One of the biggest challenges for me, as a mother of teenagers, is keeping up with the latest electronic gadget, social communication medium, and all media in general. (I am still learning how to use Wii fit!) For a mom who can barely keep up with her own reading material and email, this is a HUGE task. I know many parents don't even bother trying, but that is not an option for me.
Modern technology does have its advantages, but it also has many parents concerned. These new means of communication and entertainment, if not placed in their proper context, can be misused and cause serious harm to our children. And this is just not about our teenagers. I read somewhere recently, that the average age of minors possessing a cell phone is nine! I couldn't believe it! Nine years old! And these phones are not just being used for phone calls. I would guess that phone calls are last on the list of uses compared to text messages, pictures, music and movies.
My teenagers do have cell phones. I consider a cell phone a necessity for any of my children that drive. Also, two of our teenage daughters participate in several activites, for long hours, away from home, so we provide them with a phone. They all use email, take classes online, use the internet, have a Facebook account, use Ipods and watch movies.
For me, my main concern is to protect their innocence, purity and integrity. Yes, I trust my teenagers, but I also know that they are human and thus, will always face temptation. I also know that there are many individuals "out there" who want to take advantage of innocent teens/kids. It is my job to help them avoid these temptations, moderate their use of these things, and learn how to protect themselves.
So, how do we, as parents handle all of this? What guidelines do we set up for our kids?
Recently I received an email from a priest friend, Father Michael Sliney, LC. I have known Father Michael for many years and he has played a key role in my older son's formation. I value, very highly, his advice. His email contained "Tips for Parents on Teen Media Management". He states, "The following are first and foremost guidelines. My concern here is to protect the purity and integrity of teens, as well as to improve their personal interaction while promoting accountability for the content they are absorbing on a day-to-day basis. Ideally, these guidelines would be worked up to over time, starting with tighter restrictions while young and gradually giving them more freedom..."
I share Father Michael's guidelines with the hope that you, too, will find something of value here in your role as a parent of teens.
1. Cell Phones
- Given the generally informal, impersonal and at times vulgar nature of text messages, texting should be used more for business than pleasure: use it to send quick info or scheduling but not as a substitute for personal conversation with friends and family. Virtual contact should not overshadow personal relationships.
- Turn in or disengage cell phone to parents before they go to sleep. Use of landline is preferable for many reasons.
- Hierarchy of Communication: 1) Face-to-Face, 2) Phone, 3) Internet or Texting
2. TV/Movies/Video Games
- Less is better: limit usage to not more than 1 hour per day; always watch with other family members
- Try to open the kids’ eyes to the world that the movie is coming from and to what it’s negative message will do to their soul
- No channel surfing, know what you want to watch before starting (have a goal)
3. Internet/Computer Use
- Ratings for these and other sites: http: /internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/
- If possible, place family computer in public area with large monitor for accountability (for grade- schoolers, this should be the only computer they use)
- Limit non-academic internet time to less than an hour per day
- No internet in bedrooms, if possible
- “Friends” should be people you know and trust: Facebook is for connecting with friends not for making new ones. A mother of a teen-age daughter recently sent me the following comment as a tip: “And her "Facebook" page is checked all the time by myself and my husband (and so are her friends- that was the deal we made when we let her sign up.)”
- Avoid posting anything that you wouldn’t want to be seen by your college admissions director, your future employer, or your future spouse
- We recommend that Facebook (or other social networking sites) should not be used before high school
5. I-Pods (Music)
- Be very much aware of the underlying message in the music your kids listen to, both in the lyrics and in the music itself (rhythm, sound, etc.). If your kids are attracted to music that promotes immoral/sexual behavior (ie, hip-hop) or that has dark or Satanic undertones, analyze it with them so that they understand why they are not allowed to listen to it. Plugged-In may be used to screen music also.
- Don’t allow Music to become an obstacle to healthy communication with family and friends.
I want to share one last thing that Father Michael recommended several years ago, in a talk I heard him give to parents. He recommended that every family keep a picture of Our Lord right next to their computer screen, TV, laptop, etc. It can be as simple as taping a holy card of Christ on your computer or TV screen. We have taken him up on this advice. It is a good reminder to all of us - parents and children - to guard our senses from the temptations and impurities of modern media and communication.