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Where’s the Line?

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“No! I don’t want to go to Disney World! I just want to stay home and have screen time!”

My wife and I often feel like we are failing as parents. The house isn’t clean enough. The meals aren’t healthy enough. We don’t spend enough quality time with the kids. We aren’t strict enough. We don’t pray enough as a family.

Maybe that’s the way parenting goes. You do the best you can, usually feeling like you have no clue what you’re doing, and you hope things will turn out OK. Parents of older children, who are just a few steps ahead of us on the parenting journey, have said not to worry – that this is completely normal. But, normal or not, it’s frustrating. Sometimes, it’s more than frustrating.

During a recent family vacation to the so-called Happiest Place on Earth, one of my younger sons frequently whined about wanting screen time, leaving me enraged and thinking, “You’re going to spend time with your family and it’s going to be wonderful and you’re going to make beautiful happy memories… or else.”

Technology is a primary source of frustration in my family. We don’t let our kids have their own phones. We limit the use of tablets and video game consoles and have designated “screen-free” days every week. Most days, my kids have to spend a specific amount of time outside or do certain chores before they can have any screen time. Our goal is to raise kids who aren’t addicted to screens, who know how to live and be happy without them, who interact with the world around them in healthy ways and have healthier relationships with friends and family. But I wonder if all of our restrictions have had the exact opposite effect.

My first job after college was at a Catholic high school. I once had a conversation with the Dean of Students about discipline. She told me in her experience, “the tighter the collar, the more the dog struggles against it.”

Have all of our restrictions around screens actually produced kids who are more obsessed with them? Have we created a forbidden fruit scenario? If you know the answer, please tell me, because I don’t. But this personal situation – and the topic of technology in general – does raise questions I think are worth exploring: How do we recognize the line that separates virtue from vice? How do we know when something tips over from helping into hurting?

Technology is like any other earthly blessing – work, money, food, sex, recreation. Often, there is a difficult-to-recognize point beyond which lies pride, greed, gluttony, lust, sloth or some other sin. Too much of a good thing and all that.

What about you? Where do you draw the line? How do you know when enough is enough?

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about the line, but the line matters. The line – and whether or not we are intentional about it, pray about it, discern the line, draw the line, and stick to the line – is part of our path to holiness.

Like a kid who tells his dad he doesn’t want to stop playing with a screen because he can’t imagine the greatness of Disney World, how often is God Our Father looking down at us to see children who are distracted from heaven by some trivial earthly thing?

Dominick Albano is the director of digital engagement for The Catholic Telegraph, as well as an author and national speaker. He and his wife have been married for 14 years and have four sons.

This article appeared in the August 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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