Hey, homeschoolers! It was the end of October when I saw a post on Instagram from a former guest on this podcast –Karla Marie Williams. She shared a picture of Wendy Speake's book The 40-Day Social Media Fast and said she would be back on Instagram after she'd completed her fast.
I wrote, “Wait! Take me with you!” I knew nothing about the book or Wendy, but the idea of a social media fast was as appealing as joining a friend on a beach vacation. I ordered the book and made plans to stop participating on Facebook and Instagram the next week. I committed to stop watching the news at the same time.
I learned much more in those 40 days than I ever anticipated. If you could benefit from the lessons I learned, I encourage you to plan a fast of your own.
A few years ago, I was experiencing debilitating neck and shoulder pain. I couldn't sleep or do any of my daily activities as a result. I went to a chiropractor, took heaps of ibuprofen, and used a TENS (muscle contraction) device among many other approaches. When I had nearly despaired of getting relief, I found a video on YouTube by motivationaldoc outlining the problem I had. In short, I had tight muscles from staring at screens which had impinged on a nerve. Within 24 hours of starting the stretching exercises he recommended, I had relief. I was completely pain-free within a few days. God used a YouTube video to solve a huge problem in my life.
I was recently asked to meet with a couple I know via Zoom. I didn't provide counseling, of course, but I listened to the problems they were having and directed them to get the help they needed. While I think I helped this couple a lot, I realized I could help many more families the same way on YouTube. Going forward, I will be sharing actionable tips and how-to's for achieving homeschool sanity there. My deepest desire apart from serving God and my family is to serve homeschool families. Please share my channel with homeschoolers you know.
Now to the lessons learned from my social media fast…
The first, shocking thing I learned is that I don't have to be on social meda.
What should have been shocking about this aspect of my fast is that I ever thought my participation on social meda was essential. I have an amazing virtual assistant who manages my posts and makes sure I get messages on Facebook. She continued doing her work while I fasted, leaving only the posts I needed to respond to during my fast.
Although I have wanted to interact with people on my page and in my groups more, I hadn't been doing it. I'm sure no one missed me!
That should have come as no surprise after I stopped participating cold turkey in a separate Facebook group that I had been active in daily. Maybe three people in the group noticed and messaged me.
Instagram was the same. I've had good intentions of being more active and consistent there. But again, I don't think a single person missed me while I was gone.
The second thing I learned is related: I don't miss social media.
I did forget some birthdays that I regretted and was late responding to some Instagram messages. But I wasn't sad about not participating. Like at all. I found myself thinking how great it would be if they shut down Facebook and Instagram, so I wouldn't have to go back.
I thought I really liked social media. I thought I thrived on it. I'm an extrovert and I don't have the in-person contacts I once did as my kids have gotten older. But I realized my social needs weren't being met there, even though it's called “social” media.
Instead, I found I didn't care at all about not seeing the funny memes, the cute dog videos, or the controversial posts I agreed with. I could have given these up without a second thought.
But that's where lesson #3 comes in. I was addicted to social media.
What? If I didn't miss it at all, how I could be addicted? All the way through the fast, pretty much with no decrease, I found myself clicking on the apps on my phone. I would quickly close them without reading or watching, but I did this every day, multiple times a day without fail, for the full 40 days.
Was it an addiction or a habit? I have been tapping those apps dozens of times a day for YEARS. Expecting myself to break the habit in 40 days was pretty unrealistic.
But the other piece that suggests it's an addiction is that I did the tapping when I was bored. I did the tapping when I was lonely. I did the tapping when I was sad. I didn't do it when I was busy and happy. I did it when I wanted a little something-something. I used social media like you use food or a cigarette or a drink. I'm going to call it an addiction, even though I don't even like it. That's how most addictions are.
That fact led me to lesson #4: I need something social to do in the evenings.
Like a true addict, I substituted email and Voxer (a messaging app where I talk to friends) for social media. I would open them over and over to see if there was anything new to read there, even when I knew there wasn't. Because I wasn't watching the news or reading more than a couple of short, newsy blogs, I would look up news stories online. I hadn't sworn off of reading these articles. It became so pathetic that I would come up with news stories that might have happened to research! What's even stranger is that I was often right in my predictions. As an aside, I watched the news recently. The stories are exactly the same as they were 40 days ago!
The substitutes of email and Voxer filled very little of my time, so I began watching movies. Sometimes I would watch with my husband, but I had enough time on my hands that I began searching for chick flicks–those I'd seen and those I'd hadn't. After watching these, I felt very much like I had scrolling social media: empty. They didn't satisfy me.
So I tried reading more books. I did find one that I read voraciously. But the rest I slogged through–forcing myself to read a chapter before putting it down. I realized that reading books was so slow compared to social-media reading. Sadly, my patience for it had declined.
One night we played board games with the kids when they happened to all be home and I loved it. But I didn't recognize the social factor in that. Instead, I considered or tried substituting other activities: handwriting, crafts, and piano. Most of these things seem like too much effort in the evenings. It's hard to get myself to begin.
Now I know that what I need more of during my low-energy, early evening times is socializing. I'm going to start playing tennis or pickle ball in the evenings again. I'll invite friends over more often. When the weather warms up, I will go to the driving range with a friend or family member. I will also consider joining an in-person Bible study.
Whatever I choose, I know it has to be social.
The fifth thing I learned is how I want to share on social media.
This is one of the topics in Wendy's book. I understand what NOT to share. I don't want to share braggy posts, of course. I don't even want to share personal things that make no difference to anyone but my family–like here's a picture of us hiking. But what SHOULD I share then?
I watched the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood for a second time and remembered that I had made a list of how to share on social media based on my “How to Homeschool Like Mr. Rogers” post. Here is what I had come up with for my social-media accounts and had forgotten until I saw the movie again:
- Delight in your audience
- Put the relationship first
- Teach emotional, social, and spiritual skills
- Listen more, talk less
- Spend time in the Word and in prayer–being willing to ask for prayer, too.
Fred Rogers is a beautiful role model of how to love others through media. I am newly inspired by him as I return to posting and interacting on my social accounts.
That brings me to the sixth lesson I learned on my social media fast: I need to be healed before I can bring healing to anyone on social media.
I was transfixed by the story of the broken reporter who initially wanted to present a negative view of Fred Rogers in his magazine. Before he could write a life-giving article about him instead, he had to be healed of his hurt and anger. The first time I watched the movie, I identified with Mr. Rogers. The second time I knew I was the reporter.
I've recovered a great deal from my past dealings with difficult people. But as I thought about returning to social media with a Mr. Rogers approach, I knew I couldn't do it. I don't know if you've noticed, but there are some really mean people on social media. I've heard all the platitudes like “haters gonna hate” and “hurt people hurt people,” but that hasn't helped me in my desire to avoid them.
When the reporter admits that he had a physical fight with her father, Fred Rogers's reaction made me catch my breath. His compassion made me realize how much I need compassion–not from people on social media I don't know. But from my inner circle, from myself, and from Jesus.
The first thing I've been doing to experience that compassion is sharing painful experiences from my past with family and friends who I know will understand. I need to share them to let them go.
Next, I realized that there is no troll on social media who is meaner than I am to myself. I cannot be truly kind to others until I am truly kind to me. I am committed to making my self-talk consistent with how I speak to others.
Finally, and most importantly, I realized that Jesus is what I'm looking for. He can heal me so I can show up to heal on social media. When I am restless, sad, or lonely, I am going more quickly to God. I pray, read Scripture, or write out what I'm thinking and feeling to Him.
It's a process and not an instant one. But God is at work in me and I am trusting in that.
After hearing the lessons I've learned, you may be interested in trying a social media fast yourself. If so, I encourage you to get a copy of Wendy's book. Her daily devotions in the book uplifted me. Her humility shines through. She personally responded to my email about how the fast affected me. Wendy is hosting a group fast during the Lenten season before Easter, but you can do one whenever it makes sense for you.
One of the things I'm doing to counteract my negative self-talk is to post a message at the top of my Amazing Marvin digital task list that says “You're doing a great job!” This should be corny to me and something I dismiss immediately, right? But it's not. I like it. It makes me smile. So I want to leave you with that message today. You're doing a great job! I detest the line ‘Let that sink in,' but in this case I think it's appropriate.
Have a happy homeschool week!