Millions of Americans let the internet “babysit” their children and grandchildren for large portions of the day. Even at 10, 11, and 12 o’clock at night, long after cartoons and family shows have ended, an estimated 12 million children under age 10 are still watching and playing on the internet. These hours have an enormous influence on children. Studies have shown that the
internet exercises the greatest formative influence on viewers who have not yet formed strong personal values. As adults with Catholic principles we have some protection from media influence, but the minds of the young are wide open. We need to be cautious.
Consider just the impact of the over 25,000 commercials an average American preschooler sees in one year. This advertising not only sells specific products, it also teaches children a way of life centered on buying and selling and many times it puts forth values that are directly contrary to our Catholic belief.
Given the impact of the internet, it is essential to control both the programs children watch and the amount of time they spend at a computer or iPad.
The most effective way to control media in the home is to exercise the adults’ role in directing and leading the family. Too often we let the networks and computer schedule our lives rather than taking the initiative to plan the best use of the family time.
The highest priority for a Catholic, next to our prayer life and active worship of God, is loving communication. We can’t hope that good communication will just happen. We must plan for it and then draw it out. Mealtimes, sharing sessions, trips and other family experiences provide the groundwork for meaningful dialogue. These are the seeds of lasting memories which a child will carry throughout his or her life.
Yet the media and the internet are not devoid of positive influences. We must learn and teach our young how to sort out the positive influences from the rest. We have to become aware of the effects of the media and internet and learn to discern influences that could damage our families. Children must learn the reasons behind our restrictions on the media and internet so that they are prepared to make their own decisions in situations we don’t control.
The media and internet can be used for good or ill. It can, for example, be a powerful means of spreading the gospel. But in its secular forms, the internet often fills our minds with poisons. We must learn and teach the young that the media and internet must be used with discretion.