Beauty in the Margin – Another Letter To My Teenage Princess

depositphotos_47307759-Fingers-touching-and-swiping-the-screen-of-a-modern-smartphone

You were seven pounds, four ounces, and twenty-one inches long when we first met. You looked at me. I couldn’t stop staring at you. We held hands (well, you actually held my finger). You cried. I swallowed hard. And I’ve been in love with you ever since.

Wasn’t it yesterday you were born? No, of course not. It just seems that way. Because…

  • I remember that time when I was taking you out of your car seat and, for the first time, you laid your sleepy head on my shoulder as we walked into the house.
  • I remember that two-block walk to McNair Elementary on the day you started kindergarten. You handled it like a champ. Me, not so much.
  • I remember baptizing you, the first time you sang in church, the day you lost your first tooth, the day you got braces on, and the day you got them off.
  • And most recently, I remember walking with you to the bus stop for day one of high school (and by the way, I understand the whole “you don’t have to walk with me to the bus stop” thing. I’ve been there. Although I do admit to still watching you until you turn the corner at Highland Ave.)

Does the name “Roget” sound familiar? He’s the guy who published a thesaurus, a big book of words that are each a different way to say a related word. Why mention him? Because all the synonyms he lists for “amazing”…they’re not enough.

I think you’re pretty amazing.

To put it simply, Mom, you, and your sister are the greatest human beings I know. Hands down. Period. Case closed.

So when we talked about screen time and media and phones last night, it wasn’t because I was trying to be unreasonable or uncaring, but exactly the opposite. I care so deeply about you that sometimes conversations about habits and use of our time are really important, for a whole bunch of reasons, including the quality of our lives. That margin idea I mentioned, it’s real, and it’s only over the last fifteen years or so, that I’ve noticed how precious little of it most of us have, because, well, there’s nearly anytime, anywhere, access to information, entertainment, socializing and more, all at our fingertips, on a screen that can go anywhere. All of those things of course, aren’t necessarily bad, but are stuff that, if not intentionally managed, can overwhelm, distract and dull us, often without us even realizing it.

As I mentioned to you, screen time and media overload is a relatively new issue. I didn’t have to deal with it as a kid anywhere near as much as you do. The only screen I grew up with was your great-grandmother’s TV, about the size of your desk. Its remote control was a finely coordinated component made up of two legs, two knobs and two hands. And here’s the biggest deal, it was pretty much appointment viewing. For example, “This Week in Baseball” aired on Saturday mornings at 11:00am. Uncle Tim and I often kept that appointment. But if we missed it, we missed it. No DVR, no pause buttons, no YouTube, no Netflix. “That’s Incredible!” aired on Monday nights at 8:00pm (and yes, it was pretty incredible). Your great-grandmother’s “story” – “As the World Turns”, a cheesy soap opera that even now thinking about it makes me want to scream – aired every day at 1:00pm. We watched stuff occasionally, but there was more time the screen was off than on. And that forced us to do stuff like play outside, talk to one another, or read, activities I know you and your sister do a lot of too, but it seems like watching stuff back then was more the exception rather than the rule.

I’m quick to admit that handling screen time and media isn’t just an issue for your generation. I have to battle through it, too. I like information, keeping up, and knowing, and, new technology intrigues me. Those things together can create some exciting discoveries for me, but also some tensions that are unprecedented. And I know that how I deal with those tensions has a big influence on you (more on this later). That weighs heavy on me. And makes me write letters like this.

Here are a few things I’ve observed:

  • Better than reading or seeing what someone posted on social media is hearing and seeing a person tell you about what they posted on social media. Real communication beats virtual knowledge every time.
  • Life-giving friendships and conversations happen in the margins of life. And margins don’t just appear. Fulfilling communication occurs because we’ve intentionally left space and time in our lives for it.
  • Not knowing everything is OK. The best conversations are between two curious people. If there’s not much “new” to discover when talking, we need to cut back on media consumption.
  • Knowing so much about so much, can actually work against having a healthy confidence. When finding out new things, we tend to silently ask ourselves “what should or can I do about this?” If our knowledge is consistently greater than our ability to do anything with it, we’ll inadvertently feel diminished.
  • Sitcoms aren’t real-life. Reality television isn’t real-life. Social media presents a highly edited view of someone’s existence, often emphasizing only the highlights. That’s not real-life. We have to consistently choose to refuse comparison of our book to someone else’s chapter. I’ve found this is made easier with less screen time.
  • How each day starts and ends is important. The less either of these times involves technology, the better. Our brains and bodies will thank us by revving up and winding down, more naturally.

I could probably go on for quite a bit longer, but let me close by making some commitments to you.

  1. I’m going to (better) model what this looks like. It’s unreasonable and unfair to encourage and expect this from you, if I’m not, as your Dad, demonstrating it myself in the way I manage my screen time. I’m a big believer in sending the right message to you, and pledge that it won’t be a mixed one.
  2. When I’m with you, I promise to be present. You matter more than my phone. I want you to consistently experience and believe this reality.
  3. If attention needs to be brought to this issue in the future, I will do it. It’s that important. I’ll always seek to remember your level of understanding, the differences between our generations, and what makes you unique, but I won’t avoid talking about it. You’re already on an amazing life journey, and I want to help you intentionally experience all that God has for your life. If we keep working together on this, I promise you’ll be amazed, but not surprised, at where God takes you.

Let’s live our lives on purpose, in living color, full of all its complexities, joys, highlights and challenges. That’s something a profile can’t describe, and a screen could never capture.

Real life. We get to actually experience it, one step and choice at a time, together. That’s beautiful and pretty cool.

Love you forever,

-Daddy

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