A lesson plan on media mindfulness
SR. NANCY USSELMANN, FSP
With children as young as six years old today accessing the internet through smartphones,
catechists and teachers have a role alongside parents to assist in forming children to be morally responsible in their digital usage. Children and teens are continually developing in understanding consequences to actions and the difference between right and wrong, which parents and teachers communicate in multiple ways. But in this age of unlimited accessibility to digital content, how can moral responsibility be taught and understood? Where do we begin in this overwhelming sea of social apps and digital platforms?
All media are gifts of God as the Church consistently teaches, and the internet has opened up endless possibilities to share information and create relationships. As we form our youth in this digital culture, we can and should limit accessibility, but we also need to help youth ask questions about media content and teach discernment skills that will stay with them into adulthood. This gives them tools to question, examine, and develop critical thinking as a way of life.
A lesson plan for online responsibility
This lesson plan can be adapted for any age group, yet it is especially helpful with grade five and up. By a certain age, students do not always share freely about their media use, so it may be helpful to ask them what they think about the media experience of their younger siblings. This steers the conversation away from personal revelations, and the students more willingly share their moral concerns and ideas for digital interaction.
■ Set in front of the class a small table with an open Bible, a candle, and various media (smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV).
■ Introduce the lesson by explaining that we live in a digital world and that it is very important to learn to be “media mindful” — that is, to ask questions of the media and examine our media usage. Ask the students to think about what online platforms and social networking apps are most popular and why.
■ Talk with the class about the content they see and create online. Have them help you write a list on the board of pros and cons to online access.
■ Now ask each student to go to the board and write one word that describes what they experience through online content.
■ Read the eight Beatitudes out loud.
■ Discuss the definition of morality and how the Beatitudes are our guides to living meaningful and holy lives. Talk about values and how virtues are individual characteristics of lived values through repeated good moral behavior and why they lead us to being happier people when we follow the way Jesus Christ teaches.
On a related note: By grade five, you may want to discuss pornography and how it is always morally wrong because it disrespects our own dignity and the dignity of others. Explain that it distorts our understanding of the human body, is addictive, and spoils relationships.
■ Provide the T.H.I.N.K. acronym as a handout and the BeAttitudes of Social Media.
■ Explain the T.H.I.N.K. acronym that helps students to ask questions before posting, sharing, or engaging in online content: T – is it true? H – is it helpful? I – is it inspiring? N – is it necessary? K – is it kind? Show some examples of videos downloaded from YouTube, such as “Kids Caught Doing Good” or one of the most recent “challenges” on YouTube and have the students apply the T.H.I.N.K. acronym to the video.
■ Discuss the T.H.I.N.K. acronym in relation to the words the students wrote previously on the board and talk about how it helps us be mindful engagers of our media while living the Beatitudes. Review the BeAttitudes of Social Media, and share how they are virtues for our online lives.
■ Allow the students to share ways they can live the BeAttitudes of Social Media.
■ Conclude the class by going around the room and inviting each student to offer a spontaneous prayer based on the lesson to be media mindful. Or lead a guided prayer based on the BeAttitudes of Social Media, giving the students time to reflect on each virtue, and making it into an examination of conscience.
Explaining and discussing moral issues regarding online access and behavior will allow the students to have a safe place to share their concerns and think about the consequences of their actions. Explain that the Beatitudes are our means to live lives of balance and reason since they show us virtue. They guide us in the discernment of the content we consume and create so we all can make good moral choices in our daily digital experience.
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 magazine, April/May 2020.
PHOTOS (L-R, T-B): DEAN DROBOT/SHUTTERSTOCK, PAULINE CENTER FOR MEDIA STUDIES