Spiritual Survival Skills for Children: Escaping Traps

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"Escaping traps" by Cathy Gilmore (CatholicMom.com)

Image credit: Pixabay.com (2013), CC0/PD

Preparing our children and teens to navigate an increasingly dark and self-destructive culture requires we teach them spiritual survival skills. In an earlier era, virtues like modesty, integrity, faithfulness, and gratitude were clearly understood and valued as positive goals to strive for in living a good life. That is no longer the case. Carefully crafted marketing and media conditions society to see fame, comfort, power, pleasure, wealth, and personal thrills as the goal in “achieving the good life.” Virtues are useful … but often only as a means to an end.

The Knowledge of Good & Evil

Modern culture has chosen the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in which to build its nest. As such, it is often extraordinarily difficult for families to recognize problematic cultural content because spiritual destructiveness is not presented in its naked and ugly form. Good and evil are conflated, confused, and at times inverted. This is especially true in the case of the advertising, media and entertainment content that appeals to our instinct of fear. In my earlier article in this series, we focused on the issues inherent in toxic content that appeals to our most base desires, driven by the appetite of pride. This article however, equips us to teach our children and youth to escape the insidious cultural whispers that ensnare us through a fearful instinct to survive. The bottom line is this: our deep human need for safety and security is being exploited to addict us to media and entertainment.  Our natural everyday fears are pushed to a spiritually distorted and personally destructive extreme, to build someone else’s bank account.

My background as both an educator and as a marketing professional offers me a unique perspective to offer understanding and guidance in a manner that is SIMPLE to utilize. My basic premise is: Evil uses cultural forces to create a tug-of-war within our soul. God designed and destined the core of who we are to be radiant with VIRTUE. The demons on the dark side use books, media, advertising and entertainment to tug us toward two destructive extremes. On the one side, marketing and media tempts us with toxins that appeal to our PRIDE. Conversely, those same forces work to stunt our spiritual growth with FEAR.

Night Vision Goggles

Let’s gear up to see in the darkness. Consider this article a pair of night vision goggles to understand and escape from what paralyzes the goodness in us through impulses of fear. The first step in helping our kids, is for us to see how media, advertising, and entertainment has swapped a means for a goal. The experience of fame, comfort, power, pleasure, wealth or thrills are not evil in or of themselves. They can be natural and benign parts of a very virtuous life. However, when we experience omni-channel messaging in which those experiences are “sold” to us relentlessly as what is essential for the best life, we are gradually conditioned to think they are the GOAL of living. They have become counterfeit virtues. This is doubly disturbing because when fear-based goals are the new purpose for our lives, then true virtues are reduced to being a means to achieve the objective.

Seven Steps for Spiritual Survival

This insidious web that distorts our world-view can be very tricky to untangle. So let’s try to keep it super simple. Here are a series of simple rhymes that you can use to free up your own thinking, which you can also use to guide the kids you love. It specifically addresses each of the fear-based traps hypnotizing us within the steady drumbeat of advertising, media and entertainment. These seven steps help us escape from the trap of: fame, comfort, power, pleasure, wealth, and thrills.  In the armed services, a “call and response” work song is called a military cadence. Soldiers doing drills to build their skill and endurance often use them on marches to synchronize their steps.

The Virtue Freedom Cadence Call is something you can use as a fun spiritual survival tool to help protect the thinking of children and youth. You’ll notice that the first line is the familiar, “I don’t know what I’ve been told.” It is actually fitting because there is so much troublesome messaging that we experience unconsciously. We don’t know. The explanation below each stanza is for you to think more deeply about each trap.  Let the kids come up with their own rhythm in how they repeat the cadence. Have them march around the room saying it. Let them add hand motions with a hint of swagger if they like. Children can imagine themselves as members of the V.F.C.C. The Virtue Freedom Confidence Corps. Parents, grandparents, and teachers can all make great use of it.

The Virtue Freedom Cadence Call

I don’t know what I’ve been told
FAME is a trap and not my goal.
I’m not worried if people don’t notice me
The strength of virtue sets me free.

When we allow fame to become a goal, we allow a fear of living a life without significance, or relational richness … to paralyze us. With fame as our goal, we can be tempted to use virtues like false modesty as a means toward that end. Our pursuit of small- or large-scale personal renown allows subtle selfishness to draw us into sins of omission. What good is left undone as we are stuck on the path to gain fame? Detachment from the impulse for popularity and fame frees us to embrace life rooted in the strength and confidence of everyday virtues like faith, humility, acceptance, mercy, and hope.

I don’t know what I’ve been told
COMFORT is a trap, not my goal.
It won’t be the boss of me.
I’m not worried when struggles challenge me.
The strength of virtue sets me free.

When we allow comfort to become a goal, we allow a fear of living a life of drudgery and pain to paralyze us. With comfort as our goal, we can be tempted to use of virtues like perseverance as a means merely to reduce our fear of being uncomfortable. Our pursuit of convenience and ease allows subtle selfishness to draw us into sins of omission. What good is left undone as we are stuck on the path to gain comfort? Detachment from the impulse for comfort frees us to embrace life rooted in everyday virtues like justice and charity, wholesome humor, peace, adaptability and simplicity.

I don’t know what I’ve been told
POWER is a trap, not my goal.
It won’t be the boss of me.
I’m not worried when someone else is in the lead.
The strength of Virtue sets me free.

When we allow power to become a goal, we allow a fear of living a life of powerlessness, mediocrity, and servitude to paralyze us. With power as our goal, we can be tempted to use virtues like integrity selectively to reduce our fear of failing to achieve primacy or power. Our pursuit of power allows subtle selfishness to draw us into sins of omission. What good is left undone as we are stuck on the path to gain competitive advantage and power? Detachment from the impulse for power frees us to embrace life rooted in everyday virtues like faithfulness, wisdom, devotion, empathy, and gratitude.

I don’t know what I’ve been told
PLEASURE is a trap, not my goal.
It won’t be the boss of me.
I’m not worried when things don’t pleasure me
The strength of VIRTUE sets me free.

When we allow pleasure to become a goal, we allow a fear of living a life sensory numbness, bereft of enjoyable feelings, to paralyze us. As pleasure becomes our goal, we can be tempted to use virtues like faithfulness opportunistically to reduce our fear of living without exiting sensations. Our pursuit of pleasure and sensuality allows subtle selfishness to draw us into sins of omission. What good is left undone as we are stuck on the path to continually experience pleasure? Detachment from the impulse for pleasure frees us to embrace life rooted in everyday virtues like genuine joyfulness, trust, steadfastness, integrity, and true love.

I don’t know what I’ve been told,
WEALTH is a trap. It’s not my goal.
It won’t be the boss of me.
I’m not worried about the money and stuff I think I need
The strength of VIRTUE sets me free.

When we allow wealth to become a goal, we allow a fear of living a life of poverty to paralyze us. As wealth becomes our goal, we can be tempted to use virtues like kindness in a manipulative manner to reduce our fear of having to live without our needs and desires satisfied. Our pursuit of wealth allows subtle selfishness to draw us into sins of omission. What good is left undone as we are stuck on the path to gain wealth and security? Detachment from the impulse for wealth frees us to embrace life rooted in everyday virtues like cooperation, patience, fortitude, prudence, and selfless self-discipline.

I don’t know what I’ve been told,
THRILLS are a trap. They’re not my goal.
They won’t be the boss of me.
I’m not worried when boredom burdens me
The strength of VIRTUE sets me free.

When we allow personal thrills to become a goal, we allow a fear of living a life of boredom to paralyze us. As personal excitement and a desire to be entertained becomes our goal, we can be tempted to use virtues like courage in a reckless way to reduce our fear of having to live a life of emptiness. Our pursuit of thrills allows subtle selfishness to draw us into sins of omission. What good is left undone as we are stuck on a path addicted to recreation and entertainment? Detachment from an impulse for thrills frees us to embrace a life rooted in everyday virtues of honesty, inspiration, kindness, true valor, and meaningful perseverance.

I don’t know what I’ve been told,
FEAR is a trap. It’s not my goal.
It won’t be the boss of me.
Nothing in this world can really worry me.
Trusting Jesus grows virtue in me …
Makes me strong, and sets me free.

BECOMING ESCAPE ARTISTS

As you read through each of these cadences, it might have been easy to visualize examples of how these traps operate in modern culture. My earlier article described the seven deadly toxins which are most commonly used in the actual content of reading and entertainment to make it seem “edgy” and “powerful.” The seven fear-infused traps described in this article are most often seen in the advertising to promote reading and entertainment. Fear is profoundly effective as a marketing motivator to drive buying decisions and consumer behavior. Unfortunately, a society saturated in subtle fear-based advertising becomes deeply captivated by self-protective survival impulses. This may contribute in a significant way to the epidemic of anxiety that is overwhelming hundreds of thousands of children, youth, and adults in our country.

The problem is broadly systemic. That’s why it is so hard to find solutions. Often times, when we focus on the problems created as a result of just one kind of trap, like sensuality, we don’t seem to make much progress in overcoming them. It’s like killing one bee in a swarm. You still get stung by all the rest. Seeing that fear is at the root of all these traps keeps us from getting bogged down trying to address each one individually. The key to freedom from all the fear-based traps is TRUST in a God who loves and cares for us every moment of every day. The Holy Spirit is sent by God to dwell in us as comforter of our fears, and advocate for all true goodness in our souls. Saying the short aspiration prayer, “Jesus, I TRUST in You,” opens our heart to let the Holy Spirit in. I hope the Virtue Freedom Cadence Call is a fun and helpful tool to help you take small steps to exchange misdirected fear-infused goals with the confidence of virtue.

The final article in this series, will again offer simple and creative tips to help you teach children to the best spiritual survival skills: embracing and experiencing the freedom, joy and TRUTH of virtue.

This is part 2 in a three part series: Training Kids to See Cultural Toxins & Traps, and Choose the Truth Instead

Part 1: Spiritual Survival Skills – Avoiding Toxins

Part 2: Spiritual Survival Skills – Escaping Traps

Part 3: Spiritual Survival Skills – Choosing Truth


Copyright 2019 Cathy Gilmore

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About Author

Cathy Gilmore is an award-winning author, educator, and founder of Virtue Works Media Ministry, which is pioneering the Virtue Literacy Project, an innovative approach to family virtue formation. Support this non-profit organization's effort to build the only online virtue-based search engine for reading, media, and entertainment, to help parents, grandparents, and teachers to protect and strengthen the souls of children and teens with the power of virtue through reading and media. Follow Cathy on Twitter @PowerofParable.

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