If you have ever felt like running away from home, this may have been the year when the urge was the strongest. The only problem is that unless you are extremely wealthy, there is nowhere to run! It seems everywhere we turned, there has been doom and gloom. The questions then become, not “Can we escape?”, but rather, “Is escapism godly?” and “How much should we allow our kids to escape reality?”
Escapism is easier than it has ever been. Most of us carry with us a device that can take us to the virtual world of our preference. This includes live sporting events and concerts which have created new virtual worlds this year. We can even travel virtually and see the things we can’t currently travel to see. In this virtual world, we can close ourselves off from everything unpleasant if we should so choose. If your kids are like most, they are spending hours a day interacting with or watching some virtual experience.
The Bible doesn’t of course specifically address virtual worlds, because they didn’t exist then. It does however address leisure time…although, it’s a bit more than that. The weekly Sabbath, practiced by the Israelites, meant on one day a week, no work was to be done. Time was spent resting, praying and worshipping God. One has to imagine there were other activities, like day dreaming that occurred during this day of rest.
God never forbids having fun or enjoying leisure activities. What He did do was put some boundaries around leisure pursuits for His people. These boundaries would apply if your kids were laying in a field, looking up at the clouds and day dreaming or playing a video game. These boundaries or principles should be part of the discussion you have with your kids about how much time they should be spending in their virtual worlds, whether they are games, movies, sporting events or any place where they disconnect from others to enjoy an experience crafted to entice people away from the “real” world.
There are some signs, that your kids are perhaps becoming too enmeshed in their favorite virtual worlds.
- Time spent in virtual worlds is beginning to interfere with obligations. School work needs to be completed properly. Chores done. When your kids are older, they will have work and family responsibilities as well. If the quality of school work, chores, jobs or relationships is suffering, then it’s time to decrease the amount of time spent in leisure pursuits.
- The real world looks even worse because the virtual world is perfect. If the contrast becomes too stark, the temptation will be strong to live in the real world as little as possible. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where no one asks anything of them or criticizes them? If time spent in the virtual world is steadily increasing, it is an indication that the virtual world is more appealing then real life.
- The only relationships are with people they’ve never actually met. There are times when a supportive, online community can be helpful. That is rarely the case for kids and teens. If they are “too busy” to ever do anything with real people, they may believe their online “friends” are the perfect friends they can’t find in real life.
- Anger is expressed when asked to leave the virtual world by a friend or family member. Anger, regularly expressed, when asked to put down a device or turn off the computer or television is a strong indication there may be an addiction issue. Theologically speaking, any addiction is putting something in the place where God should be…the most important thing in our lives. The brain science behind addiction is well known, making it easier for game designers and producers of events to structure things to encourage addiction. Be prepared for denial and even lies though…additional signs of someone struggling with addiction.
- Opportunities to help someone, serve others or share their faith are missed or ignored. Do your kids no longer even notice that someone needs help? Do they turn down opportunities to serve or share their faith, claiming they are too busy (but you find them online during that time period)? God has plans for each of our lives. Those plans include serving others and sharing our faith. Those things can’t be done playing a game or watching a sporting event or video of some sort.
- Do your kids know more about people in their virtual world of choice than their own family and friends? Relationships require spending time together sharing interests, feelings, ideas and more. A lack of knowledge about friends and family, with an immense knowledge of everyone in their virtual world of choice indicates an issue of some sort.
- Are they more excited being in their virtual world than they are about spending time with God? Or even worse, have they stopped spending time with God to have more time in their virtual world? Christians who don’t read the Bible, pray and attend worship services become extremely vulnerable to Satan’s tricks. If your kids aren’t plugged into God because they would rather be plugged into their favorite virtual world, they are showing the early signs of a heart that is moving away from God.
Helping your kids (or spouse or yourself) detox from the perfect virtual isn’t easy. What Mom wouldn’t rather watch a Hallmark movie than clean up her child’s vomit? What spouse wouldn’t rather watch a ball game than clean out the gutters? Or what kid wouldn’t rather play a game than do homework? To live the rich, full life God has planned for each of you will require spending a lot more time in the real world than online. It’s worth the pain of detox to see your family living the lives God meant for them to have.