Be media mindful at home
SR. NANCY USSELMANN, FSP
What are parents to do? Smartphones and social media sites seemingly came into existence in the flash of an instant and everyone jumped on the bandwagon of connecting with friends, family, and even strangers from all over the world to be hip and current. It seems that we all have social media accounts and aspire to be influencers even before we understand what that means.
The rise of digital social platforms
Parents, just as much as children and teens, are obsessing over their smartphones — not only for scheduling and emailing, but also for posting, tweeting, snapping, and videoing every existing moment of the day. Now, over a decade after the advent of a medium that changed our lives, we wonder: What is it all for, anyway? How many of us are questioning the amount of time we are spending online? How many of us are realizing that putting our phones down and enjoying time outside with family and friends is so much more beneficial to the soul? Perhaps not enough.
It’s time to step back and reflect on the role of technology in our lives and our relationships. We worry about our youth and the millennial generation, but all of us have to question and examine the time and energy we give to making our lives public for the world to see.
How can we assist parents to address the issues of social media usage, both for themselves and their children?
Most teachers, if not all, see the influence of smartphones in the lives of children and teens right in their classrooms, since many children as young as 7 and 8 years old have phones. Giving a child a smartphone is like giving them the world before they can even assimilate the power they have or understand the consequences. Do parents realize the responsibility they are putting on their young children to be disciplined to use the phone only as they wish — to call them? For these digital natives, a phone is not used just for calling someone — it has infinite potential!
Many parents are too busy to research the newest social apps their teens are using or to sit down and explain to their children the proper and improper uses of smartphones along with the dangers that are unfortunately out there on an open web source.
How can we assist parents to address the issues of social media usage, both for themselves and their children? By giving them the tools. We can’t always do it for them, but we can certainly help them be informed and holy instructors of their children’s minds, hearts, and values. After all, we are all seeking the integration where faith informs our daily choices.
Media mindfulness session — with parents
Let’s help families become media mindful. Giving a workshop to parents about social media mindfulness can be a start.
Media mindfulness employs critical thinking skills to assist in engaging the messages that come from the media that we consume and create. It is about questioning who created the message and how the human person is represented — and also whether the message supports or ignores human and Gospel values.
It is essentially about teaching discernment skills in our everyday media usage and using theological reflection to help us go deeper and think more profoundly about what we choose to engage with in the media. I propose that it is also examining our consciences according to what we believe and the concrete realities we are faced with each day in a digital culture.
Here’s a “how to” session with parents that provides tools for them to reflect and plan their communication with their children about the family’s media usage:
1. Ask parents to write about their own social media experience. Create a form on paper with these questions or use an app such as SLIDO (www.sli.do) that allows them to respond electronically.
◗ What apps do you use regularly?
◗ How many hours a day do you spend on social media platforms?
◗ What do you primarily use them for?
2. Discuss in small groups the parents’ own experience of social media. Then ask them to talk about their kids’ social media usage.
◗ What age do you allow your child to have a phone? Do you set protections and parameters?
◗ Do you talk to your child about social media’s benefits and problems, such as cyberbullying, security, and pornography?
◗ Do you set phone limits as a family? What are they?
3. Show them this video: “Teens React to Giving Up Social Media for a Week” by Good Morning America. CATmag.us/GiveUpMedia
4. Discuss what they watched. Ask them: Does this change your view of social media usage in your family? What can you do as a parent to help your children be healthy and happy in a digital culture?
6. Talk about how parents can evaluate their own habits and help their kids become more media mindful.
7. Hand out and explain the “Family Media Pledge” and have them fill it out at home together with their family and post on their refrigerator door. CATmag.us/MediaPledge
This session can be a beneficial opportunity for parents to hear of best practices from one another and the perspective of catechists. Parenting in the 21st century poses unprecedented challenges. Only together can we address the realities of a digital culture and help our children think deeply and examine everything so as to become integrated and faith-filled followers of Jesus.
SR. NANCY USSELMANN, FSP, is a Daughter of St Paul and the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. She is a media literacy education specialist, speaker, theologian, and film reviewer for BeMediaMindful.org. Her book is a theology of popular culture entitled, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics.
This article was originally published in Catechist, March 2020.