Recently, a friend of mine – let’s call her Donna – told me about her battle. Not a battle with her weight. Or with her husband; or even with her tantrum-throwing daughter. She fights the good fight of teens and screens, because Sam, Donna’s teenage son, constantly uses his device. He forever clutches his laptop.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Teens and Screens and Some Unexpected Answers
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Donna told me how she was at her wits end with Sam and his computer. The number of warnings, limits and failed incentives Donna dished out, almost daily, made her mad. Why was he so intent on disobeying her? Tension rose between them as the fight raged over its control.
Donna could see her son was becoming addicted, but nothing she did seemed to have any effect. The worst part was, her relationship with him was now at an all-time low. All because of that blasted piece of hardware!
The other night she said, “Sam, put that laptop away!”
It was the third time she’d asked him. First, she’d told him off while friends were over. Then while watching TV. And finally,over the dinner table.
Then came his sing-song protest. “Oh, but M-um! I’m just watching this video!”
“No! Too late! Enough warnings.” She put reached over the table. “Hand it over. You get it back in the morning.”
“But I’ve got homework to do!”
“Well next time, think about that before watching your video at the dinner table,” she said, gesturing at the hungry onlookers. “You’ll have to work out another way to do your homework.”
Grumbling, 13-year-old Sam handed over the device. “No fair!” His face looked like thunder. “I’ll never sleep now.”
This teens and screens incident caused Donna to act
She decided to pray. Not just a “Please God can you help me with this” sort of prayer. It was more like, “I’m desperate and I’m praying until I get an answer!”
In fact, she stayed up most of the night asking God to show her what to do. She felt weak, lost, and out of control. But mostly she felt so sad at the rift this was causing in her special relationship with Sam-the-Man, as she affectionately calls him.
So She Prayed . . .
Donna prayed with all her heart, and what happened next surprised her. She got the distinct feeling that what she should do was quite different to what she had expected. As the time went by, she felt led to examine her own motivations, desires and pressures.
It occurred to her that not only did she want to be a good mother, she also wanted others to know she was good at it. Stunned, she realized how much unhealthy pride was sitting there. Just under the surface.
Then she thought about how badly she wanted her children to do well at school, because that too would reflect well on her. That was a wake-up call. Her motivation to keep Sam away from his tablet had a lot to do with fearing his grades would drop. Thankfully, so far, they hadn’t.
And Kept Praying . . .
She thought of Jesus. What would his response be? Jesus is compassionate and loving. Slow to anger and quick to forgive. Sam clearly enjoyed using his computer so much. As a very precious object, he couldn’t even sleep very well without it close by! While that was a worrying warning sign, removing it from him was not helping.
Donna suddenly saw that Sam needed more love and compassion than she was giving him, not less.
And She Prayed Some More!
Her praying session turned from Sam and his failings, and morphed into her own disappointments, struggles and desire to control the situation. Tears of confession and repentance fell as she came to grips with the problem. While Sam clearly had work to do to reign-in his near addiction, it wasn’t going to happen unless she sorted out her own motivations, hopes and dreams for her children, and especially for Sam-the-man.
The Day After
As Donna related her story to me, she suddenly smiled.
“You know what happened?” she said.
I shook my head. Surely her prayers helped, I hoped.
“We had the loveliest afternoon, the day after I prayed into the whole issue. Sam snuggled up next to me on the couch and we talked about things. The best talk I remember having for a long time!”
She explained how she realized the way to help Sam with his problem was not to rule over him, but to see things from his point of view. The unexpected answer to her prayer session was to mentor, to train, to explain and to care. To operate with love, empathy and compassion, just like Jesus. She finally understood that the computer was Sam’s precious item, and taking it away only made the him draw up the battle lines!
Every child is different, and so is every parent. Solutions to problems with teens rarely have textbook answers, and setting rules is effective only some of the time. Really, it’s more about keeping the lines of communication open. Sometimes, that means taking the lesser-traveled path of prayer and humility.
Here is what Donna learnt from her battle with Sam:
- Prayer is really important.
- God always answers prayer, but often in ways we do not expect.
- Little problems grow into big problems very quickly.
- A relational issue can be like a tangled piece of fishing line. There is only one way to unravel it, and God is the one who knows which bit to pull so it comes undone easily.
- Modelling behaviour is an important aspect of living with teens. If Donna didn’t get so cross with Sam, then he probably wouldn’t get so cross with her. Also, she had to re-think her own screen use. Was she being a bad example?
- Taking the time to listen, talk with, and understand Sam was only possible once she had got her own disappointments out of the way.
- Teaching self-control to children, teenagers – anyone! – often requires coming alongside, understanding and mentoring. Teens and screens are a fiery mix, requiring patience, wisdom and understanding.
What about you? Have you ever prayed for your children, and received a surprising answer?