NOTE: This article features some sensitive topics that may not be suitable for younger readers. Please use discretion.
The use of technology has social implications as our actions and attitudes impact others, either directly or indirectly. This is especially true in a family. For example, most people who use their phone or other devices for porn or inappropriate social media activity usually do so in a private and hidden location so as to go undetected. How can this be a sin—so they think—since it doesn’t hurt anybody else… nobody even knows that I’m doing this.
But others are impacted, and they do notice. They notice how much time you spend on technology, and how little you spend with them. People notice what you post, the language and images you use. They notice your sensitivities and how you respond or don’t respond to efforts to connect and communicate in healthy ways. Developing and impressionable children notice these attitudes and behaviors the most, often unconsciously absorbing and imitating.
For example, I notice that if a dad has problems with pornography, his son often has the same problem, and usually one doesn’t know (consciously) that the other has a problem. How does a boy pick up a pornography addiction from his father if he doesn’t see his dad do it? A little boy notices everything. If something catches the corner of dad’s eye—because porn has sensitized him toward it—a child will look: what was dad looking at? It could be a billboard, a woman on the street, something on the screen, etc. And before you know it the boy is more sensitive to such stimuli than dad is.
A few years ago, I happened to stumble across America’s Funniest Home Videos—as we changed the channel to avoid some raunchy ad. There on the show was a little 3-year-old boy at the beach, testing the waters; obviously, the water was too cold for him… then all of the sudden the boy did a gyration and fell over backward in the water. Then the camera panned and caught three women in bikinis walking by. Everyone in the studio laughed; they knew that dad was behind the camera, and they all said, “Oh, like father, like son… a chip off the ole block.” How sad. I felt like vomiting. A 3-year-old boy doesn’t have problems with girls in bikinis unless dad does. What is he going to be like when he becomes 12 or 13 years old? He will have a problem with pornography and likely not know that his father has the same issue.
A little girl also notices everything dad notices but is affected in a different way. A little girl wants to see dad light up when she enters the room: “Oh, my little princess… how beautiful you are…” If she sees that what causes dad to light up are immodestly dressed women, then when she gets to be 12 or 13 years old, she starts dressing immodestly, even though she knows it is wrong to do so. It is irresistible. She wants to attract someone like her father. Some girls even feel compelled to do worse things on social media to attract someone like their father. Fortunately, good fathers don’t use porn.
So, how you use electronics and the internet will have an impact. Will it be positive or negative? Try developing a virtuous habit in the use of electronic devices. One way to do this is by putting down the phone or tablet when another person enters the room, or to look away from the TV or computer screen. Although you may be in the middle of something important, looking the other person in the eye—your spouse, your child, your sibling, your coworker, etc.—sends a very powerful message.
Exercises and Discussion Topics for you, your family, and friends: If a child (or an adult) does not turn from the screen to focus on the face of the other person, have a consequence. You can actually turn this into a family game, with each one trying to catch the others in giving priority to the screen: “If I can count to five… or if I can say, ‘Mary, may I only have eyes for you,’ before you look me in the eye then you must take a 5-minute timeout from the device, handing it or the controller to me.” What a challenge, especially for us adults!
Self-Reflection: What makes you light up? What should? What message do I want to send with my eyes and glances? How can I better train myself to develop the virtue that gives priority to faces over screens?
By Father John Waiss, pastor of St. Mary of the Angels – 1810 N Hermitage Ave, Chicago, IL