I hear from many parents about the challenges of raising children in a digital culture. Sometimes it’s just easier to give a 3-year-old your smartphone with a children’s musical video than it is to deal with a fussy toddler at the store. Or when your pre-teen insists that they need a smartphone because all their friends have one, you feel pressured to give in, so he/she doesn’t feel left out. Letting your bored teenager spend hours playing MMORPG video games can be parents’ way of dealing with moody adolescents. These were not realities 10 and 15 years ago. Parenting methods must shift in unimaginable ways within this digital reality. We can help our young people engage critically in this digital culture by being media mindful, which is media literacy from a faith-values perspective.
As a media literacy educator, I try to offer parents helpful tools from a theological, educational and spiritual perspective to guide their children to live well with their media. It takes practice and work to parent not only children but the media as well. It requires an assessment of one’s own media use. Parents can be an example for their kids in using these amazing technological tools in a healthy and balanced way. That takes personal discernment for the adults to be able to guide their children to live virtuously with their media. It all starts with what we value.
If we value family, how can we give more time and attention to each member of the family? If honesty is a value, how can we hold each other accountable to be honest about our media use? Secrecy always leads to problematic behavior. Communication is a coveted value in relationships; how can we grow in respectful face-to-face communication as a family? What values does Jesus teach us in the Gospels? How are forgiveness, love and service expressed in our family and through our media experience?
Recognizing our values is key to understanding how to live well with our media. These are the basis for making a “digital family plan.” We need to express what we value so we can hold each other accountable to those values.
Here are some helpful questions to get started on a digital family plan:
Talking together as a family about these questions is crucial. It offers young people the freedom to share about the pressures of a digital culture. Once you discuss these questions and articulate your values, you can then create a plan and a family media pledge.
What is one thing you will do as a family to grow in media mindfulness? Write this out as a pledge and have each member of the family sign it. Pray an Our Father together. Post it on the refrigerator door as a reminder of your digital family plan.” The more we communicate about our media experience, the more we develop tools of discernment that last a lifetime.
Sister Nancy Usselmann, FSP, is director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. She is a media literacy educator, writer, film reviewer, speaker and author of a theology of popular culture, “A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics.”
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