How much blogging/social networking/Twittering/etc. is too much? What do I do if a loved one is spending too much time online?
*Please note: The answers in “Ask a Mormon Woman” are exclusively the opinions of the administrators at Mormon Women. We do not speak for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, although we strive to have our content consistent with the Church’s doctrines and teachings. For official information about or from the Church, please visit www.mormon.org or www.lds.org.
On topics such as these, please note that we are not trained to give professional advice, but only share our points of view. We urge people with serious problems (e.g., their own addictions or those of a loved one) to seek help from trained professionals.
I’m going to respond to the first question with questions I like to ask myself when I’m analyzing my online time. These questions help me consider if I’m crossing the line between reasonable and excessive (even unhealthy) internet involvement. (For the record, I’m still (always?) working on the issue of balance in my own life, so I talk to myself here as much as to anyone else.)
1. Why am I online?
Obviously, being part of Mormon Women, I think there are positive things that can be done on the internet. I also think we all like a little ‘down time,’ and for some, online time (reading news or blogs, social networking, video games, etc. — for me, it’s usually blogging) may fit into that category.
But there are times when I realize that I have plugged into the online world in order to unplug from my real life — and not always in healthy ways. I think that in excess, and/or with the wrong motives, the internet can become an unhealthy escape from stress, from boredom or loneliness, from mundane to-dos, or other stuff of life. It can easily throw our lives off balance. It risks becoming an actual addiction if it is repeatedly used to fill a void in one’s life. I believe when we choose to be online, it should be a deliberate choice, not just a mindless way to pass time or avoid or escape pain (in all its variations).
I hope it goes without saying that if we are online for anything inappropriate, including (but certainly not limited to) viewing sexual material, fostering virtual relationships that ignore or threaten marriage and family in any way (see this Wall Street Journal article as food for thought), or engaging in illegal or otherwise dishonest behavior, then the online activity should be seen for what it is, and ‘cease and desist’ should be the mantra.
I like what Elder David A Bednar, of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said about this in a recent CES [Church Education System] fireside:
Immoral thoughts, words, and deeds always are immoral, even in cyberspace. Deceitful acts supposedly veiled in secrecy, such as illegally downloading music from the Internet or copying CDs or DVDs for distribution to friends and families, are nonetheless deceitful. We are all accountable to God, and ultimately we will be judged of Him according to our deeds and the desires of our hearts (see Alma 41:3). “For as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
So I am trying to become more aware of my motives for being online. I invite you to do the same.
2. How much time am I spending online?
This is another question that takes some real honesty. Have you ever added up all those “Well, I’ll just check my email” or “I’ll just read one blog post” or “I’ll update my Facebook/Twitter” or “Just a minute, honey, I’ll be right there!” moments? It can be sobering. We only have so many hours in the day, even in our lives. I believe my time is a gift from God, and how I use it is a stewardship, a significant responsibility. While I believe He is also merciful in our process of learning, I feel it’s important for me to really watch how I spend my time.
3. What is the effect on my “real” life?
This can be a difficult question when there is crossover between your real life and your internet life. For example, I have made some life-changing friendships with many people, initially initiated online. In addition, there are people I truly care about whom I have not yet met in person. Being connected through Facebook helps me keep in touch with people from my life with whom I wouldn’t be able to connect otherwise. Also, I love how I have news and information at my fingertips. My life in many tangible ways is richer because of the internet.
However, again, if taken to excess, it has sometimes thrown my life off balance and I sometimes neglect relationships and responsibilities. I think that in every way, online involvement requires brutal self-honesty.
Elder Bednar poses a couple of questions that I think are worth repeating here:
- 1. Does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life? [If you are not Christian, and the concept of the Holy Ghost is not relevant in your life, then consider if your involvement impedes or invites a sense of peace, balance, well-being, wholeness — pick the concepts and feelings that best fit your life.]
- 2. Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?
I also think this talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks (entitled “Good, Better, Best”) is a worthwhile read. Priorities are important, and we all need to revisit them often. It’s so easy to get distracted!
4. How do I feel at the end of the day?
This related to question #3, and is in a sense a fuzzy question to answer, but on the days when I have been in balance, I just feel better. I can feel like I have given God enough of my time and focus. I can feel that my marriage has gotten the nurturing it deserves. I can tuck my children in with the knowledge that they had their mom today.
In Mormon doctrine, the family is eternal. Nothing else quite measures up to the time spent in building my eternal family relationships, and my relationship with God. And I feel that. For all that I love how my life has been enriched in many ways by being online, nothing compares to what it means to nurture my family and to build my relationship with God, my eternal Father.
Now to Question #2:
What do you do if you think your spouse or other loved one is spending too much time online (or may even be addicted to being online (blogging, gaming, chatting, Twittering, Facebooking or other social networking, etc.))?
Please note that I am no expert, but I have spent some time thinking about this topic. Some of my background is in human psychology, and I have continued to study about about human behavior and relationships. I also believe that addictions are one of the major problems of our time — and none of us is immune to them! Even good things, out of balance, can become vices, so we all have to be on alert.
My suspicion is that someone who is spending a lot of time online could fall into a few different camps. One may be someone who isn’t really aware of how much time he/she is spending. If you have a good relationship, a simple discussion might be helpful. “Hey, I’ve noticed that you have been online a lot lately. I miss talking to you and spending time with you.” Sometimes a simple invitation to plug back into real life may be sufficient.
I think there could be others who are a bit more engrossed, and who might feel threatened by such a direct approach. Perhaps the mentioning of the excessive online involvement may trigger guilt because they know they are online too much, but may not want to face that reality right now. I can’t help but think in such a situation, that person might likely be doing it to fill a void, to escape from stress, or to “feel connected” in some way. Unfortunately, I do think that such behavior can become an addiction. But their behavior is not yours to change.
But you might be able to do something to provide some love and support. Consider carefully and prayerfully what the online participation might be trying to replace or fill or solve or do for this person. Try to have an open and compassionate heart. (It’s easy when one feels neglected to attack or try to control the other. I believe that could make it worse.) And then try to figure out how you can help and serve. Have some fun together. Engage in your life together. If the problem is not severe, you might be able to provide some comfort and support and diversion that the person has been seeking online.
When I’m finding that I’m online too much (maybe because I don’t feel good, or I’m bored, or stressed), getting out and doing something fun can help me remember how much I like my life. That helps me a lot more than a complaint from a child or a disapproving look or comment from my hubby (which sometimes can trigger a defense mechanism (sad but true))
Don’t reach out with the intent to solve the problem or change or control the person, though. Pure motives are important. Reach out in love and with a desire to be the best spouse/parent/family member/friend you can be. If the problem really isn’t at the level of addiction, some simple acts to reach out and help fill that person’s bucket a bit might help.
But be careful — I think addictions can be subtle, and simply cannot be fixed by others doing more to help.
So, regarding those who may have an actual addiction: In my view, this could likely mean that you (and your loved one, if willing) may need professional help and counseling. Those who are close to people with addictions can actually feed the problem if they don’t handle it correctly (sometimes called codependency). Be honest with yourself. Are you trying to control the other’s behavior, to impose shame or guilt, to use anger or other manipulative behaviors,? Are you feeling panicked and desperate, feeling like a victim (threatened, weary, neglected)? These responses may be understandable, but acting out of anger, desperation, a desire to control, or fatigue can only exacerbate the problem. As you get help to ground yourself and your feelings and responses, you will be able to think more clearly about what to do.
Consider this wise advice:
Upon learning of a spouse’s [or other loved one’s] addiction, an individual may experience a wide range of emotions, including anger, shame, betrayal, fear, disgust, and humiliation. These feelings are normal. But how the person deals with these feelings can make a big difference in the outcome of the situation.
It is common for those in a crisis to think in erroneous ways. They should take care not to jump to conclusions, “catastrophize” things, overgeneralize, or get stuck in all-or-nothing thinking.1
One should avoid discussing difficult issues when tempers and emotions are at their peak. Physical, emotional, or verbal attacks will only make a painful situation worse. A bishop [or other religious leader] and a licensed therapist may be of help when a couple begins to discuss the damage the addictive behavior has caused.
I think it’s important to remember that in the end, you can only control your own responses and behavior. Focus on that. Seek to have an honest and open heart. If you are religous, pray, pray, and then pray some more. Seek counsel from your religious leaders and from competent professionals. Consider a support group for loved ones with addictions. Do all you can to make sure that your behavior is appropriate, loving, and healthy. The more you focus on what you cannot control (the other person) the worse you will feel.
If this person is a minor, I urge you to seek guidance from professionals or other wise people who are familiar with the problems of addiction. You have a responsibility to protect this person as much as you can, but again, you still cannot control his/her behavior, and as a parent or guardian, that instinct to control can be strong. Be careful, be wise, seek help.
Yesterday, we shared information about the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program. For anyone who thinks they or a loved one might have an addiction (be it with online media or any other behavior or substance), please seek help. We encourage you to consider a program like this, which often include family support group help. Read through the links on that page, and look for other resources (books, articles, websites) that might give you some insight into how to proceed.
So, now we ask you. What helps you keep a balance in your life? Has anyone dealt with addiction (their own or of someone they love)? How did you face it (or how are you facing it now)?
Do you have a question you’d like to see addressed? Leave it in the comments or send it to us at gmail, to username ‘mormonwomen’ or ‘mormonwoman’