In our neck of the civilized woods, Internet access is actually still unreliable at times, necessitating unholy cursings and rants on occasion. I realize not every one of my youth Sunday School students has unlimited data availability on their phones, computers and other electronic devices, but they all do have access. Their lack of convenient Wi-Fi connections at all times and in all places is a blessing of sorts, because then online usage must be budgeted and managed.
My kids’ smartphones each have inherent usage boundaries of two gigabytes per month with automatic, texted updates when they reach 50 percent of their usage, 75, 90 and red-lettered 100 percent warnings that they’ve maxed out for the month — all without a single parental nagging. As a result, sometimes they “fast” for a few days from streaming videos, Skyping friends or downloading music or other data-heavy files.
I have been mindful of this as a Sunday School teacher asking my students to watch LDS video clips mid-week to prepare for lessons or learn about the new “Come, Follow Me” curriculum. Sometimes, those who want to watch them in advance simply aren’t able. While others who could, simply don’t take the time.
A conversation I plan to have with my class in the very near future revolves around the idea of treating their online usage and data management like tithing. For example, if they spend around 30 minutes per week watching frivolous YouTube videos, make sure they watch at least one three-minute church video to balance. If they habitually watch an entertaining movie on the weekend, then choose something spiritually uplifting to watch on Sundays.
Self-evaluation of habits or routines is always an uncomfortable prospect, but more common in January than at any other time. I venture most of us would be horrified to have our online usage monitored, tallied and posted as a pie chart. But in almost all cases, I also suppose it would motivate self-improvement and better time management.
Whether resources are limited or not, tithing can be forgotten if no budget exists. The same is true for time. With structure and schedules, balancing and prioritizing time to match our personal values is within reach.
Some teens are incredibly busy with extra-curricular sports, homework, music lessons and part-time jobs, but they can still make time to attend Sunday meetings and mid-week youth activities if they plan ahead. Other teens are not as involved outside the home, but still must make the pre-planned decision to get to a scheduled activity like Young Women’s, Scouts, a bishop’s fireside or a mission preparedness class. Spending several hours each week in church activities and service is like offering a tithe of time and has the same results — the “sacrifice” translates into tangible blessings that help us progress.
If we are to take advantage of all the online media resources produced by the LDS Church to educate and inspire, we must choose to include spiritually-uplifting media in our online budget of time. Youth can do the same and use the concept of tithing as a guide.