Family Chronicles: Parents React to Weeklong Media Fast
The Brostrom family (featured in the September Visitor) experienced a number of emotions and challenges during their week sans media. Parents Barbara and Bob tracked their thoughts and discoveries along the way and hope you’ll revel in their revelations:
When Beth Michaels, Visitor editor, suggested that our family experiment with a media fast, two words came to my mind: hard sell. I was almost certain Barbara and I would face full-blown mutiny from the three kids [of our seven] who would be affected. When they instead gave grudging acceptance, it felt, by comparison, like an enthusiastic embrace.
So what would this turn out to be? A curious detour from "real life" or an epiphany?
I should mention that my commute to work is an hour and 15 minutes, which I often fill, at least partially, with Christian music on the radio. For the fast, though: radio silence.
On Sunday, the first day of the fast, I came home from work and heard, as usual, music coming from Julie's room. I thought, "Well, that didn't last long!" As I climbed the stairs and approached her closed door, I realized that the music was not from a recording; she was playing her guitar and singing a beautiful song! Nice.
After listening to Julie's music for a minute, I turned toward Troy's room. Opening the door, I found him reading a book. Okay, that's good, but wearing headphones. The expression on my face told him I was sure I had caught him breaking the fast. Turns out he was listening to a recording of the book he was reading for school.
On Monday, my day off, I invited Julie to come outside with me to trim back some of the foliage that was crowding the lane to our house. On any other day, she would have put up some resistance to such a thing, but to my surprise, she accepted my invitation without the slightest hesitation. That gave us an hour together that we probably would not have had without the fast.
Later that day, Julie spent some time practicing violin, something I haven't heard in a long time.
On Tuesday, also a day off (yeah, I have a weird schedule), I did some honey-do type work that has been calling my name for some time.
When I do go to work, my days are long (12-hour shifts plus three hours of commuting). So not much happened at home on Wednesday (a work day), but on Thursday evening (also a work day), I was able to have a lengthy conversation with Julie.
On Friday (yet another day off!) I went kayaking for the first half of the day with one of our adult sons, James. In the afternoon, I had a nice, long chat at home with Ellie, which was made possible in part because she wasn't in her room in front of a screen.
Sabbath was pretty much unaffected by the fast.
I had a surprising experience at Sunday morning "break-fast." As I drove to work, I tuned in to one of the Christian radio stations and heard some of my favorite worship tunes. But this time, they moved me more than they had when I was listening to them every work day. Was it just because I had gone a week without hearing them? Was something more at work in me?
So, now we're settling back into life as it was, at least for the most part. I think kids at least learned that they can survive without media—for a time, anyway. I believe all of us are more able to take a deliberate approach to the media we choose to access.
When we received the call from Beth Michaels, Visitor editor, my first thought was, "Oh, yeah! My kids really need that!" We've been struggling to control the amount of time our kids spend with media. Our family is heavily involved in music, so there's a strong pull to connect with others online that enjoy certain performers and styles.
Our 18-year-old son, Troy, enjoys spending time on Omegle, playing and singing his music for others and getting feedback from them. Julianna, 15, is a budding vocalist who follows artists like the Gaither Vocal Band and Hunter Hayes via Twitter, as well as developing online friendships with other teen girls who enjoy the same music. Eliana, 14, enjoys chatting with several of her girlfriends from church. Between the texting, tweeting, snapchat and video games, we had begun to feel the hours our kids spent with media were a little excessive.
To be honest, though, I dreaded telling the kids. I knew one would go along more or less willingly, one would fuss a bit and one would squawk loudly. It happened exactly as I feared, and on the second day, the squawking one was still proclaiming the absurdity of the whole project. "I'm falling behind in the tweets. I'll never catch up with my friends!" This told me the Internet addiction was more advanced than we'd thought, and that this unplugging thing was definitely the right way to go.
So, I had jumped at the chance to take on this project because I thought my kids needed it. Then I spent the first day in my car, running errands for hours. Without music. Without radio talk shows or news. Without anything. As I went from bank to grocery store to library, I'd automatically reach for the stereo power button. The car seemed so stiflingly quiet, and I was antsy and bored. Over and over, I'd find myself reaching for the stereo, thinking, "Oh, I should listen to some—no, can't do that." Sigh.
Desperate for something—anything—to pass the hours as I drove, I finally resorted to praying. At first, I sheepishly apologized to God for only turning to Him because of being bored out of my mind, I got the impression He was still happy to hear from me, so I forged on.
With seven children, there's never a lack of things to pray about, especially as they're all in their teens and 20s now. I went down the line, the way Maria did in The Sound of Music: "God bless James, God bless Jeff ..."
Day 3 (Tuesday). It's definitely getting easier. Although I feel a little disconnected from the world, news-wise, I'm not experiencing such a strong pull to automatically turn on the radio or my iPhone tunes now when I get in my car. More introspection and praying is going on when I'm out driving alone. And, tonight when I took Ellie to VBS, where she's a group leader, we actually spent the 30-minute ride talking! Normally, we just listen to music on the car stereo or I listen to my music while the kids are under headphones.
It was so much fun talking to Ellie tonight. She was on the carbohydrate rush of some VBS ice cream, and chattered happily all the way home about friends and cliques and anything that came into her head.
Sabbath. It's been a very long week. Nearly everyone has been sick with a miserable sore throat/cough/cold virus, and not being able to pass the hours with some entertainment via music, Netflix or Facebook has made the long tedious hours even more so.
Last night, I finally caved—a little. Julie who, shall we say, wasn't the biggest fan of this media fast to begin with, has been a real trooper all week. She's been miserably ill but bravely soldiered on, media-less but uncomplaining. As she lay on the couch last night, with an earache and totally blocked sinuses, she was the picture of silent suffering, too miserable to concentrate on reading a book, yet unable to sleep because of pain and coughing. It occurred to me that this would be a legitimate time to let her use social media. Granting her the small comfort of checking the tweets and Facebook posts that had piled up over the last six days had a healing effect, and within minutes, she was temporarily distracted from the pain in her ear and sinuses. She reconnected with online friends who had been concerned about her unexplained absence from their shared cyber community.
Looking back on it, I've spent nearly 20 hours in my car this week without the pleasant diversion of my favorite music. I've not listened to news or my favorite conservative talk radio hosts. At home, Netflix was replaced with reading. My prayer life has definitely been recharged.
Overall, I'm really glad we accepted the challenge of the media fast. And surprisingly, my teens seem to agree. As we discussed it last night, and I was mildly chastising Troy for not being as fully compliant as we'd asked, he explained that he had backed off significantly on his media use this week, and that he'd realized he appreciates his music more when he doesn't listen to it constantly. Ellie agreed wholeheartedly. "Now my music seems more special."
My 20-year-old, Glenn, described an aspect of media addiction that I have long suspected is true for our family. He commented that music, in particular, can act as a drug, and since our family has a history of ADD, we seem to gravitate toward zoning out to music more strongly than others might.
While there's nothing "wrong" with listening to music while running errands, there's definitely the temptation to let it crowd out more important things like introspection, prayer or talking to other passengers. Fasting from music in my car this week has been a huge eye-opener for me, and will affect the hours I spend driving in the future.
The media challenge that faces our family now is how to re-integrate our favorite pastimes back into our lives without letting them take over. The break we've taken this week has allowed each of us to step back, break the spell, as it were, and consider how much time we've been spending "zoned out" in Media Land.
This is day 5 since I broke my media fast, and the effects of it still linger. I find myself running errands without turning on my music, preferring to think or pray. This is a huge change for me, and one I couldn't have imagined a week ago. I've returned to Facebook and my online news sites, but in a limited way. They don't seem to have the pull on me they once did.