One topic that has often come to mind regarding how to prepare young people for missionary service is to help them overcome cell phone, social media, internet, or video game addiction or obsessive behavior long before they enter the MTC. Once missionaries begin their service, cell phones are taken away, and there is no time for video games.
In the MTC and as you enter the mission field, the online world of Twitter, video games, texting, and just about everything else in our digital society is replaced with gospel study, acts of service, and gospel teaching. Of course, in the last year, the Church has been ramping up on the use of Facebook by missionaries, but this is strictly for proselytizing purposes, not for socializing with friends back home.
This switch from the digital world to the life of a missionary can be a difficult transition. It will be best for young people to overcome any internet or video game addictions long before they begin their mission. Elder D. Todd Christofferson has said, “young men, you have no time to waste. You can’t wait to get serious about preparing until you are 17 or 18.” In that same talk he added, “We cannot afford to have those who exercise the Holy Priesthood…spend their lives in cyberspace (ironically being of the world while not being in the world)” (Brethren, We Have Work to Do).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said: “Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best” (Good, Better, Best).
Elder David A. Bednar spoke of this topic extensively at a CES Devotional entitled Things as They Really Are.
“Sadly, some young men and young women in the Church today ignore “things as they really are” and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value. My heart aches when a young couple—sealed together in the house of the Lord for time and for all eternity by the power of the holy priesthood—experiences marital difficulties because of the addicting effect of excessive video gaming or online socializing. A young man or woman may waste countless hours, postpone or forfeit vocational or academic achievement, and ultimately sacrifice cherished human relationships because of mind- and spirit-numbing video and online games. As the Lord declared, “Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment … : Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13).”
“I raise an apostolic voice of warning about the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls. The concerns I raise are not new; they apply equally to other types of media, such as television, movies, and music. But in a cyber world, these challenges are more pervasive and intense. I plead with you to beware of the sense-dulling and spiritually destructive influence of cyberspace technologies that are used to produce high fidelity and that promote degrading and evil purposes.
If the adversary cannot entice us to misuse our physical bodies, then one of his most potent tactics is to beguile you and me as embodied spirits to disconnect gradually and physically from things as they really are. In essence, he encourages us to think and act as if we were in our premortal, unembodied state. And, if we let him, he can cunningly employ some aspects of modern technology to accomplish his purposes. Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, earbuds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience.”
Overcoming Obsessive Online Behavior
BYU professor Charles Knutson and Kyle Oswald of LDS Family Services, in an August 2009 Ensign article called “Just a Game?” said: “Spiritual help is available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Such a promise can be especially poignant for those caught in a trap of obsessive online gaming. Hope in the Atonement, coupled with the guidance of the Holy Ghost and counsel from inspired leaders, will help individuals as they seek to apply principles of balance and move toward a life—an actual one and not merely a virtual one—that is rich and full.”
Another way to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of online and digital media is to follow the counsel given by Elder M. Russell Ballard:
“Besides making our voices heard, let me conclude with seven things that every parent can do to minimize the negative effect media can have on our families:
1. We need to hold family councils and decide what our media standards are going to be.
2. We need to spend enough quality time with our children that we are consistently the main influence in their lives, not the media or any peer group.
3. We need to make good media choices ourselves and set good examples for our children.
4. We need to limit the amount of time our children watch TV or play video games or use the Internet each day. Virtual reality must not become their reality.
5. We need to use Internet filters and TV programming locks to prevent our children from “chancing upon” things they should not see.
6. We need to have TVs and computers in a much-used common room in the home, not in a bedroom or a private place.
7. We need to take time to watch appropriate media with our children and discuss with them how to make choices that will uplift and build rather than degrade and destroy” (Let Our Voices Be Heard).
President James E. Faust (1920–2007) taught, “While some addictions require professional clinical help, let us not overlook the spiritual help available to us through priesthood blessings and through prayer. The Lord has promised us, ‘My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them’ (Ether 12:27). Let us remember that the power to change is very real, and it is a great spiritual gift from God.” James E. Faust, “The Power to Change,” Ensign, Nov. 2007, 124.
Additional Articles and Resources
- A Time to Prepare, by Elder Ian S. Ardern of the Seventy
- Technology and the Soul, BYU Devotional by Amy Petersen Jensen
- Addicted to Video Games, New Era magazine
- Video-game addiction blamed for 15 percent of divorces, Deseret News
- Overcoming Pornography, Mormon Mission Prep article by Jimmy Smith