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Raising Saints in the Digital World

Part Two on protecting kids from the excesses of communication

By Brandon Vogt

This is the second part in a two-part series discussing how to raise saints in the digital age. In the first part we discovered the key to raising saints: virtue. And in particular, we looked at how we can help our children develop two of the four cardinal virtues —temperance and prudence — in the midst of this media-saturated world.

Now we take a look at the other two cardinal virtues, justice and fortitude.

Justice - The word “justice” often produces visions of courtrooms and prison cells, but it’s much more than that. At its core, justice simply means “a proper relationship between yourself and others.” As many circles of the internet breed narcissism and hatred, we need online justice more than ever. Here are a few specific areas where you can encourage your kids to act justly:

Digital Citizenship. Every good citizen knows and obeys the laws of the land. And the same holds true online. Teach your children about the immorality of piracy, especially when researching for schoolwork. Explain the need to respect copyright laws by giving credit where it’s due and how to draw the line between research and plagiarism. If you want help with that conversation, here’s a great article to help you get started.

Human Dignity. One of today’s greatest injustices is the reduction of people to objects. And nowhere is this more prevalent than in pornography. Porn is the internet’s greatest danger, and it flourishes whenever we reject the value and worth of other human beings. From a young age our children need to learn the unbelievable, unalterable worth of every woman, man, and child. This is a powerful form of justice, since a great “Yes!” to dignity can prevent pornography even more than a filter’s “No!” to objectionable content.

True Friendship. St. Thomas Aquinas defines love as “willing the good of the other, as other.” This means that in loving friendships, we seek the best interest of others instead of our desires. The same holds for the internet. We parents should encourage kids to pursue outward-oriented relationships online. We can urge them, for instance, to use Facebook not just to share their own news but to check up on friends, offer encouragement, and celebrate the joys of others.

Fortitude

Where there is holiness, there is fortitude. Jesus had it, the earliest martyrs had it, and all the great saints had it, too. Fortitude is defined as boldness; the ability to confront fear and uncertainty. One person who had it in spades was St. Paul. He faced whippings, beatings, robberies and shipwrecks, yet emerged with his head held high, still proclaiming the Good News of Christ. Here are two ways we can teach our children to follow St. Paul by living with fortitude online:

Courageous Examples. One way to instill courage is by showing our kids examples of this virtue. Tell them about St. Damien of Molokai, who ministered to leper colonies even though it led to his own death. Or discuss St. Thomas More, who refused to deny the Church and lost his head for it. These stories can provide courage when children are faced with difficult situations or questions online. If someone mentions on Facebook, for example, that abortion is really a personal choice and there’s nothing really wrong with it, these stories can inspire your children to respond in truth.

Bold Evangelism. Pope Benedict XVI is right in seeing the internet as a large mission field since, for the most part, it’s definitely not Catholic. Most of what your children read in their social media spheres is either ambivalent toward Catholicism or actively against it. In this atmosphere, we need young people who are not embarrassed to share their faith nor afraid of any resistance they’ll receive. To do that, though, they must know their faith --confidence in sharing it depends on the extent they know it themselves. So for instance, if someone brushes off God as just an age old myth, kids can boldly respond if they know some basic arguments for God. There are plenty of online resources to help with this like Catholic.com and LifeTeen.com. Pointing them to sites like that will provide answers to all sorts of questions and objections to Catholicism.

If we parents take the time to teach these virtues to our children, they will navigate the murky digital waters with heroism. Like every holy person who has mastered the four cardinal virtues, our children will shine as holy examples to the world, true saints for the digital age.

Brandon Vogt, who blogs at ThinVeil.net, is the author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet (Our Sunday Visitor). He and his wife live with their two children (and one soon to be born) in Casselberry, Florida.