The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

How much screen time?

For any of us with children, this is the question that will quite possibly define our generation as parents. Are we putting our children’s future in harm’s way? Or will the amount of time they spend in front of screens of any size play no significant part in how their lives turn out?

Looking forward, that’s a very hard question to answer. Obviously, there are many factors that play into whether or not someone’s life is successful. And there are many different definitions of success. But there are a few things I remind myself of whenever I ponder this area of our family’s life.

  • Look to my own behaviours. Whether or not we come to a definitive answer in our culture about “how much is too much”, I can help my children by honestly evaluating how I’m spending my own time. Remember, our children are often a reflection of ourselves. If you see something you don’t like, you're likely the one who needs to make a change.
  • Establish better defaults. I don’t simply mean that you train yourself to pick up a book instead of your phone every time you have a spare minute (although that’s a good thing to do). But when I preach this to myself, it’s my way of remembering that my motives are important. Am I picking up my phone in order to check something I care about? This gets me to asking what do I care about. Is my default motivation entertainment and pleasure? Or do I feel a broader purpose for my life? Hopefully, the answer to the last one is yes. Then I can start to ask what am I doing right now to achieve that broader purpose? What defaults can I build to get myself moving down that road?
  • The dose makes the poison. Old adages can be cliché … but often they make a lot of sense. I don’t believe that 30–60 minutes of screen time for my children is a problem provided that there is balance and useful pursuits through the rest of the day. But if I see them spending the rest of the day wandering around not accomplishing much of anything, spending all their time talking or thinking about the screen related activity — that’s when I start to worry.
  • Creation trumps consumption. Cameron Moll shared recently how they're family had to go back to the "contract" when consumption started to take first place. That's the same for our home, but we also add an emphasis that being creative away from the screen should get as much attention as being creative with a screen.

I don’t have all the answers here. But I think about this a lot. And we talk about it with them. A lot. Even if we don’t get it right, they know our worries, our own struggles, and what we value.

Hopefully that will bear fruit.

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Living with Anxiety

We don’t talk enough about mental illness. I say that in terms of society in general, as well to myself and the various social circles I’m a part of.

But it is getting better.

Many workplaces seem to be putting more emphasis on mental health. It’s more acceptable to take sick days for a mental break instead of a physical one. People are talking about it more openly. Counselling and therapy seems to carry less stigma.

I want to be a part of this change. Our family has been impacted by anxiety. My wife suffers from a general anxiety disorder. One of our children developed OCD this past year, which is an attempt to manage anxiety. And I myself have struggled with anxiety in past years.

My family’s stories are their own to share, but I’m happy to talk about my own.

What’s your foundation?

It started when I was running Fusion Ads. On the day that Michael and I heard that Twitter had purchased Atebits (the company of Loren Brichter, the developer behind Tweetie), the viability of our business came into question for the first time. Where I had a (somewhat naive) confidence before, I now worried about the impact of this change and the solidity of our business as a whole.

And although Fusion ran fine for the next 18 months until we sold it, my confidence was never the same. And anxiety was a new experience for me.

I was blessed not to suffer with more extreme symptoms, but my struggles manifested in some physical ways. Many nights, I struggled to fall asleep. I could go to bed exhausted from a day of hard work and raising 4 kids, only to almost drift off when — wham! A surge of adrenaline would courses through my veins. Some random thought about money would pop into my head and my mind would start to race. After some time, this process could start to play out during the day as well.

Looking back, I realize I was blessed that my symptoms were limited to a sour stomach and a racing heart. But it’s the mental side of anxiety that is hard to manage.

Mental “Health”

When someone has a broken leg, we would never tell them they just need to “shake it off”. But that is exactly the mentality we often take towards mental health. “You just need to change how you think about this” and similar statements are the kind of backwards thinking that can add so much stress to a home dealing with mental illness.

I’m not an expert in any way on this topic. But as someone who has fought some battles, please here this:

You cannot solve mental health issues with logic

Trying to explain to someone with OCD that their rituals do not make sense is at best a waste of time. At worst, it’s hurtful and compounds the issue. When dealing with anxiety, the sufferer is already aware it doesn’t make sense. That’s part of what makes it so hard to deal with.

Instead, let’s recognize that this broken world that suffers from the curse of sin is affected at the molecular level. If you are in the process of dying from the moment you're born, things can (and will) go wrong with your body and mind. Let’s get comfortable with the aspects of mental health issues and go about helping our friends and loved ones heal. The same way we would if they had cancer.

Blessing From Suffering

My anxiety still comes up from time to time. But I learned to manage it back in 2010-11. And I did so by changing how I think, to dig underneath the thoughts that would bring the adrenaline, the acid, and the sweaty palms.

My business is frail and I’m a failure! Ok, Chris … what’s the worst thing that can happen if your business fails? People will look down on me! Will they? All of them? And why are you so concerned about your reputation? It’s how I value myself. I don’t want to go back to being unknown!

On and on it goes. You have to dig deep to understand yourself, where your fears and insecurities truly lie.

Thankfully, I have a saviour who redeemed me so I don’t have to be a slave to thoughts like this. And who enables me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. But I have to guard against this thinking every day. I can still be blindsided by negative thoughts that trigger a cycle of wrong thinking. That cause me to fear the future, rather than rest in the assurance that my future could be no more secure.

For my foundation is in him.

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