1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.”
Our youngest daughter was getting sassy, and not in a cute way. Then, I noticed a direct correlation between what she watched on Disney + and her behavior. It seems many modern TV shows that are supposed to be for children and families display what I consider troubling interactions between parents and children. The children seem to be in charge, rather than the adults, and parents are generally portrayed as comedic buffoons with little knowledge of what goes on in their children’s lives.
I also noticed that lately she’s been spending more time watching TV rather than playing, which admittedly, isn’t entirely her fault. Since we moved, there aren’t as many children her age in the vicinity to play with and with the pandemic people aren’t visiting one another’s homes as much, and then there’s been the weather. Kansas had a very cold winter.
Something had to be done, though, so I decided to more diligently limit her screen time and her viewing options, and she and I started watching the Little House on the Prairie series together. I chose to introduce her to that show because it teaches good morals such as respect for parents, hard work, and honesty, and there’s also no doubt that Charles and Caroline are firmly in charge of the household and their children.
We recently finished the first season, and my daughter has become more and more enamored with the idea of living “back then.” We’ve seen a marked improvement in her behavior. She’s more respectful in her interactions with us and has a better attitude toward doing her chores. Now that the weather has improved, she's even started going outside and playing "Little House."
Witnessing my daughter’s experience with the negative effects of too much TV and of the wrong kind influences from TV, and seeing the family and community dynamics portrayed on Little House on the Prairie got me thinking two things:
1. People are more disconnected from each other and their communities than ever before.
2. We have very unhealthy relationships with screens – TV, computers, and other digital devices.
When I went to the dentist last week, my hygienist said something that convinced me to write about this topic. She wore two masks and a face shield, and I expressed my sympathy for her. (I don’t know how she could breathe!) We both said how glad we will be to not have to wear masks anymore.
Then, she said, “The longer we go on like this and stay away from other people, the more isolated we're becoming.”
“I agree!” I said, “I think people are losing their people skills from lack of interaction.”
“Oh, absolutely,” she replied. “I’ve noticed that we don’t even make eye contact in stores anymore.”
Humans were created for relationship – relationship with God and with other humans, with a spouse, with children, with family and friends, and with a community. The early church even lived communally, sharing their property and food. (Acts 4:32-35) I think part of the reason that God made us for relationship was to prevent loneliness, certainly, but perhaps to also prevent selfishness. In order to interact harmoniously with others in-person, we must take into account their opinions, comfort, and habits, and we must exhibit an awareness of their rights in equality to our own.
Our social interactions with other humans have declined in the last decade or so as we have developed a closer relationship with our screens, spending too much time with TV and movies, which predominately have immoral story lines, behaviors, and unhealthy portrayals of relationships, and on our phones with social media, which often has too much negativity and paints an unrealistic view of others’ lives. How often have you seen a group of friends or family sitting in a restaurant all looking at their phones, rather than talking?
Cigna Healthcare conducted a study on loneliness. Their website, www.cigna.com/newsroom, reports, “In 2019, our results showed that the mental health crisis is growing – three in five Americans (61%) report feeling lonely, compared to more than half (54%) in 2018. Why? Key determinants of loneliness in America: A lack of social support and infrequent meaningful social interactions. Negative feelings about one’s personal relationships.” [Emphasis mine.]
And that was before the pandemic. Now that we have been forced to abstain from gathering, from having people into our homes, from going to public gatherings like concerts, movies, and ballgames, and even been restricted from attending school, work and church, screen time has skyrocketed. According to various statistics available on the web, adults now spend about 13 hours a day on a screen, and kids spend more than six.
So, why did I choose 1 Corinthians 15:33 as the focus scripture for this message? I did so because I feel that spending too much time in the company of virtual reality via screens instead of in the company of real people, having real interactions and conversations, is negatively affecting the interpersonal skills of our society.
Yes, I do realize the irony of the fact that I am sending you this blog via a website and sharing it over social media, and so I’d like to clarify that I do believe that there are benefits to the digital age. Information has never been easier to communicate or obtain, and I enjoy the convenience of streaming services as much as the next person. I especially love the freedom of being able to reach the world with positive messages through our blog site and social media accounts. However, like anything else, digital media is best consumed in moderation.
Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” I think we can agree that there is a great deal of foolishness available through TV and social media, and too much digital companionship causes harm to our physical and mental health.
My prayer is that when the pandemic is over, and we’re able to resume normal activities, without masks, once again, that we, as a society, will be able to regain our interpersonal skills. Who knows, after a period of adjustment, we may even emerge from all this kinder, gentler, more considerate people, with a greater gratitude for the ability to spend time with others.
Perhaps we may even see a massive decline in the amount of time people spend keeping to themselves, watching TV or absorbed in their phones, choosing instead to socialize and spend time together as they once did before digital entertainment and smart phones were available.
At any rate, as COVID numbers go down and the weather improves, my intention is to have fewer family movie nights and more family “get outside” nights, and my prayer is that others will, too. Maybe by June we’ll all be hosting barbecues again, without masks, and sitting side-by-side in the stands at a ballgame. Who knew that such simple pleasures, once taken for granted, would become so missed, and so much more appreciated?