It’s our job as parents not to amuse, but sometimes to do just the opposite so our children can learn self-control. For example, when your child throws a tantrum in the store, that’s not the time to give in and buy the candy to stop the crying. It’s time to leave the store and serve vegetables for the rest of the day. Self-control doesn’t come naturally to kids (or adults). It must be taught and practiced over and over.
Believe me, I realize it takes a lot of parental self-control not to give in when you’re tired. In that moment, it feels so much easier just to stop the whining or crying! If the thought of standing firm seems very difficult to you right now, take heart. As you practice this discipline yourself, you strengthen your parenting “muscle,” and it will get easier with practice.
Your child needs to develop a similar muscle of self-control that says, “I’m going to do the right thing even if I don’t feel like it. If I don’t do the right thing, something will happen I don’t like.” Don’t get hung up because you feel bad when you reprimand your children. The truth is that life will punish the foolish child who lacks self-control, which is far more exacting than loving discipline in your home. Proverbs 25:28 says a person who lacks self-control is like a city breached, unprotected, without walls. There’s no protection from danger and enslavement to sin for your child when self-control is missing.
It takes self-control for your child to finish homework before playing. It takes self-control to get along with others at school, learn an instrument, eat properly at the table, or memorize times tables. Self-control, which is the ability to control one’s emotions and behavior, is a crucial building block to your child’s success.
Perhaps you’ve uttered these words in frustration, “It’s time to stop playing that game!” or “You are losing your iPad for the rest of the day!” Technology and self-control can certainly be at odds. I used to think technology was neutral and the problem lay only in how we used it. But the more I read, the more I conclude the technology we use is not neutral. Brilliant and business-minded tech giants are striving to design irresistible technologies. Popular websites, social media sites, and video games translate into serious dollars. In 2013, Grand Theft Auto 5 made $800 million in its first day.20 The entire video game industry that same year earned $66 billion—yes, billion!21 World of Warcraft has grossed more than ten billion dollars, and more than a quarter of a million people have taken the free online World of Warcraft Addiction Test.22
What makes video games so highly addictive? First, playing these games brings a strong sense of achievement and mission. Winning is unpredictable, so you keep playing to move up to the next level. Designed with motivational elements such as badges and leaderboards, the games let the player earn points and receive special recognition. Visually, players are taken into another world, being totally immersed in the game. There’s a strong social component of playing with others in MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games. It has been estimated the average young person will spend 10,000 hours gaming by the time they reach age twenty-one. That statistic should take your breath away. Let’s say your child plays video games from age six to age twenty-one: that would equal about thirteen hours of video gaming per week. You can see how that 10,000 hours could rack up. To give you a comparison for that 10,000 hours of gaming, 10,080 hours is the amount of time an American child with perfect attendance spends in school from fifth to twelfth grade.23
Girls are also at risk for video game addiction, but as they get older, social media takes over. When your child posts a photo, an instantaneous “like” reinforces the action and invites her to check throughout the day for new likes. Various rewards like messages, likes, and new friend requests don’t appear on a schedule, so our kids check in compulsively for that dopamine prize.
In 2012, Netflix introduced “post-play,” which meant once one episode ended, the next episode in the series automatically loaded and began playing five seconds later. You can imagine how irresistible it became for our kids to watch “just one more episode,” especially if a cliffhanger was involved.24
Former Google employee and Stanford graduate Tristan Harris is calling for a revival of conscience in Silicon Valley, asking designers to stop exploiting people’s vulnerabilities. About having self-control, he said, “You could say that it’s my responsibility . . . but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.”25 Let that sink in. When your child is playing a video game or scrolling through social media, imagine a thousand people on the other side of that screen who have worked long hours to engineer that experience to be as addicting as possible. That, my friend, is not a fair fight. That’s why parents need to step in and intervene with screen-related boundaries, such as collecting all devices at night.
When the apostle Paul shared about faith in Christ to the governor Felix and his wife, Drusilla, the Bible says Paul talked about “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). Self-control is evidently very important. We know it is part of the fruit of the Spirit.
Neil Postman wrote, “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”26 Of course, there’s room for funny skits for kids and catchy worship songs. But faith in Christ should not be presented as entertainment all the time. A shallow faith in God will disappear when life gets tough.
The ways of God are not always entertaining or amusing, but they bring everlasting life and true joy. A steady stream of cute videos, cartoons, and video games may amuse and occupy your child, but they don’t cultivate character or yield lasting fruit. You can be easy on your children now by entertaining them, but later life will be hard on them. Or you can be tough on your children by providing for their needs but not catering to their wants, and then their lives as adults will be much easier. I began this chapter by telling you about Ethan ranting and raving about wanting music in the car instead of listening to my radio program. Did I give in to his screaming? Let’s just say we listened to a lot of talk radio that week. I learned a lot—and so did he.
- Erik Kain, “‘Grand Theft Auto V’ Crosses $1B in Sales, Biggest Entertainment Launch in History,” Forbes, September 20, 2013, https://www.forbes.com/ sites/erikkain/2013/09/20/grand-theft-auto-v-crosses-1b-in-sales-biggestentertainment-launch-in-history/#2fc96e1e2b22.
- Malathi Nayak, “FACTBOX—A look at the $66 billion video games industry,” Reuters, June 10, 2013, http://in.reuters.com/article/gameshow-e3idINDEE9590DW20130610.
- Adam Alter, Irresistible, 17.
- Jane McGonigal, “Gaming can make a better world,” TED, 2010, https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world/transcript.
- Mike Flacy, “Netflix rolls out ‘post-play’ to keep you watching endlessly,” Digital Trends, August 15, 2012, https://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/netflixrolls-out-post-play-to-keep-you-watching-episode-after-episode/.
- Bianca Bosker, “The Binge Breaker,” The Atlantic, November 2016, https:// www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/11/the-binge-breaker/501122/.
- Neil Postman, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/work/ quotes/2337731-amusing-ourselves-to-death-public-discourse-in-the-age-ofshow-business.
Taken from Parents Rising: 8 Strategies for Raising Kids Who Love God, Respect Authority, and Value What’s Right by Arlene Pellicane (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker, author, media personality, and blogger. She has written seven books, appeared in major media outlets, been interviewed on numerous radio programs, and written for several national magazines. Arlene lives in San Diego with her husband James and kids Ethan, Noelle, and Lucy. Learn more at ArlenePellicane.com