What Happened When Our Family Quit “Media” {Part Two}

Hey! Glad you’re here! In case you missed yesterday’s post, I’d love for you to click back and check it out before reading on. It might be helpful for following along. Maybe. 

When our family decided to give media the Heisman for 40 days, I hoped it would just create some breathing space for us and for our kids. I could tell the desire to play a computer game or watch an episode of this or that was constantly tugging on my children’s heartstrings. And it pains me to see a beautiful, verdant backyard waiting for their feet to run across it, and to see them staring at a screen instead.

We needed to act, and with a little push from A. W. Tozer, we ripped it off like a bandaid. The quick way, not the slow, super painful way.

I knew the journey would be occasionally challenging, but mostly good and healthy, and it absolutely was. The good part. Less challenging than I expected, and more fulfilling than I imagined.

Shall we jump into some of the observations I made in the process?

Library Blake

1. First, I can use media to engage my children, or I can engage myself in the art of raising them. {Ouch}

Getting real honest here. It’s painful. In our house, I was leaning on TV like a cheap babysitter. On tough days, in a pinch, I’d let the two-year-old stare at episode after episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on a laptop because I’d rather have her “managed” than actually train her about how she needs to behave so that she can learn to entertain herself and play nicely while homeschool is happening.

My new term for giving a kid a media fix when they are behaving badly? Aiding and abetting.

Like the previously mentioned screen in the car, I sometimes put something on instead of engaging with my kids to help them learn how to be patient while we travel from place to place, or while they are between activities and need to entertain themselves.

I wonder if perhaps, for quite some time, we (as a society) have been using TV as a babysitter at home, instead of helping our kids learn how to function when we can’t personally be involved in entertaining them. And isn’t the natural consequence then that they can’t behave at a restaurant, or church, or in the classroom, or in other situations where they’re not being entertained?

Food for thought?

2. When they’re not being entertained, my kids are capable of some really amazing stuff.

Of course I think my children are ahhhmazing, but at the same time, I also think they’re just regular kids. Once we stopped overloading their tiny regular brains with someone else’s ideas, somehow it seemed like our kids’ imaginations went into super-tastic-overdrive. Their imaginative play just skyrocketed to a whole new level.

They already had different names for themselves and each other depending on whether they were baby cheetah cubs, dogs, cats, wolves, or superheroes. But now, there was so much more. Just one example? They now have seriously awesome superpowers like sticky jelly, a super-powerful shield (like Captain America) and “meat and fruit.” (Like no superhero ever before, I think. Still haven’t figured that one out yet.)

My six-year-old began writing dozens of creative stories that I think are almost publishable. Not because I said, “Hey, kid, go write a story” but because he felt like it, grabbed his journal and his markers, and just wrote, and illustrated, these incredible stories where he and his fellow superheroes solve problems, like the moon turning green, with their incredible rainbow rocket and their superpowers. And it’s a cliffhanger, but don’t worry! They make it back to earth long before they run out of oxygen, with plenty of time to drink their chocolate milk.

The boys are also waiters at their own restaurant, the Rainbow Star, and they invite visitors to select items off their impressive menu to enjoy. You better take them seriously when they give you the bill. Our babysitters have commented on how impressive their imaginations are, and one specifically drew the correlation between their ability to entertain themselves and our limits on traditional media entertainment — without me discussing what we were doing.

3. Books and Magazines are way underrated. Because truly? They’re awesome.

The adults in the family, as well as the kiddos, are now enjoying books like never before. Our eldest pours through the Nat Geo Kids and Rick Jr. magazines (we suggested these as birthday/Christmas gifts) when they hit the mailbox. The younger two are asking to be read to more, looking through and enjoying books on their own more, and listening more politely when the eldest reads with them. Everyone is excited about trips to the library and nearly every library book is read and read and read and read before it gets returned. We grownups sometimes go to bed and just read quality stuff now, which is wonderful… more on that in a moment.

(And, as you saw in the picture above, the Tank is hoping they’ll let him move in at the local library.)

4. Sleep is also way underrated. (And also? It’s awesome.)

You know those well-worn paths I told you about yesterday? One of ours went something like this. We decide we will watch something once we get the kids to bed, and then we’ll get in bed early. We get the kids to bed, then it takes us half an hour to find something we actually think is worthwhile watching. We comment to each other that we feel like we’re digging through the trash looking for something to watch on Amazon or iTunes. We are not cable subscribers, so the TV doesn’t dictate what we’re going to watch or when. From Parenthood to This Old House, every episode is always a choice, and we really like that. (And we like avoiding the commercials.)

We occasionally decide — even though this sometimes feels like a totally ridiculous waste of time to us — to watch something we’ve already seen because it is more appealing than anything else we’ve found. We have some pretty strict limits on what we’re willing to watch based on theme, content, and rating, (not just for the kids, but also for us adults) so that crosses a good bit of potential viewing content off the list for us. But let’s get to that thought another time.

We finally find something to watch after wasting 30 minutes looking, so we start the movie later than we intended. We pause around the halfway mark to pop our own popcorn (with one of these super cool stove top turny thing poppers, because you guys know that microwave popcorn is honest-to-goodness horrible for you, right?) and, without fail, when the movie finishes, it’s much later than we wanted to get in bed.

So? We hurry ourselves to bed to get some shut-eye, and we start the following day tired, irritated, and less-than-our-best, all because we wanted to include a little entertainment in our schedule the night before. The morning feels rushed, and we nearly always regret staying up late to watch something the night before.

It’s a well-worn trail that I feel like a dufus for taking over and over.

Since we decided to take a break from entertainment altogether, we began creating this new pattern where we have a little bedtime snack, and actually get in bed before 9:00. We read a little more, we chat, and we turn the lights out at a reasonable hour. And man, we sure feel a lot better in the morning.

Okay. Now this Scripture I’m going to include here might feel a little fire and brimstone, but bear with me — think about these words, and consider the possibility that it is, at the very least, a partially accurate characterization of our society at present:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 3: 1-7, emphasis mine)

Do we love ourselves? How many selfies are being posted online every day? Do we love money? Well, we love the stuff we can buy with it. We love our trips to Starbucks and our new clothing and our Pinterest-inspired homes, right? Do we occasionally celebrate a lack of self-control with phrases like, “I saw it and I just couldn’t resist! {smiley face} #spoiled”?

Press on, though — the part that gets me the most: always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. We are so, so very educated as a society. At least, we have the opportunity to be incredibly well-educated. And we have access to a wealth of information, not just in our local libraries but also right at our own fingertips with access to the internet.

But how many of us are spending our media time watching ourselves and our friends on Facebook, watching TV that will teach us very little, or clicking over to see thirty-seven photos of celebrities we remember from our childhood? Do we feel proud when we actually read an entire article on current events from the New York Times, so much so that we share it on Facebook, even if it wasn’t that great?

Watch the news for half an hour, and you’ll probably get the same sense: while we might have access to a wealth of information, we’re not necessarily, as a society, getting any wiser.

But. Good News. The Good News is still the Good News, dear ones: God loves us anyway. His grace is unending and able to cover our mess.

But then how are we going to respond to the gift of grace? Will we say thanks and ask to return to our regularly scheduled program?

Well, you’re the one holding the metaphorical remote control for your life.

While I’m not suggesting everyone needs to leave their TV by the curb and never open Facebook again, I hope the anecdotal evidence I’ve shared with you from personal experience will inspire you to consider your relationship (and perhaps your children’s relationship) with media.

This is your one wonderfully precious life — would you be bummed if you got to the end of it and found out you’d spent 37% of your waking hours staring at a screen for entertainment?

The reward for making some hard-but-good changes around the Collie house has been significant. We feel like we have more time. We’re getting better sleep. Our kids are watching less, reading more, and often behaving better as a result.

When I asked the Hero Hubs what he thought the biggest benefit of our media fast was, he answered with one word: Perspective.

Stand two inches away from the canvas, and you will see a blur of colors and not much else. Step back a few feet, and the beautiful scenery created in one of Monet’s Water Lillies might stir your heart or move your jaw a little closer to the floor.

Sometimes you genuinely cannot get a good glimpse of something without stepping back. But step back, and you might find yourself overwhelmed by a new perspective — a gift you can’t put a price tag on.

What happened when our family “quit media” for a while? In a nutshell, I’d say we saw our lives, our kids, our time, and our purpose a little more clearly.

Maybe the hardest changes are the ones the produce the sweetest fruits.


P.S. After receiving lots of comments and questions following these posts, I’ve realized I haven’t actually explained where we’ve decided to draw the lines on media now that our fast is done! I’ll be posting on that soon, so stay tuned! 😉

What Happened When Our Family “Quit Media”

It’s been a bit quiet around here. Here being the Collie house. And it’s been a really good quiet.

Back in February, I was reading a great book by A.W. Tozer — The Root of the Righteous — and I was challenged deeply to think about the place I give media and entertainment in my life.

In one chapter, Tozer discusses a dulling, even numbing effect, which entertainment can have on our souls. It can become an addiction, sought after like a drug, numbing to the moral conscience — an escape. But what are we using it to escape? A life we’re not content with? Time thinking about the deeper purposes of our lives? Problems which escape will never fix? There was so much food for thought I read the chapter again and again, impressed with some new thought or conclusion each time.

It eventually brought about a decision — discussed of course with one Hero of a Hubs — that over Lent we would take a break from media. We’d slice our beloved together-on-the-couch movie night, scrap the occasional watching of an episode of something we find worth watching on Amazon Prime, and curb our web-surfing enthusiasm to only specifically searching for things like “Chicken Enchiladas Recipe” or “testing your soil for gardening” (happened). We also decided — other than keeping an eye on the Quiver Tree Photography page — we’d send Facebook packing.

And? Our 6, 4, and 2 year-old kids were coming along for the ride.

Library Blake

We returned from our recent adventure to visit HH’s folks in South Africa, and a week later, it was time for Operation Media Fast to begin. Within a day or two, I began to feel aware of what a pull my phone had on me. How often I had to glance at it just to be doing something, because… because nothing really! Because HH had gotten off the couch to go to the bathroom or because I just had a moment between this and that.

If you ever find yourself in the southern hemisphere, out in the bush on the back of a Land Rover hoping to view game, you might see the well-worn trails that certain animals are taking each day. Perhaps to a favorite feeding spot or a source of water, you’ll spot a worn down stripe of trampled brown grass leading off into the distance, enveloped on each side by verdant strips of green. These signs make it clear: some creature, or group of creatures, walks this path and walks it often.

I quickly began to recognize some of those worn-down trails in my own life: habits I never gave a second thought, to peek at Facebook for no particular reason and distract myself for half a second (which can turn into ten minutes) away from the present reality, or to check email when it’s not a good time to respond to email — so why check?

Within the first week, it seemed like there were pockets of time in my day that could’ve been used more productively, but I saw: they had been given over regularly to brief, sporadic, but consistent moments of distraction.

By week two, the kids weren’t asking quite so often to play with the Nook or see the Wild Kratts. (The gentle reply was usually, “We’re just taking a little break from that remember?”)

By week four, the once-default question when we’re all tucked into the mini-van was seldom heard: “Can we watch something?” became a rarity. The kids began to actually play or talk or just enjoy the scenery in the car, and, yes, sometimes they’d fight, but instead of turning something on to keep them engaged, I started choosing to engage myself to address the behavior that’s undesirable in them.

One of the hardest things for me to observe was a sudden, increased awareness of how much media is coming out of my kids. How many lines from how many movies they’re able to quote by heart. They recite scenes back and forth. They can say three words and I immediately know: that’s Curious George the movie, or that’s Despicable Me 2.

It’s not that they’re swearing or even being rude (most of the time) — but it really makes me sad because it demonstrates the potential their minds have to absorb incredible wealths of information very quickly.

What kind of water am I pouring for my little sponges to soak up?

Jen Hatmaker recently shared at a conference I attended that, in Jesus’ day, kids the same age as my oldest two… Were memorizing the Torah. Guys. That is the first five books of the Old Testament.


Our kids have so many advantages — the assistance of technology to help them learn, access to a world of knowledge at their fingertips, and nutrition leagues beyond what kids those days would’ve had to help feed their growing brains.

But, as a society, what are we doing? Well, we’re often feeding their bodies junk, and feeding their minds junk, too.

Not saying Curious George the movie is awful. Just asking — is it really profitable enough to let them watch it over and over? And over?

Why have I allowed them to see it so many times they’ve memorized it? More important, what could they be memorizing instead?

At the end of the media-free time, I seriously felt like our family had changed for the better. Like something that had a hold on us had broken. Our kids were different. Our schedules felt different. Our health felt different. Our marriage even felt better.

Now that we’ve made it through those 40 days without media, and we’ve continued to limit our media intake, I think I have at least a half dozen observations to share about the journey, so I’m going to hit the pause button here, and resume with more observations tomorrow.

But, in preparation for tomorrow’s discussion, allow me to leave you with some questions to ponder, if you will:

1) How much time do you think you spend thinking about the shows you watch or the things you see on Facebook when you aren’t actually engaged with that media? If you set a stop watch and observed for a day, do you think you’d be surprised?

2) How likely are you to plan real-life engagement with actual people around the timing of media events? (i.e., “The game” or “my show” comes on Wednesday at 7 so I really would rather plan for Thursday.)

3) How often do you rob yourself of an honest-to-goodness good night’s sleep because you’ve fallen into the trap of watching something and you just have to know how it ends?

4) Does discussion about what media is going to be consumed create arguments in your household? Remote wars, anyone?

Here’s the thing, friends. Entertainment is a stronghold. It’s a well-worn path in our society. Do we need to ask ourselves if it should be? To what extent are we willing to give it a place in our lives?

While the diversions we enjoy might be useful as an occasional source of relaxation, you can be sure your destiny isn’t waiting for you on the other side of the third season of Parenthood. But your real life might be waiting for you to give it some serious thought, and decide what purpose you really want to live for.

Join me tomorrow as I share a little more about this journey?

I’d love for you to stay tuned… 😉