I try to prepare myself for the tech requests of my kids: Ipods, Ipads, cell phones, laptops….and of course the newest video games and DVDs. In a world where you need to be tech savvy or at least technologically literate, I struggle with the limits to set on some of these devices and influences.
As I have struggled to raise seven kids and a foster son, I have come to some conclusions about the tech world. First, I can’t avoid it. We can limit television, computers and music, but they are everywhere and so is access to them. Second, all my children react differently to the limits placed on them and some will (horror of horrors) disobey me at times. There, I admitted it. I have raised six to adulthood, two more are close behind and I couldn’t do it perfectly. Yup….. I home schooled for years, took them to church, gave them (what I hoped was) a good example, but sometimes they disobeyed anyway.
Social media can also provide a positive tool for some children! One of my kids has a mild form of autism. Social sites helped her to connect in a non-threatening way with some of her peers. This gave her the confidence to interact more freely in person. Another daughter of mine uses her page to promote messages of chastity and a pro-life world view. We do not need to be out of the social media sites, just not negatively influenced by them.
So, with these things in mind, I have a few ideas to help parents and youth ministers tackle these difficult subjects.
1/ Don’t be too rigid. Experience has taught me that when I draw a line in the sand my children will be challenged to cross it. Rather than not having a television, we all watch things together. Instead of saying you can’t watch a particular movie, we may pre-screen it or watch it together and critique it at the end. This becomes a valuable tool for both the young adults and ourselves. They have an environment in which they are getting the benefit of our knowledge and wisdom and we know what they are drawn to watch. As our children have become adults we hope that they will make good choices and this way we can still have some influence over the things they choose.
2/ Help them to become media literate. Often times, information is presented through media purposefully confusing or even imitating truth. Most teens need help sorting this out. Teaching them how commercials are influencing them, or how movies will say, “This movie is based on actual events,” even when it is not, will help discern truth as they discover media. We can teach them critical thinking skills and give them information on websites that critique and rate movies and games for their offensive content.
3/ Join in. Many teens will use a friend’s computer to have a social networking website if they are not allowed one at home. (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc.) A better tactic might be to allow them to have one on your computer, but keep the computer in an open, family space and require that you have their password. Another idea is to have your own social media and become ‘friends’ with your kids and with their friends. You would be amazed at how much information your teen or other teens will reveal about themselves on a social networking site.
4/ Teach them safety rules. Teens often don’t realize the long-term ramifications of their actions. Consider hosting an in-service on internet safety. Discuss how predators use the internet, how info they post can follow them into job interviews and future relationships. A quick web search will reveal stories of how social media has negatively impacted someone’s life or safety.
Discuss how simple information can provide information that may violate their privacy and compromise safety. For example, a school sport’s picture with their Jersey number can be used to locate a teen. If you have any doubts about how easy it is to gain info, ask any teenage girl how she can locate a guy she has only seen once and even when she doesn’t know his name!
Encourage kids to leave off location services on their mobile devices when using wi-fi, especially in free hotspots. These services advertise where an individual can be found and when.
5/ Discuss being connected. Kids often disconnect their real life behavior from their internet behavior, song choices or movie choices. I know great Catholic kids who listen to violent music about killing and sex. They don’t think the lyrics affect their thinking process. Other teens will go to horribly offensive movies (either highly violent or sexual in nature), still others have fantasy lives on the internet.
Spending time talking about how these things can change thinking and even personalities, may help them discern what things to allow into their own lives.
*If you watch a sadistic, violent movie for two hours, can you really be the same person when you come out of the theater that you were going in?
*If a boy respects women, can he tolerate lyrics that objectify or reflect violence against women?
Opening this type of dialogue will help young people to create an informed conscience. God bless!