As we travel the country speaking to parents about Catholic family life, many people ask us to address their concerns over the use of technology and how it affects our families. The internet is available almost everywhere. As parents, we are faced with questions on how to navigate the world of social media, mobile devices, computers, tablets and gaming devices with little or no training in this area.
The rapid growth and change in technology can make it overwhelming and it causes a great anxiety for parents as well as children. Sometimes it can make us want to take all our media devices and run them over with our cars! Yet the church does not tell us to be anti-technology. In his Apostolic Letter to Those Responsible for Communications in 2005 Saint Pope John Paul II declared, “Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank ‘among the marvelous things’… which God has placed at our disposal to discover…” In life, we are called not to fear anything, but rather turn to Christ for strength to move forward.
During this reflective season of Lent, we have both set out to reevaluate our personal usage of technology, examine how it is being used in our family life and to give you some of our favorite tips on how we balance family life and technology in our homes. Here are some questions to ponder:
Do I ask the Holy Spirit to show me what we need to know regarding our families use of technology?
Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you need to know about your family with regards to technology use. Consider saying the prayer “Come Holy Spirit” 10 times and ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to what you need to see in your family life in this area. Some things may be obvious, but we may have become desensitized to the amount of technology we use and what our families are constantly staring at on our screens. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his address on the 41st World Communications Day in 2007, “Educating children to be discriminating in their use of the media is a responsibility of parents, Church, and school. The role of parents is of primary importance.”
How many hours do I spend on the internet a day, a week or a month? Is this amount of time more than I spend with my family?
Take time out and count the number of hours you spend using technology. Recent studies combining the time people spend on their tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs, are showing shocking results. A recent report by the Nielsen Company audience report states that adults are using 10 hours and 39 minutes a day with screens – not including work time! According to a report by Common sense media teens spending around 9 hours a day with media devices and tweens about 6 hours. This does not include time doing school or homework.
The internet highway is a wonderful way to access information at your fingertips, yet it can pull us away from our family. Many families might all be in the same room but in a totally different “worlds.” Realizing how much time we spend with media is the first step in making a change in our habits.
Am I a good example with my own media usage? Do I set limits on technology usage for myself and my children?
As parents, we need to be examples to our children by making a conscious effort to be present to our children. Each Lent we spend time reflecting on how we can “reset” our personal media usage and that of our families. Pope Francis reminds us, “Do not underestimate the value of example, for it is more powerful than a thousand words, a thousand “likes,” retweets or youtube videos.” Some simple things that we have done in our lives:
- Make a resolution to spend less times with screen and more time with your family. We use the Examen Prayer App which sends little reminders to us each day of this resolution.
- If you feel drawn to a particular media usage, make it less accessible. We make it a priority to put away our cell phones when we pick up the kids from school and put it on “silent” mode so we are not tempted to answer every call, text and email.
- Hide your social media app buttons on the back screens of your found. Out of sight can keep them out of mind!
- Set times in your home that are screen free for EVERYONE! Dinner time is the biggest challenge as Pope Francis reminds us that “a family who hardly ever eats together or when it does watches television or uses smartphone is not really being a family.” Other friends have shared with us they use 6-9 pm as no screen time, week days no screen time and definitely NO devices in kids’ rooms at night!
Do I use technology to glorify God and to help me be more productive in my life?
Technology is a gift from God. As busy authors, we have found that technology can enhance our work time, increase our connectivity, and even help us grow in our Catholic Faith. Using apps you can help you not only be more productive but helps us grow spiritually. Here is a list of our 5 favorite Catholic apps:
- Relevant Radio App – stream Catholic content wherever you are!
- The Divine Mercy App – learn the Devotion and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy along with Fr. Michael Gaitley
- The Mary App – this complete resource for information on the Blessed Virgin Mary not only teaches you about Marian devotion, but also allows you to pray the rosary right through the app. A wonderful tool for praying on the go!
- Echo Prayer Manager – How many times do you promise to pray for someone and forget? This great app allows you to keep a list of prayer intentions and set reminders to pray for those who have asked for your prayers.
- The Examen Prayer App – The examen at the end of our day is the most important prayer according to St. Ignatius of Loyola. This beautiful app gives spiritual direction by Fr. Michael Denk on how to to this prayer and leads you through the process with a journal you can keep online.
Do I monitor my kids’ internet and social media usage? Do I put others in a situation where they can be led to sin in my own home and not realize it?
The Church has given us a wonderful website – faithandsafety.org to help us balance our faith and media usage, as well as helpful information on keeping our children safe. This great site has been “jointly developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) . . . as an attempt to give you some simple, straightforward advice and tools on how to navigate this digital world with your family.”
In addition to this fabulous site, here are two other great resources for you:
Help prevent your younger children from stumbling upon inappropriate content on the internet and other devices with the Internet Safety Cheat Sheet – free at www.internetsafetycheatsheet.com. This site includes other media that is not covered in the www.faithandsafety.org site, such as Google, Youtube, Instagram, Amazon instant videos, Xbox, Android and iOS.
Filtering is important, but it’s even more important to help your children develop an internal filter. One great resource is Good Pictures Bad Pictures by Kristen A. Jenson and Gail Poyner, PHD. Their website protectyoungminds.org has more free information.
You don’t need to have a degree in computers to take some simple measures to learn make your home and devices help you grow in your relationship with God and not away from it. As parents, when we show our children we care about their internet and social media usage, we are living out our vocation.
To hear Emily Jaminet on a recent interview on this topic on Relevant Radio, start listening at 29 minutes after the hour.
Copyright 2017 Michele Faehnle & Emily Jaminet