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Raising Saints in the Digital Age

By Brandon Vogt

Navigating the dangerous waters of the web with your kids is difficult but not impossible

Raising Saints in the Digital Age

Like Alice, who passed through the mirror and found herself in Wonderland, many of us dads have also been swept into a strange new world —a world of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, text messages and more. What makes this world even more daunting is that it’s loaded with young people who speak an unfamiliar language.

It’s definitely scary. Almost every day we hear internet horror stories: children being cyberbullied to death; kids surfing into pornography; teenagers addicted to cell phones and social media; the malignant spread of distraction and narcissism. What’s a parent to do? These tools seem to be only growing in force, and placing a wedge between parent and child. So how can we raise saints in this digital world?

Thankfully, the Church provides an answer. And it’s the same answer she gave to frazzled parents ten years ago, a hundred years ago, and even a thousand years ago. The answer is virtue.

In particular, the virtues of temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude are the keys to raising saints. Traditionally called the four cardinal virtues —“cardinal” from the Latin word for “hinge” — these traits form the hinge on which the whole saintly life swings. Which means that, ideally, they should be the hinges on which the online life of your children swings, as well.

The more they exhibit these cardinal virtues online, the more saintly they’ll be. So let’s explore how we can help them do that.

Temperance

In 1971, the Vatican issued a pastoral letter explaining that, “media consumers should exercise self-control. They must not allow themselves to be so beguiled by the charms of media that they neglect urgent duties or simply waste time” (Message for the Fifth World Communications Day). In an age hampered by digital excess and addiction, our antidote lies in temperance, which includes restraints like moderation and self-control. Here are a few ways you can help your kids develop media temperance:

• Digital Fasting. Choose one day each week — Sunday is a great choice — when your entire family unplugs. Toss all the cell phones, iPads, Kindles, and other digital devices into a basket for the day and enjoy being disconnected. It will be hard at first, but you’ll be amazed at how liberating it is.

• Time Limits. Put a hard-limit on the amount of time your kids can be online. To do that, you might have to get creative. One set of parents gives 14 poker chips per week to each child. Throughout the week, the kids can redeem one chip for a half hour of media time – TV, computer, or video games – or they can trade their unused chips at the end of the week for $0.50 per chip. This is one of the best ways to keep your kids from mindlessly wasting time in front of a screen.

• Online Filters. To make sure your children don’t come across objectionable content — including pornography, violence, and graphic language — consider installing an online filter. Two of the best are Covenant Eyes and Safe Eyes. Though it won’t prevent all bad content from hitting the screen, you’ll block out a huge proportion.

Prudence

When your children are using the home computer, they can be fairly easy to supervise, especially if the computer is in a public location (highly recommended.) You can ensure they aren’t browsing any undesirable sites, and you can help moderate the amount of time they spend using media. But what about when you’re not around? What about the times when they use a friend’s computer, or the computer at school, or the browser on their phone?

What these situations require in addition to temperance is prudence. Prudence requires making the right decisions at the right times, even when parents aren’t around. Two areas prudence is especially needed include:

• Online Privacy. One of the biggest misconceptions about the internet is that you have control over what you post. “If I make it private,” some kids think, “nobody else will see it. And if I delete it, it will be gone forever.” In reality, nothing on the Internet is 100% private and nothing can be deleted without a trace. This can have huge ramifications as our children grow up and apply to colleges and employers. We parents need to teach this to our children now so that something posted in their adolescence doesn’t come back to bite them later.

• Digital Literacy. Many kids don’t realize that almost every website has an agenda. Sometimes that’s good, like the U.S. Bishops’ site, which seeks to strengthen their Catholic faith. But sometimes the mission is to get you to click on ads and buy more stuff. To prudently navigate the web, our children need to become literate in “reading” the goals of different websites.

Check back next Tuesday for the second part of this series, in which we look at Justice and Fortitude.