August 27, 2021

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Mutual support among families is needed to form children well

Sean GallagherMy five sons all started school recently, as have children and young adults across central and southern Indiana. My boys range from being in college down to the second grade. There’s a lot of learning going on in their lives.

That’s one of the prime responsibilities of my wife Cindy and me as the first educators of our children, which the Church names us in its teachings on the family.

Of course, this learning is not limited to the classroom. Our boys are learning something—good or bad—all the time. They learn from the example Cindy and I give them in our everyday lives, as well as in specific advice we give them, and in heart-to-heart conversations we have with them from time to time.

They also learn from each other, their friends and classmates and the broader culture in which they live, which often comes to them through increasingly ubiquitous computers, phones and other digital devices.

This last channel of education for our boys and today’s children can sometimes grab their attention more completely than the more subtle means of formation that come through parents and teachers. That’s especially troublesome as the broader culture becomes more opposed to the Gospel.

So, Cindy and I and other parents today face challenges in educating and forming our children that our parents couldn’t even imagine when we were their age in the 1970s and 1980s.

That doesn’t mean that we are left without assistance in this sacred mission. Practically speaking, when it comes to regulating the use of “screens” as we call them in our house (e.g., computers, phones, tablets), router-based Internet filters are helpful.

Through them, parents can set time limits for a device’s Internet availability, a “bedtime” at night after which users can no longer surf the net, and limits on what specific websites and kinds of websites can be accessed.

Such filters are by no means perfect. So, parents should monitor as best they can what their children are doing on digital devices. More importantly, and perhaps more effective in the end, parents need to nurture relationships with their children and encourage them to build face-to-face relationships with their peers who are seeking to grow in their faith and in virtue.

Helping our children to value and find life in face-to-face relationships will cut off the negative potential of screens at the choke point of the desire to be on screens in the first place. So many children and young adults today find fulfillment more and more exclusively through screens. That’s not healthy, even if what a person does online is otherwise wholesome.

I hesitate to a certain extent to give this advice because I know from experience how challenging it can be as a parent to put it into practice. But the future of our children is too important for us parents just to throw up our hands and give up in the face of such challenges.

It’s hard, no doubt, to check the influence of our broader culture in the lives of our children that comes through digital devices.

That’s why it is important for parents who want to form their children well in the faith and simply as human beings to support each other through prayer and in nurturing relationships among each other.

When that happens, the light of the Gospel will reflect off the faces of our children more than the light of digital screens. †

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