Screens and Our Health
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Did you know that screens can actually affect your health? David Murrow shares the good, bad, and unexpected effects of screen usage and how to make healthy choices.
Screens and Our Health
Dave: Okay, I’ve told you this a couple of times; but I don’t think you’ve ever heard me—something that really bugs me when we get in the car—
Ann: Oh no! Yes, I know what you’re going to say.
Dave: You know what it is; don’t you?!
Ann: Yes; I always defend myself.
Dave: You always defend yourself and deny it.
Dave: What is it?
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
When I get in the car, and you’re driving, I get on my phone to catch up with all the things that I have not caught up on that day—
Ann: —texts/with emails; and you hate it.
Dave: I’m all excited; we’re in a car together. I’ve been working on my phone, probably in the house, because it’s work. Then we get in the car; I’m like, “Oh good, we get to talk.” I look over, and almost every time, she is like deleting emails and responding to texts. Then I’m like, “You always complain about me, and this is my time.” It doesn’t seem to work; so finally, I get to say something.
Ann: I’m sorry. I know; I know.
Dave: Are you going to repent or just confess? [Laughter]
Ann: I will repent; I will make a conscious effort and talk to Jesus about it.
Dave: It’s okay; we just need to get some help with this.
We’ve got help sitting across the table from us in the studio; David Murrow is back with us. David is the author of Why Men Hate Church, which was a blockbuster book
15 years ago, something like that?
David: Yes, 2005.
Ann: And this book, too, is something that is really helpful. It will have a great impact on our churches, on our homes, on our families, and on our society. This one is called Drowning in Screen Time.
Dave: And you’re looking at me, like I’m drowning in screen time.
Ann: I wanted you to read the subtitle.
Dave: Oh, the subtitle is really interesting; because I think it’s exactly what we’re hoping to help people with—A Lifeline—so this book can be—A Lifeline for Adults, Parents, Teachers, and Ministers Who Want to Reclaim Their Real Lives. Obviously, in that subtitle, you are getting at what’s going on; we’ve been talking about it this week. We’ve sort of lost our real lives, often, because we live in a—not a fantasy—but a screen world that isn’t real.
It’s been real interesting. One of the things you do in there is you talk about five parables—
Dave: —that you sort of use to teach different things. One of them/we were talking earlier about the four brothers.
David: Okay; so I tell this story of four brothers, who lived on a farm. They ate what their hands and fields produced. Well, then the farm fell on hard times and had to be sold; so the four brothers moved to the city, where they found exotic new foods.
This is what:
- the first brother, who we call Moderate Mike, continued to eat the same foods in the same amounts;
- the second brother, called Excessive Eddie, ate healthy foods, but in larger quantities, because they were now more available;
- the third brother, named Dishonorable Dan, adopted the city dwellers unhealthy diet;
- then the fourth brother, who I called Addicted Albert, ate all foods in excess.
Now, over time, Addicted Albert became ill, while Excessive Eddie and Dishonorable Dan saw their health diminished; but Moderate Mike remained fit and vigorous.
I tell this story as a diagnostic tool. Screen time is not the same for everyone:
- Some people are Moderate Mike—they can watch a few TV shows; they can check their email—they are still heavily invested in real life, and it’s a healthy activity for them.
- Now, some people are like Excessive Eddie. They are not watching bad content, but they watch too much. As I mentioned in one of our earlier segments, the average American watches nine hours of screen content for entertainment every day.
Dave: That’s unbelievable.
David: Most of us are Excessive Eddies. We’re not necessarily watching pornography, or Game of Thrones, or any of these really nasty television shows. There is too much, and it’s making us spiritually fat as it were. We are gaining excess calories that we don’t need.
- But there are a lot of us, who would be like Dishonorable Dan, the third brother, who eats unhealthy foods. Those would be the pornography and the degrading and cruel content that is so available.
- Addicted Albert would be our fourth brother. He is the guy who just went hog wild on everything; that would be the complete screen addict. We are seeing this a lot with young men, who are addicted to video game playing or pornography; young women, who are experiencing social media addictions or high levels of anxiety.
Which brother are you?
- Are you Moderate Mike?—are you managing your screen time well?
- Are you Excessive Eddie?—you’re not watching the bad stuff, but you’re watching too much; you’re on your screen too much.
- Are you like the third brother, Dishonorable Dan?—are you dabbling in things that are dragging you down spiritually?—are you inflaming people on social media and getting angry and cruel on social media?
- Or are you Addicted Albert?—is it completely overwhelming your life?
Ann: Can we assess that ourselves, or does someone else have to assess it?—like an alcoholic, he has a really hard time admitting, for a long time, maybe, that he even has a drinking problem. So can we see it in ourselves?
David: Well, I think it’s a combination of both. Step One in Alcoholics Anonymous is admitting you are powerless.
Ann: Right; right.
David: I think there is a role of self-examination and admission that has to come first. The key is, if you hear that from someone else, you’ve got the courage to acknowledge it, and exam your own heart, and take it to the Lord in prayer and say, “Is this really true?” I would imagine, most of the time, it would be.
If you’re on your screen five-and-a-half hours a day, what are you not doing—
David: —that you would have been doing in 1980 or 1990? What would those five hours have been devoted to? I think, for many of us who follow Jesus, there certainly would have been more prayer.
David: There would have been more awareness of people around us, who need to know the Lord or who have needs that we can meet. I think a lot of the weakness in our churches today is being brought on by screen time.
David: It’s the fact that people are simply not aware of the needs around them; they are not praying in the Spirit; they are not seeing what God is doing in the world, because their eyes are on certain websites.
Dave: Yes; you know, when I hear you go through the four brothers, I’m immediately like, “I’m Excessive Eddie.”
David: Yes; I am too.
Dave: I’m like: “That’s not a problem,” “That’s no big deal.” Yet, I’ve had—like I said earlier—I had a six-year-old granddaughter tell me I spend too much time on my screen; I’ve had my wife say that. Yet, I just sort of smirk and go, “Yes, I’m Excessive Eddie. It’s no big deal”; but it is a problem.
Ann: Is Excessive Eddie a gateway drug? [Laughter]
David: In some cases, it is; because the two brothers, who ate foods in excess or ate unhealthy foods: “Why wouldn’t it be a good thing to have more? I mean, if I enjoy video gaming for two hours, why shouldn’t I game for four hours?”
Dave: Yes; I know I was walking somewhere yesterday, and my phone wasn’t in my pocket. I literally was like, “Oh!” I just felt like there was an appendage of my body that is not with me right now. It’s that prevalent in my life that it’s always in my left pocket.
David: There is actually a clinical term, nomophobia.
Dave: What’s that?
David: That’s the fear of being disconnected from your phone—nomophobia. Then there is another one like it called textaphrenia—that’s when you feel phantom buzzes in your pocket—[Laughter]—“Oh, I must have got a….” “Oh, no; I didn’t get a text. I didn’t get a text.” You actually imagine yourself getting texts and getting notifications and stuff.
Dave: That is just scary.
David: I mean, it’s a wonderful invention on one hand; but it’s easy to become enslaved by it.
David: One of the things I tell people—you know, we were talking about the buzzes and everything—“If you really want to eliminate a lot of the mindless screen time in your life, turn the notifications off on your phone.” I’ll get text notifications; I get maps; my travel apps—like airlines that I fly on—I definitely want to know if the plane is going to fly; but other than that, I’ve got everything pretty much turned off.
Dave: Well, I like/I love your one chapter title, “Sleepier, Fatter, and Sicker: What Screens Are Doing to Our Bodies.” What are they doing to our bodies?
David: So in 1960, at the advent—really when television—85 percent of homes had televisions for the first time; the average woman weighed, I think, 140 pounds. The average man was about 162.
David: Today, the average woman is 162, and the average man is 180 or 190.
Dave: Now, you’re not saying that is screens.
Ann: Yes, because we’re sitting.
David: In 1940, when we came home, we turned on the radio; we listened to Jack Benny. While you are listening to the radio—
Ann: —you’re doing stuff.
David: —you can move around; right? Well, then, with television, it immobilized your body. Then things got worse in the 1970s; we got these things called VCRs. Do you remember those? [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, yes.
David: Well, now, even the commercial breaks are gone.
David: Then the devil created something even worse, which is called the wireless remote. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, yes!
David: Yes—straight from the pit of hell this thing—[Laughter]—because now, you can sit there and channel surf, change the volume, change the input on your TV, and never move anything except one finger—
David: —all of this immobility after work. Plus, it’s other things, too: it’s calorie-dense processed foods; it’s labor-saving devices like washing machines and garage door openers. Probably the number-one reason we are so fat these days is because we come home from work—we’re exhausted; we sit down on the couch—and we don’t move.
Dave: All of what you said is true. Yet, you play this game in your mind; it’s like, “Oh, I have a fitness app on my phone, and I count my calories.”
David: —if you use it!
Dave: But the stats are saying it’s not working for most of us.
David: No; we are also sleepier because we now have these devices that are keeping us up at night. Back to the 1940s/in 1940, the average American slept like 7.9 hours. Now, that’s down to like 6.8—
David: —because we are on our various devices into the night. All the screen things that we are addicted to never end. Facebook® and social media scrolls indefinitely. There are no stopping cues that tell us it’s time to stop using our screens; that is by design.
Ann: We’ve talked about being fatter, sleepier. Let’s talk about sicker, because you mention that as well.
David: Yes; we are seeing lots of affects, from carpel tunnel to neck injuries from people looking down on their screens. I mean, your head is heavy; and it’s meant to ride upright on your neck. But if you are constantly looking at your phone, you’re tilted at about 60 degrees; so we’re seeing, actually, a lot of injuries. We’re seeing eye-strain injuries from people looking at their screens eight/nine hours a day. We’re meant to look at a world that is around us in three-dimensions. We’re not meant to look at a glowing panel in two-dimensions.
Dave: You have a chapter called “Swipe Left: How Screens Are Weakening Relationships.” We’re a family and marriage program, so it’s all about relationships. Help us; how is this weakening our relationships?
David: If you think about a typical young man or young woman in times past, a lot of their marriages were arranged; or it was just the people in the village; that was their dating pool as it were. Even when the modern dating started in the Roaring ‘20s, you still met people at church; you met them in the office; you might know a few dozen singles that were available for dating or mating.
Well, now, with online dating, you have literally thousands of potential mates and dates available to you. You see these people on your screen. If you use an app like Tinder®—I hope you don’t—but you can swipe left if you don’t like them or swipe right if you do. You try to make contact with them. What it does is it gives our brains the impression that there are zillions of people out there that we can meet, so it makes us less likely to commit. We’re seeing this. A lot of young adults are postponing marriage; they are postponing commitment. They have this impression that: “Hey, there are so many fish in the sea. Why would I want to catch one?”
It’s also leading to a lot of promiscuity. You know, Tinder is the hookup app. That’s one of the reasons why we are seeing the marriage age—the average age of first marriage going way, way up—in 1960, the average woman married at age 20; and the average man married at 22. Today, it’s 27 and 29. It may be even higher than that, post-pandemic.
All of this perceived surplus of mates is suppressing the marriage rate, causing men not to commit and making it actually harder for women to find a long-term—or men who are interested in a long-term relationship—it’s making it harder for them to find long-term partners.
Ann: I also wonder if—as they are in their marriage, and they are struggling, as every marriage does—but they could always have back in their mind, maybe, somebody that they swiped a certain way and think, “Hmm, maybe, that was the one.”
David: People do this in dating all the time. I know people, who have been ghosted mid-date. If it’s not going well, the man gets up, excuses himself; and he swipes for another hookup.
David: This sort of stuff goes on all the time. Screens are really distorting the dating market that was really meant to be rather small. It’s just now so enormous that people are not committing.
Dave: How important is it for us, as parents, to model good use of screens? I mean, are we modeling for our kids good and bad?
David: Two words that sound very similar are the key to this: monitoring and modeling.
Ann: That’s interesting; I was going to ask you about monitoring too.
Ann: So let’s talk about both of those.
David: I would say modeling is primary. If you are on your screen six hours a day—if the first thing you do when you get home—is plop down and play video games or spend an inordinate amount of time, in front of your kids, on your iPad, then you’ve got to get your house in order. Just like you were saying with your granddaughter—get your own house in order first—because your kids are going to do what they see and not what you tell them to do.
David: Once you do that, you need to put monitoring tools in place. Now, there are technological tools that monitor your kids’ screen use that are very helpful—there are whole-house internet monitoring tools; there are things you can put on the phone—but you need to know what your kids are consuming.
It used to be that predators hung out in the bushes. Today, they hang out on social media. The real danger to your kids is not an unlocked door; it’s an unmonitored digital device.
Dave: So many of us, as parents, think of the unlocked door; you know what I mean?
Ann: Oh, yes!
David: It’s crazy. You can’t let your ten-year-old go down to the park and play alone. We did that all as kids; right?
David: But you know, it’s: “They’re going to be snatched.” The predators are online. They are not at the park, because online you can stalk hundreds of kids at once.
David: I tell a horrifying story in the book that was written up in a magazine about a woman, who goes online, posing as a 13/14-year-old girl. She uses software to change her appearance to look like this girl. She posts an Instagram®, a brand-new Instagram profile. Literally, within three minutes, 15 adult men—
Ann: Come on!
David: —15 adult men have asked her for her phone number. I mean, if these things happened in the analog world, it would be: “Stop the presses.” We’d call the police; there would be non-stop coverage on the news. But these abuses are largely unreported in the screen world.
Ann: Oh, I’m thinking of moms with daughters; I’m thinking of my granddaughters. That is staggering. Yet, we would never go to bed at night with all of our doors unlocked, our windows open; we would be vigilant to protect our children. And yet, they have these devices that, when parents know that, like help us know: “What do we do?”
David: Well, there is monitoring software. Bark is one of them that is really good that I recommend at my website, DavidMurrow.com.
Dave: Bark, like a dog barking?
David: Bark, like a dog.
David: It barks when your kid—when somebody tries to come after your kid—that’s why they named it that way.
David: It doesn’t literally. [Laughter]
Ann: I know, but it; but it—
David: But you don’t have to clean up after it either. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s good.
David: There are a number of these. Disney® has one—I don’t know if I can recommend that—but I know they have one. There are software packages out there that will help you. But the best thing is: your 13-year-old should not be on Instagram.
David: Boy, they should never be on something like Snapchat®, or something where the pictures disappear; because that’s where sexting starts.
Dave: Well, and I’m thinking, as we talk to parents about this: “It’s on you. You are in control. This is your/you have the power to control this.”
Dave: You write in your book—I love how you say it—you said: “It’s very important that your kids know every screen belongs to the parents. Access to screen content is with parental permission and remains under their control. Parents will keep all passwords to their apps. Let the kids know you will be checking their phones regularly to keep them safe and have unlimited access anytime of the day or night.”
Dave: I mean, that’s just a word of advice: “Parents, this is your job.”
Ann: We aren’t out of control—we can control and monitor these devices in our homes—and we, not only can, we need to.
David: Yes; it’s like, if you get two mice in your house, pretty soon you’re going to have an infestation.
David: You don’t want to let this mouse into your house; you need to get in control of this early. The kids need to have this expectation from the beginning: “Every digital device, every screen, every television, every iPad, every phone—all of these belong to me as long as you are under my roof.” They need to know: “This is because I am protecting you. There are people out there, who want to harm you, and who can reach out to you through these devices. I am not going to allow you to be harmed. I am going to protect you.”
Ann: This is out of love. I think you are right, David; these conversations should be happening when our kids are younger. They should be ongoing—that we are talking about them at the dinner table—that it is no surprise; we are educating our kids what is happening in the digital world.
But also, that we are praying about this—like we go before God—we ask Him, “Lord, protect our kids; protect our hearts; protect our minds; and protect our bodies.” Be in God’s Word, because that’s where true life comes from.
Dave: I think the Lord will also say to us: “And I put you to be their protector.
Dave: “I will protect, but you have been given that job.”
I would say to a parent: “I know you probably know this; but if you have not been doing this, and as a result of these programs, you decide, ‘I’m taking back my home,’—there is going to be a revolt; it’s not going to go easy—they are going to be/your kids are just going to freak out; but you have to win that battle, because you are protecting them.”
David: And you have to replace it with something better—
David: —with something better—Cold Stone [ice cream]—bribe them, whatever it takes.
Ann: That’s good. Bribing works in this case.
David: Get the mouse out of the house.
David: One of the things I advise parents to do is to do a formal screen use plan while baby is in the womb. Start it as soon as possible: “This is how we are going to implement screens.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has one that is actually very good.
I’m going to be putting one up on my website very soon at DavidMurrow.com that parents can go through, that they can print out, that they can say: “This is how many hours we are going to have the television on,” “This is when we are going to turn the thing off,” “This is how we are going to be using the internet in our house.” From the time the kid is very little, they just know, “These are the policies.” They’ll see it as normal.
I know a lot of kids who are starting to see the advantages of coming unplugged from the internet. Do you know what is really cool right now?—flip phones. Kids in junior high are carrying around—and even high school—are carrying around flip phones. I think there is a growing realization, among the young, that we are using our screens too much. We are misusing—we’re becoming Excessive Eddies and Addicted Alberts—they don’t want to be that. Young people want health, just like we do/we adults do.
Ann: Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart.” I think that we need to guard our hearts and our children’s hearts.
David, thank you.
Dave: Yes, this has been great.
Ann: This has been super helpful.
David: Well, it’s been my pleasure. Thank you for having me on the show.
Bob: The verse that comes to mind for me, as I listen to Dave and Ann Wilson talk today with David Murrow about our screens, is a verse in 1 Corinthians 6, where the Apostle Paul says, “All things are lawful for me but not all things are helpful.” All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything. I think we all have to ask the question: “Have we become dominated by our screens? They are lawful, but are they profitable?” That’s what is at the heart of this conversation—and it’s not just for those of us raising the next generation—it’s for any of us who have access to screens. We all need to be asking ourselves this question about our devices.
In fact, what David Murrow has written in his book called Drowning in Screen Time is so helpful we want to make it available to you this week as a way of saying, “Thank you,” when you join with us to help advance the ministry of FamilyLife Today. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. This radio program, our website, our resources, our events—none of that would happen—if it weren’t for listeners like you, who say, “This is important; this matters. I want to see this ministry continue and to grow.”
When you invest in the ministry of FamilyLife Today by making a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY, you are joining with us to help effectively develop godly marriages and families. That’s our mission. When you do that, we want to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of David Murrow’s book, Drowning in Screen Time. You can request it when you donate, again, online at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you donate by calling 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, as we’ve said today, technology is not bad; it’s a tool. We just want to make sure we are using it wisely and that it is not dominating our lives. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with me. David, as a ministry, we are trying to utilize screens and technology as effectively as we can to help promote and advance the ministry of the gospel; right?
David: Absolutely. It allows us to get the gospel and the biblical principles of marriage and family to more people and to more homes. That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time and energy on improving our FamilyLife app.
If you have not checked it out recently—Bob, I’ve learned that the ideal time for me to listen to a FamilyLife Today show is at 1.4 speed—that’s available on our app; you can adjust it to whatever speed you want to listen to. It allows me to take my drive times that I have—and instead of tuning into sports radio, which especially at this time of year, I am tempted to do—it allows me to use 20 minutes that I have and to really feed my soul and to lift my eyes upward as I head home and invest in my kids. It’s been a great resource to really redeem technology through this FamilyLife app that we keep improving.
Bob: You think Dave and Ann sound okay at 1.4 speed?
David: That’s my preference, Bob; that’s all I’m saying.
Bob: Well, I do hope our listeners, if they have not already downloaded the FamilyLife app, go to your app store, search for FamilyLife as one word. The app is free; and it gives you access, not only to this daily program, but to lots of helpful content. Again, download the app and start using it.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Dave and Ann Wilson about the difference between kind of the idealized family—this image we have in our head of what perfect family life is supposed to be like—and the real family life that all of us are dealing with. How do we strive for the ideal without being crushed by the fact that we never get there? We’ll hear more about that tomorrow from Dave and Ann Wilson. I hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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