Greetings to all of you from the nation’s capital where I am continuing my tour of talks on the relationship between media, culture and religion. Midway through my flight from New York City to D.C., a flight attendant asked if she could talk to me for a few minutes. Tears came to her eyes almost immediately as she took a break from serving cold drinks and sat down next to me. Her colleagues were gracious enough to pick up the slack so she could vent.
This woman — probably in her mid 40s — wanted advice about how she and her husband could help their two sons, 12 and 15 years olds, “to turn out OK.” I asked her how the boys were doing now and why she was so concerned. “All I want is that they become responsible and decent citizens, good husbands, good fathers to their future children. Is that too much for me to ask of God?” “Of course not,” I responded, “but tell me more. Why are you so concerned?”
What ensued was a conversation about the media, and believe it or not, I wasn’t the one to bring up the topic. This woman was terrified that video games, the Internet, and her sons’ friends were having such an effect on their values that she no longer felt confident of helping them make good decisions and forge a positive future. She felt the education of her two children was to a great degree out of her control and feared there were no easy solutions. The bar of normality and of morality, she explained, has been lowered so dramatically parents are grasping at straws to explain to their children why they can’t do everything their friends are doing. “My 15-year-old wants to travel out of state to visit his girlfriend, the love of his life, and he can’t fathom why we wouldn’t allow him to do this.”
The short flight didn’t give us much time to talk and I figured what she most needed was an attentive ear. So what advice did I give her in those few minutes?
• Children respect honesty and sincerity. They see through and despise hypocrisy. Parents who want children to listen to their advice must first make sure their own lives line up with what they are preaching. Would you like your children to eventually be church-going citizens? Go yourselves. Would you like your children to use the media wisely? Don’t waste your time on useless or salacious entertainment. Do you want your children to be faithful to their future spouses? Your own example, in every aspect of your life, is the most powerful educator and will make an indelible impression on your kids. They may wander for a time, but they will never forget what is good and true.
• Spend time with your children doing positive things. Fill their minds and hearts with truth, beauty and good-natured fun. You can’t eliminate every negative influence on your child, but you can make sure the “balance” between good and bad tilts heavily to the good.
• Explain to your children why this or that is wrong and dangerous. They may not agree in the moment, but as they mature, they will know your decisions were based out of love for them. Eventually, they will come around and thank you for it.
• Know the media content your children are ingesting and do your best to eliminate the negative elements without forcing your children into the dark ages. An open Internet connection or TV in their bedrooms is never a good idea. An unregulated cell phone is also dangerous. There is new technology which sends an alert to parents’ cell phones when a stranger has contacted or sent images to their children by phone calls or text messages. With this technology, parents can work through with their children “approved” names who will be contacting them. This is not a “spy” device; the kids know they are being monitored.
• Pray, pray, pray. Ask God for wisdom and courage to be effective educators of your children. Today this includes being their protectors from an aggressive and dangerous culture.
What advice would you have given this woman? Can you relate to her concerns? Next week I will post some of your e-mails?
God bless, Father Jonathan
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