, and I’ve got to believe his example is there for us to follow.