On Not Raising Sheltered Kids

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As the opening decade of the 21st century draws to a close, the world is confronted with a vast, ever-changing array of media platforms. Gone are the days when newspapers, magazines, and rabbit-eared television sets dominated our consumption of information. We now live in an age of fiber-optic television, cell phones as powerful as desktop computers, GPS navigation, satellite radio, streaming and time-shifted video content, e-readers, paperless periodicals, and the all-pervasive Internet. New broadcast (and narrowcast) outlets, corporate partnerships, small startups, distribution channels, social networks, content-sharing platforms, and interactions between real space and cyberspace are emerging all the time.

It’s an exciting moment, but there is a dark side: The influence of all this content — often unfiltered and uncontrollable — carries with it no few occasions of sin. Every parent must fight a constant battle against a culture that both inundates and seduces impressionable minds with messages hostile to our faith.

Much has been made of the possibility of harnessing and adapting media for the purpose of evangelization. But what about the choices made by the average Catholic, who acts as a consumer rather than a producer of content? In the pastoral instruction Aetatis Novae, the Church offers an acknowledgement of the value of media and a warning about its consumption:

As matters stand, mass-media at times exacerbate individual and social problems which stand in the way of human solidarity and the integral development of the human person. These obstacles include secularism, consumerism, materialism, dehumanization, and lack of concern for the plight of the poor and neglected.

It is against this background that the Church, recognizing the media of social communications as “the privileged way” today for the creation and transmission of culture, acknowledges its own duty to offer formation to communications professionals and to the public, so that they will approach media with “a critical sense which is animated by a passion for the truth” . . . .

That “critical sense” is a sound and reasonable guide, but not a very specific one. Some parents choose to keep mass media out of their homes entirely. Others limit their entertainment and information options strictly to religious outlets. While these choices are legitimate, are they really the best response?

To be a functioning, well-rounded member of our society, capable of engaging with non-Catholic peers and colleagues surely demands something more. If governments and corporations can’t control the spread of social communications, parents must realize that we can’t keep our children from them forever, either. Better that we teach them to have a “critical sense” when approaching media than leave it to chance when they come face to face — as they inevitably will — with the glamorous and secular tide of modern media.

In my family, we are trying to teach our children to become critical consumers. On an age-appropriate basis, we allow a fair degree of liberty in the media choices they make. It’s not just that we want them to understand the world they live in; we think there is real value to be found in our culture’s entertainment. There is God-given talent at work in the storytelling, cinematography, acting, and directing in many television shows and films, even if they more often than not include mixed messages as morality tales. This, too, is a learning opportunity — an opening to discuss with our children what was right and what was wrong with the choices made by characters on the screen, and how we as Catholics should respond in similar situations. We discuss the presentation of facts by left-leaning Hollywood, which gives us the chance to research the real story behind historical dramas or politically loaded documentaries. For the time being, our small children are mostly restricted to educational programming and games, but I have no problem with the occasional Pixar film; and I love to sit down with my three- and four-year-olds and take in the latest animated incarnations of Spider-Man or Iron Man.

When it comes to the Internet, we’re more guarded, but we don’t impose across-the-board sanctions. Not only do my wife and I regularly use social networks, but — with limitations — so does our 13-year-old daughter. We monitor her usage and offer course corrections when it becomes necessary. The occasional dark moment — like the time an unknown, college-aged man attempted to befriend her on Facebook — becomes for us an opportunity to discuss the real dangers of protecting modesty and privacy in an age of social transparency. Our warnings about the dangers of “the real world” carry more weight when she recognizes, from the safety of our home, that trust must be earned. The lessons will serve her well when she’s on her own and makes these choices without our supervision.

We parents do our best to act as filters, but we can’t do it perfectly. At times, our children will be exposed to inappropriate material. I’d much rather that we hit these snags together — confronting them at home, under our guidance — than try to shelter them completely, only to send them out into the world unprepared.

By

Steve Skojec serves as the Director of Community Relations for a professional association. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a BA in Communications and Theology. His passions include writing, photography, social media, and an avid appreciation of science fiction. Steve lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Jamie and their five children.

  • David Ambuul

    It makes me happy that i have children who have free will given them by God. It makes me sad that they, and i, can choose against The Good. But not exactly: if i couldn’t choose against The Good, i would not be free. So what is the riddle? Simple really. God made me from nothing to be free; because i am free and need His help, i can at times make mistakes (sin). So through my sin (and yours) we needed a Savior. Jesus Christ -only son of the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through the Holy Spirit. Incredible. But true.
    God has given little me the gift of sometimes being able to read people’s intentions even though i have never met them before or heard them speak. How is this possible? Through His grace (gift). Why? i don’t know -i’m not God! So how do i know if i judge intentions rightly? Simple, i don’t always. Sometimes i make mistakes. So how do i know when i was right? That’s pretty simple sometimes also: i later see their fruits! AMDG!

  • DS

    Thanks for the article Steve. You make some great points which are quite timely!
    As co-founder of a new company specifically designed to deal with online evil, I’ve read enough stats lately to fill many volumes regarding the statistics of children and their exposure to pornography and etc., and if the stats are right, parents can hardly overprotect their children from the evils online. Even at a Scott Hahn Catholic men’s Retreat when asked by Scott Hahn how many men in the room had a problem with online pornography, virtually every hand went up. So, the evil in the media can be especially devastating to children, but adults are certainly not exempt as we all know!

    We were told at a youth retreat that the priest who heard the teens’ confessions came out of the confessional after several hours, and told the parents: “Get rid of the internet.” Well, most parents won’t do this, and teens have phones and friends, so they are able to find evil if they want to, generally, so the parents must try to work with them as they mature to prepare for the world the do and will live in, and it does have a lot of evil, along with a lot of good.

    I’ve heard people use an analogy when discussing sheltering children: How much poison (or drugs) would you give your child? The obvious answer: None!
    When considering the damage done to children’s minds, souls, hearts, and eventually, bodies, by exposure to evil in the media, and other places, the question should be: How can we protect them from as much evil as we reasonably can, given their age and understanding, and the limitations on our time and energy?

    Steve makes a great point in this blog, I think, that we need to closely supervise our children amap, and use the inevitable, sometimes undesired opportunities which arise in daily life as teaching moments, to help guide them and help them form their consciences to be able to soundly judge what the good is and also what evil is, and how to avoid it and combat it.

    Having raised 5 children, the 4 oldest of which are all members of religious orders, and the 5th in high school seems headed that way, I can attest to the difficulty of trying to protect children’s souls from the evils of the world.
    My unsolicited advice: Do everything you can to protect their souls from as much evil as possible while they are young, and help them sort through the ever increasing moral confusion in our society in a way appropriate to their age. They’ll have time enough to be overwhelmed by evil as the mature, but when they are young they need that time of innocence and purity to develop fully integrated and holy personalities. When a plant is young you keep it in a pot in a greenhouse, where it is protected from wind, snow, hail, frost, and scorching sun, and you fertilize and water it carefully. When the time is right, you put it out into the elements, and hopefully the tender nurturing and care you gave it as a seedling will have prepared it for life outside. But, you don’t want to put it out into the elements too soon. A parent’s job is similar to this, and they must discern when their “seedlings” are ready to take the hits from the world.

    Steve Wood’s advice was key to me as my children were heading into the teen years, and that advice was to protect your children’s latent sexuality, i.e., don’t let them be exposed to sexual themes, thoughts, ideas, pictures, movies, videos, books, etc, before they are ready to judge these objectively and measure them against their authentic spiritual and moral values which you have helped instill in them, a process that requires more maturity than most younger children have.

    Thanks again Steve for the great blog! DS ds.eternetenet@gmail.com

  • DS

    My apologies, the “CEO” title on my comment above should have been something like:
    Don’t wimp out parents on your duty!!

    However, having never commented here before, when I saw “Title” under the
    “Website” box, my internet stat numbed brain just autotyped “CEO”.
    Sorry about that!

  • JMC

    Awesome article, Steve. My parents raised us this way, and it makes me utterly unable to understand why people are so ready to blame outside sources for the world’s ills. I STILL don’t buy that media violence begets real violence. At least, it wouldn’t if parents did their jobs.

  • priest’s wife

    I really, really try to be balanced with my kids (11, 10, 3 and 1) – I personally am much more conservative than I force them to be- Dad took them to see ‘barnyard’ for example.

    BUT the Internet needs to be closely monitored! Please their brains are making pathways right now. My big kids email their cousins- but they type the message in Word and I paste it into the email- the ads are evil (singles and such). If they need some info from the internet, we do it together- and OVER MY DEAD BODY will there be tv in my house- got a tv for dvds that I choose- the ads are the worst part…

  • Mrs. F

    I taught 7th grade for 9 years, and I tried to do exactly what this article suggests with my teenage stepdaughter. Limited, supervised freedom in the internet, discussions about possibly controversial TV shows, etc. We also homeschooled her for 2 years of HS, including the excellent Religion curriculum from Seton.

    From my experiences with her and interactions with other young people, I see no reason at all to allow students on social networking sites or to have their own cell phone. It opens ups enormous opportunities for peer pressure, bullying, and hiding things from parents. Teens can become masters as saying exactly what parents want to hear and doing the exact opposite, and Facebook, Myspace and a cell phone only help them cover things up.

    When choosing TV programs, look beyond obvious things like how sexuality is portrayed. Look at what virtues, if any, the protagonists display. Look at whether or not they treat people with respect, even people they dislike. Look at what is portrayed as important. Very often, programs geared for tweens and teens show disrespect to parents (including lying, which is often ignored or brushed off by parents if it’s ever discovered at all), they glorify the idea of dating as extremely important (not the connection with the person, the action of dating someone as a social pasttime), and mocking or doing something mean to someone who annoys them is a reason to laugh, not a reason to be ashamed.

    A speaker at and Catholic homeschool conference in Denver used the Rule of St. Benedict to explain this idea, and it made a great deal of sense to me. There are 2 types of monks (I know, St. Benedict spoke of 4, but this example refers to 2). Younger, less spiritually mature monks need the protection and strict rules of the monastery. Until they are fully mature Christians in this environment, they are not allowed to leave the monastery. The 2nd type of monks were those who were mature in their faith and they were sent out into the world, secure in ther knowledge of their faith and relationship with Christ to face the evil of the world.

    Our children need a safe, structured place to become fully mature in their faith before they face the World and the things of the World. We lost the step-daughter to the world. We pray for her to come back. I firmly believe that allowing even limited time of TV, cell phone, and Facebook helped pull her away from God and the family.

  • Seve Allapont

    God is true light. There are no impurities in Him. We are made in his image and likeness. We are designed to be pure. Boy what a challenge we have! The temptation to accommodate impurities is endless. And the reality of having to relate skillfully in a world that holds impurity as its model, is tough. Children don’t like rejection. This world mocks and rejects the “40 year old virgin” and many other wholesome ideas. Kids don’t need the rejection early when they’ve not been formed. I remember a priest one time finish his homily by saying “I don’t know why any of you parents would have that evil box (the TV) in your homes.” At least you can filter the internet. http://www.afo.net (by protestants) has an outstanding and economical filter. Men need these walls. And adolescent boys don’t need even one opportunity to see the utter darkness involved at their finger tips on the internet. We install AFO’s filters on all computers at our home and office. We’ve cut off cable, have no antennae, and watch wholesome movies instead. We’re professionals with highly social jobs. God calls us to true light. Our children will have plenty of temptations without being exposed to them at our house. Just visit the relatives. Or walk through a mall. Or even go to church and see teens with 6 inch skirts and bare mid-rifs. The key is showing your kids that — you — are attracted to wholesome things. That — you — want to be at Church and with God. And, that — you — love THEM. They will freely chose to do good or evil later on. Hopefully, they’ll have learned to enjoy the wholesomeness of God by then.

  • Lee Gilbert

    As a matter of fact, you can hide your children from sin and scandal for quite a long time, time enough to form them up as strong young Catholics. You can keep the television out. You can keep the Sunday paper out. You can bring the lives of the saints in. You can bring the catechism in. You can bring good literature in. You can fill your home with wonderful stories and music and song. You can create your own culture.

    As a Catholic father, you have NO obligation to expose them to temptations to mortal sin or to the ways of the world.

    The idea that you can explain modern culture to them is something that probably causes knee slapping hilarity in Hell. You live and move in a world filled with snares and plots and stratagems of which you have very little idea.

    Even your explanation would be a snare.

    Fathers were created for the express purpose of protecting their children. They have a moral obligation to keep them from scandal, and NO obligation whatever to explain it to them.

    You can bring them up practically to their teens without exposing them to grave scandal. You can form up their character, intellect and imagination along strong Catholic lines so that when a whiff of evil comes their way, they know it, and know what to do about it.

    We raised a daughter in the eighties and nineties, years not known for their chastity and holiness, and packed her off to Europe when she was 18 for her Rome Semester, where on breaks she travelled with a few friends all over Europe. There was plenty of scandal all round, of course, but on our part little to fear.

    All of this, ALL of it, was the grace of God who dealt with me sharply as a young father to keep my home clean of scandal.

    And now He has the Carmelite he evidently wanted.

    “Nothing impure in the home,” said Pius XII, quoting the pagan poet Juvenal.

    And now a pet peeve- parents who complain about the culture on their way to Target to buy an even larger entertainment center.

    In other words, Catholic parents are the main vector of scandal into the minds and hearts of their own children. And they will answer for it.

    Dad, you are the gatekeeper. NOTHING comes into your home without your permission.

    There is no need to “fight a constant battle against a culture that both inundates and seduces impressionable minds with messages hostile to our faith.”
    The one decision, “No TV!” wins that battle decisively. The alternative is to be the nagging parent, “Don’t watch this, don’t watch that!” THAT drives kids nuts and provokes rebellion.

    Your approach is going to constantly involve you in trying to rescue the situation after the damage is done- unless you have the program or ad script in front of you as you watch TV together and can turn the set off just before it lodges some wickedness in your childrens’ minds.

    Throw the damn thing out and have a happy, holy, prayerful, peaceful Catholic home.

    As for what they may see at their friends’ homes, don’t worry about it. If you do ALL to shelter them, He will do ALL. If not, not.

  • Lauren

    My jaw dropped when I read that 4 out of your 5 children are in religious orders! Speaking from a mother with only young children and their futures ahead of them, I would love to hear how you and your wife raised your kids. Do you have a blog? Book? smilies/smiley.gif

  • James Matson

    Only one thing your kids need to have explained about media…Dad and Mom have thrown it out!

  • Mrs. F

    I second Lauren’s question for DS. Also, could some the men who have responded give ideas for convincing the father that the satellite just needs to be cancelled? It’s a point of contention here.

  • Lee Gilbert

    Mrs. F,

    If I were in your shoes, the first thing I would do is to write or call contemplative monasteries asking for their prayer support in this endeavor, prayers for your husband to see reason, prayers for the presence of television to end in your household one way or another, prayers for the holiness of your family. Contemplative orders include the Carmelites, Cistercians, Poor Clares, etc. and many of these orders have websites that allow you register your petition right there. Believe me, they are grateful for these petitions. Praying for the Church is what they are called to do.

    Secondly, I would ratchet up my own prayer life, possibly going to daily Mass or saying the daily Rosary.

    I would have Masses said. I would invoke the name of Jesus again and again (see The Holy Name of Jesus pamphlet put out by TAN), and the Holy Family as well, when driving or walking from here to there. I would beg prayers from anyone whom I could reasonably expect to support me in this endeavor, fellow Catholics or Christians at work, a devout aunt, siblings….

    In other words, I would take a stand in the Spirit and put myself on a war footing, resolved never to quit until grace comes down from Heaven and changes the whole situation.

    If that sounds extreme, this is not just a question of satellite or no satellite, but of pursuing to victory the spiritual war that you are actually engaged in for the eternal happiness of your family.

    I’d strongly suggest you read The Plug-in Drug, a book by Marie Winn-it’s dated, but still relevant- and do everything to come to a thoroughgoing understanding of what you are up against. Take a look at whitedot.org and their materials.

    I wouldn’t nag, which I would imagine is a real temptation for you. However, if you are ever away from the TV for any length of time, for example on a camping trip, or otherwise find yourself in a situation of quiet intimacy with your husband, a long walk by the lake while on vacation, for example, I’d say say something like, “Jack, I wish it were always like this in our daily life, the peace, the quiet, the intimacy with one another, enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the childrens’ company, too. We could do it. We could read together in the evening. We could play boardgames. We could go bowling. As it is, life is slipping away and all we’re doing is watching the damned TV together.”

    “Right. Back to the same old theme. You want me to cancel the satellite dish.”

    “Of course, but we wouldn’t have to do it right away. Why don’t we give up TV for Lent and Easter and see how things go? It could be great for all of us, you too. I am concerned about you because you seem to be so worried about how bad the economy is getting, but you wouldn’t be so worried if you weren’t watching the news every night. We really need to unplug for a while. Don’t you agree?

    “We’ll see.”

    “And look at Peter. He must watch four hours of TV a night. He’s a bright kid, but his studies are going nowhere… etc.

    In other words, don’t nag, but lay out your arguments relentlessly at the right moment…

    And have numerous positive alternatives ready when the TV goes off, so that it never goes back on. Books to read together, games to play, places to go and people to see, because believe me when that TV goes off, it opens up aeons of time, time that can seem very unfriendly and empty at first. It has been an intergral part of your family’s life, and even of their personalities. When it goes, it feels like some part of them is missing. After a while they will find other interests, but in the meantime help fill the void.

    Well, that’s my 2 cents, Mrs. F. And may God bless you in your endeavors!

  • Matt Orr

    Great post and dead on.

    The only way to avoid the temptations of modern media is to avoid the world all together. But the majority of us aren’t called to be monastics or recluses. We’re called to engage our peers. We’re called to be light in a rotting world.

    Imagine if Paul or Peter had stayed in Judea, instead of going to Rome. Similarly, we need to prepare of youngsters to be in places of influence. They need to be the best lawyers, stock brokers and artists the world has to offer. They need to be in New York, Washington D.C. and, yes, even Hollywood.

    I would encourage anyone interested to learn more about the Act One Program in Los Angeles. They certainly have this ideal at the heart of their program. It’s the reason I moved to Hollywood.

    As difficult as it may be, we need more individuals willing to live a life of sacrifice because that’s the only way the world changes.

  • Susan

    My parents made sure that I knew their values (My father is Catholic and my mother Presbyterian, but I was raised Catholic). If we were watching a TV program and there was something objectionable, my mother would have a quick discussion with me so I knew it wasn’t right. Very rarely did they not allow me to watch something. That’s the approach I want to use with my children one day, since I can’t filter everything they see.

  • Mrs. F

    The idea of calling contemplative monasteries had not even crossed my mind. We already attend daily Mass (Hubby too, on his days off) and say a daily Rosary. Obviously, we need to call the Prayer Special Forces.

  • Sam Schmitt

    Thank you, Lee Gilbert.

    If you don’t have your own culture to give your kids, they will default to what the world offers, perhaps with a Catholic “lining.” Get them immersed in real things, in good things, so much so that the world looks stupid and lame by comparison. The first small step is to throw out the TV once and for all.

  • GW

    There is beauty in the woods, but there are also rattlesnakes. Teach your children to see the beauty of the woods, but to keep alert to avoid the rattlesnakes.

    I’ve tried to teach my children, who have attended very diverse, woefully underfunded public schools (and done very well, thank you), to seek out and enjoy the beauty of the woods, but to realize that there are rattlesnakes and to watch out for them. Rattlesnakes on both the Left and the Right side of the woods. Since we live on the Right side of the woods, we have to be careful to recognize the snakes who live closest to us, especially because, for some reason, the Right snakes have even more beautiful colors than the Left. This makes them even more dangerous.

    But the woods are a beautiful place, with trees and various plants and lots of other wildlife. Everything has it’s place in the woods, even the evil rattlesnakes. We don’t understand why there have to be evil things in the woods, but Someone understands.

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