The Gift of a Concussion By: Jessica Mudger March 21, 2020
"Some of you say, 'We can do anything we want to.' But I tell you not everything is good for us. So I refuse to let anything have power over me." (1 Corinthians 6:12 CEV)
At the end of January, Jack who is my older son, got a concussion. It was the most ridiculous thing… We had just finished up with a Bible study in our home that evening, and he somehow managed to fall in such a way that he forcefully landed right on his head. That night I took Jack to the local children’s ER and we waited for several hours to see a doctor. There were TVs mounted on two walls in the waiting room playing all sorts of kid-friendly programming, and it kept his attention for quite a while. Once we finally got back to see the doctor, I was thankful for many things.
I was thankful that Jack’s concussion seemed minor enough to the doctor not to warrant a CT Scan or MRI. I was thankful that we had access to prompt healthcare, as well as insurance to pay for it. But the one thing I never thought I would be thankful for was the fact that Jack would be on a strict policy of no screen time until he recovered completely from his concussion.
At first I admit the prospect of a strict “no screen time” policy made me cringe. As a family we had become pretty attached to our screens. Between the phones, the tablets, the laptops, and the TVs, they seemed to be taking up large portions of our waking hours. It seemed like there was always a screen lit up somewhere for some reason or another. We never quite wanted to admit it, but little by little the technology in our house had seeped increasingly into the background of our lives. We were already incredibly careful about the things we watched or engaged in where technology was concerned. We had some of the best internet filters, family policies, values, and accountability, but none of this changed the fact that we were addicted to our screens.
To make matters more challenging, the first few days of Jack’s recovery were spent at home. Recovery from a concussion requires not only physical rest, but mental rest as well. Mental rest means that the brain should not be taxed at all. This means no deep thinking or intense brain processing of any kind. It was quite the ordeal for my extremely bright boy not to exercise his brain. He loves books, puzzles, and brain games of all sorts. What made matters worse was telling him he couldn’t take part in the thing that had become his favorite pastime: watching TV. How in the world were we going to fill his days?
Then the most remarkable thing happened. The first day of Jack’s recovery came and went. We both knew he needed rest, and to avoid looking at screens, so we just dealt with it. Jack slept quite a bit, we played a few easy games, we relaxed with some coloring books, we completed some craft projects, and mostly we just talked. The day came and went, and it all went much more smoothly than I expected. Once the younger kids arrived home from school, it occurred to me that though they were also accustomed to watching TV with Jack in the afternoons, it would be best if we all refrained so as not to make things more difficult on him. I was pretty proud of how they reacted selflessly on behalf of their big brother. There was not a complaint in the camp; just compliance in the spirit of what was best for Jack’s recovery.
By the end of the first week, their dad and I looked at each other in disbelief of how easy things had been. Though there may have been a few sighs or complaints under their breath, there was just a general acceptance of the lack of screen time in our house. Actually, our family time had never been better. We were playing board games together, having conversations, and just generally enjoying one another’s company. As the weeks went on, we missed screens less and less. Behavior continued to improve. The kids started going outside again, even though it was still winter. I started reading books again instead of mindlessly staring at one screen or another. It was as if a weight was lifted from us that we weren’t even aware was holding us down. We had been given a great gift.
What happened next was something I never expected. After prayer and consideration, we decided we should take the TV out of our bedroom. We originally put one in since I would often use TV to help me wind down at the end of the night, often falling asleep on the couch instead of in bed where I should. But now I was starting to realize what a hindrance it was in many ways. On hard days I found it much too easy to isolate myself from the rest of the family and find comfort in my favorite shows. My sleep was suffering since I would stay up later than I should, telling myself I would stop watching after one more episode. It was becoming more and more clear: the very things I took comfort in were in actuality grinding away at my true peace. If it was true for me, it was true for the rest of the family as well. I suddenly realized I needed to make a drastic change. It wasn’t long after we removed the TV from our bedroom that we decided to cancel Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Freetime for the kids as well. With all the time we spent screen free, we were really just wasting money on them.
The day Jack was officially cleared from his concussion, I came home knowing full well we were at a crossroads. Although we were enjoying our newfound family time, Jack would often hint at getting back the screen time he had been denied for the past few weeks. I considered the situation carefully. In my eyes, God had given us a great gift hidden in the burden of an injury. The slate was wiped clean. Instead of bearing the difficulty of being a “bully” who took away my kids’ screens for my own reasons, we stood together as a family taking care of Jack. I wasn’t about to let that gift be squandered just to slide back into the zombie-like state of screen addiction once again. Even so, I held my breath when I told the kids we were going to stick to our new policy of strictly limited screen time. When they asked why we weren’t going back to our old ways, I answered with another question: Don’t you enjoy all the time we are spending together as a family? It didn’t take long for them to answer with a resounding, “Yes!”
To be fair, my story may seem a little too easy. The chances that another family will experience such a positive outcome from an injury is relatively unlikely. However, the more I discuss the prevalence of screens in our homes with other vigilant parents, the more I hear the positive outcome from the general cutting back of screen time. A teacher friend recently told me about her sorrow over the obsession even young children have with smartphones, and how it has convicted her to act in her own home. Other friends have reported how they, too, successfully cut back on family screen time. They reported that the initial groans were short, and not worth mentioning in comparison to the quality time it afforded the family. It is doable. Cutting back on excessive screen time can be such a benefit in so many ways. It causes us to become creative again, especially in nurturing relationships. Further, as parents, we have a God-given authority to make hard judgement calls for our children. We have to act out of love even when we know they won’t like us for it. It is not our job as parents to be liked; it is our job to provide guidance.
It is truly amazing the things we allow to take control over us when we aren’t guarding our hearts and minds with diligence. What’s even more amazing, though, is the overwhelming love and grace with which God pursues us. He set out to rescue my family from a prison to which we didn’t even know we were captive. I am forever grateful to God for the amazing grace and wisdom He showers down on anyone who would ask… and sometimes even before we know we need to ask for it.