Screen Time, Part Two

In last week’s post, we looked at three dangers of excessive exposure to screens:

  1. Content offered on screens is meant to be addictive;
  2. Content offered on screens can be dangerous because it can manipulate the way content consumers think and act; and
  3. Excessive screen use can lead to emotional, social, and mental health problems.

Each of these dangers is particularly problematic for children and adolescents, who lack the self-awareness, self-control, and discernment to protect themselves.

What can parents, guardians, teachers, and other caregivers do to help children understand and control the images and messages they see online? This week, we’ll look at how to help kids understand. In our final post in the series, we’ll look at ways parents and caregivers can take control of the situation.

Understand

Here are some talking points to help your kids understand what they’re being exposed to online.

1. Nothing on electronic media is morally neutral. In other words, kids need to understand that the content to which they expose themselves will do one of two things: it will either make them wise and more godly, or it will lead them away from God and the safety he provides.

The Bible tells us in Psalm 101:3 to avoid even looking at anything that is “worthless,” or that would lead us astray (actually, the entire psalm deals with the topic). The reason? We become like the things we expose our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to. That’s why the psalmist says in this verse: “I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.” He knows that whatever he sets his eyes on will literally cling to him and either lift him up, or drag him down.

Electronic media is like that, too. Staring at content designed to shock, scare, sexually arouse, anger, or even entertain (yes—too much entertainment is bad for you, too!) will have a subtle effect on the viewer. We wind up thinking the very ways that we’re taught to think in the media we consume. We wind up speaking and acting the ways patterned for us in that media. Help your child understand that he or she is literally being programmed by the things that he or she watches or listens to—and that isn’t always good.

2. Self-control is good. This is a concept that seems to have fallen by the wayside in our modern era. Artificial intelligence (AI) is at work to keep feeding content to us content consumers. When the algorithms determine that we enjoy watching content that has certain tags, it will automatically feed us more, and more, and more. It’s like being at an all-you-can-eat buffet…there’s so much good.

And the reason why it’s so hard to just put the phone down and walk away is that the pleasure centers of our brains have been reconditioned to crave more and more content that we find enjoyable. It literally takes a force of will to close the app or turn off the phone and to focus on something else.

Kids often end up consuming endless hours of AI-curated content because they don’t know how to walk away. They don’t know they are able to exercise self-control. Talk with your kids about the importance of taking control of their own minds and bodies by setting limits on the time they spend on apps and in front of screens. If they sit passively before a screen filling their minds and hearts with content, they’re being shaped by whatever they watch. But they can take responsibility for their own bodies and minds, and get up and walk away. Sometimes, just being told they have the ability to do this can empower a child to make different choices.

3. Your kids have an enemy, who is trying to destroy them. That enemy is Satan, the devil. Satan’s mission is to destroy the fruit and joy of salvation in the lives of all God’s people. He is after your children, and can use media to infiltrate their hearts and minds.

Satan does not tend to tempt us by exposing us to extreme, implausible thoughts or circumstances. Rather, his habit is to put otherwise good and appealing things in front of us and ask us: Why don’t you just go ahead and take it? You know you want it.

He can do that through entertainment, humor, good-sounding music, and even using the words of someone else we might admire or trust to entice us. Friends sharing links to content they might find funny or provocative might provide a vehicle for that temptation. So might AI offering your child a virtually limitless menu of entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong: not everything is a vehicle for temptation. But kids need to be aware of the fact that there is someone at work behind the scenes to expose them to harmful ideas, worldviews, and behaviors. They need to either be wise enough to avoid those traps, or they need a parent, guardian, teacher, or caretaker to steer them away from danger.

In the third and final installment of the series, we’ll look at how parents, teachers, and other caregivers can actually help kids set boundaries or even change behavior regarding screens and media.

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

Go Therefore and Make Disciples…of Children

One of the more well-known passages of Scripture is what is frequently referred to as the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:18-20a, Jesus tells his disciples:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

What a marvelous invitation from our Lord! In saying that we should make disciples, he not only gives his people a mission to fulfill, but he also implicitly says that there is a large population of people “out there,” among and around us, who will listen to the good news about Jesus and begin to believe in him as Savior and Lord.

Yet, Christians frequently fall short in fulfilling this mission. We tend to focus on the “baptizing” aspect (that is, seeing people profess faith in Christ)—but not so much on the “teaching” aspect (what difference being a Christian makes in everyday life). Both aspects are necessary for new disciples to grow in faith.

The process of discipleship is what Christian schools are all about. Much more than focusing solely on transferring the information and life skills of academics, Christian schools help students answer the question: What difference does being a Christian make for me as I interact with the world?

Teachers, staff, and administrators actively love and get to know their students. In many cases, they also get to know and love their students’ families. School staff and leaders help students work through conflict, deal with disappointment, respond to peer pressure, and exercise self-control. They help students develop biblical worldviews about things like sex, money, entertainment, their own bodies, and their relationship to the world. All this is what Jesus commanded when he said discipleship was “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Students in Christian schools learn that being a Christian is so much more than following a code of conduct. Being a Christian is having a relationship with the living God of the universe, who loves them and gave his only Son on the cross, so that they might become his true sons and daughters.

2020 has been a hard year in many respects, but trusting in the fact that Jesus is firmly in control of all of the circumstances that we’ve experienced, Jubilee network school staff and leaders continue working diligently to help their students understand that God really is in control of the world and their own lives…and that he’s truly working all things together for their good (Romans 8:28). That’s discipleship.

Please pray for our network of schools, and for each of the teachers and administrators who will begin afresh with their ministry of education and discipleship in just a few weeks. Pray that the Lord would make many disciples in the year to come…and that he would strengthen and deepen the faith of them all.

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

How to Pray for Our Students and Schools in August

As we begin August and anticipate the start of the fall school term, many of our students, their families, and our school leaders and teachers are anxious.

This fall term will be unlike any seen in our lifetimes. COVID-19 hijacked the school calendar, and most schools will at least start instruction either exclusively or partially as they ended school in June—online. Extracurricular activities will be non-existent. Many of our schools are uncertain how they will fare financially. Many of our parents are either unemployed or have had their hours or pay reduced. And, each of our students is faced with uncertainty, challenges, and temptation to fear the future.

God tells us in Scripture that he is “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He encourages us to come to him with the things that trouble us, and he promises to listen, and to respond.

Please join us here at Jubilee in praying for out students and schools this month, by praying as follows—and however the Lord leads.  

 Pray for our students’…

  • Physical safety, that they would not be injured in violence in their neighborhoods, and that they would not contract or transmit COVID-19
  • Emotional health, as many see their neighborhoods scarred by violence, looting, closed businesses, and graffiti
  • Self-image, as many black and brown students live in the self-awareness of racial inequality
  • Provision, as many families are still unemployed or underemployed, and may be facing eviction or food insecurity
  • Recreation, as city pools and playgrounds remain closed
  • Spiritual health, that they will remember they are loved by Jesus, even when their circumstances are difficult
  • Learning, that the summer slide that so frequently impacts students would not be made worse this year by the shortened school year
  • Relationships to our schools, that all of our students would re-enroll for the fall even if parents are unable to pay any tuition
  • Protection during the summer from abusive behaviors around them. Incidents of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of minors all increase during times of stress and anxiety.

Pray for our schools…

  • That the Lord would provide for their financial needs this year, and that they wouldn’t have to furlough any teachers or staff
  • That the Lord would make it clear to our schools’ leaders exactly how and when to resume classes
  • That the Lord would grant teachers with wisdom, patience, creativity, and joy as they begin the fall term using online platforms to interact their students
  • That school leaders would receive godly wisdom and intuition to know how to budget and otherwise plan for the rest of this year
  • That our schools’ leaders and teachers would remain firmly rooted and grounded in the Lord, and resist the temptation to fear or become discouraged

Thank you!

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

Jubilee provides emergency aid to some schools

Throughout the month of April, Jubilee publicized a campaign raising funds to pass along to Jubilee schools hit hard by the sudden COVID-19 financial crisis.

Why are these schools in need? Most of our schools work with very thin financial margins. In other words, they tend to live month-to-month, and don’t have much of a financial cushion to fall back on when an economic downturn hits.

The COVID-19 health crisis and subsequent shutdown of the nation’s economy have had unprecedented impacts on working families in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor through April 11, 2020, Pennsylvania has lost over 1.3 million jobs during the first month of the crisis, making it the state with the fifth highest effective unemployment rate in the nation, at 21.9%. New Jersey lost nearly 700,000 jobs during the same period, making it number eleven in the nation, with an effective unemployment rate of 16.7%.

As I delivered the laptops donated by Jubilee to students who needed them to participate in distance education, I was struck by the fact that some parents who were there to pick up the laptops also took home boxes of food provided by the schools. Many of our students belong to families whose hourly and service-sector jobs were the first to be eliminated in the financial crisis. And, they’ll likely be the last to be re-employed when a recovery begins. As a matter of fact, one of our heads of school informed me just last Friday that an astounding 91% of her school’s families were either completely unemployed or had work hours cut.

What this means for many of our schools is that families who paid even partial tuition are generally unable to make tuition payments any longer. Schools who depended upon April, May, and June tuition payments aren’t receiving them. Plus, many schools hold their annual fundraisers in the spring. Those have now been cancelled, and the critical cash they would have brought in to the schools to pay current expenses is lost.

Faced with the prospect of many schools cutting staff and programs, Jubilee began its emergency campaign on March 30. As of April 30, a total of $80,681 came in. Jubilee will add $60,000 of its own reserves to this amount, so that we will be able to distribute $140,681 to our hardest-hit schools. We hope that this emergency infusion of cash will allow many of our schools to retain current staff and programs, as well as to retain students whose parents are temporarily unable to make tuition payments.

To many of you who responded to our campaign, our schools and our students thank you for your generosity!

 

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.