This article first appeared at: catholic.com
Parents, no one cares about your children as much as you do. That means the care of your children belongs to you.
There is an important principle that parents have to put in place when determining how to protect their children from harm. The principle is this: the human heart cannot live in a vacuum.
If you take away something from children that they consider to be good, their heart will seek something else to fill the void. So if, for the sake of protecting your children from harmful influences, you restrict their activities or access to certain things, make sure you give them healthy and satisfying replacements so they can pursue legitimate goods. If you tell them to stay off the internet, then get them involved in something else they really enjoy, such as sports, reading, drawing, or writing. If you tell them to cut off bad friendships, make sure you give them the opportunity to form new, healthy friendships.
With that in mind, here are some areas in which a parent ought to be very vigilant.
1. The Internet
Although nearly everyone today recognizes the dangers of the internet, most parents who are over forty have not fully grasped the ways in which the internet can harm their children. For parents of this age group, the internet did not exist when they were children. It was something they first encountered as mature adults, and by then they already had sufficient awareness and moral habits that serve as a kind of built-in caution against the dangers of the internet. Parents from this generation are thus simply not suspicious enough to protect their children sufficiently.
My experience as a priest tells me that most young people get exposed to harmful things online, such as pornography, before they are even teenagers. And this exposure can lead to serious moral problems that greatly discourage young people and lead them to despair of being able to keep the moral teachings of the Church.
With regard to pornography, parents should realize that the internet is not passive. It is always fishing for children. A child may be looking at a perfectly legitimate site, but in a sidebar or in the ads there is something funny or interesting designed to catch the attention of a child. A few clicks can lead to another set of sidebars or ads that are salacious or immodest. From there, explicitly pornographic (and often violent) photos and videos may be just a short surf away— sometimes even disguised as something else to attract a child’s curiosity.
Pornography is not the only danger with which the internet threatens children. There are also other serious dangers. For example, there are child abusers posing as other children, offering friendship and companionship; false teachers who try to fill the minds of young people with harmful doctrines; financial scams; and of course all manner of profane entertainments that harm the spirit.
These days, most parents recognize the need to have passwords and other protections on their computers, but because they are often not as up to date on technology as their children, they do not realize the many loopholes that can circumvent those protections.
Not long ago I was speaking to a friend of mine who has teenage sons. I asked him if he had everything carefully monitored, and he assured me that he had. For example, his sons had only flip-phones that did not have internet access. I then asked him, “Do the phones allow photo attachments with text messages?” He said they probably did, but he didn’t suspect that would be a problem until I persuaded him that it could be. A couple weeks after he made sure the phones could not receive images, a member of his son’s soccer team sent out a group text message with a violent pornographic image attached, and his son was the only one on the team who didn’t see it.
The moral of such stories is that you need to be suspicious in a healthy way, ceaselessly vigilant. You should also avail yourself of the knowledge of experts to make sure your measures to protect your kids keep up with the threats and the technological developments. It is a serious inconvenience sometimes, but your children’s innocence and safety are worth it.
2. Bad Relationships
Another way that children are tempted to abandon the practice of their Catholic faith is through bad friendships, especially bad romantic relationships. St. Paul warns frankly, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Friendship is one of the greatest goods of human life, and one of the most important steps in a young person’s life is the formation of his own friendships. But it is important that these friendships are not parallel relationships that exist in isolation from your family relationships. The most healthy friendships and relationships are integrated into the existing family relationships that young people already have. When they are otherwise, two very important elements of a person’s life can come into conflict and cause one or the other (for teenagers, usually the family) to be rejected.
The best situation is where Catholic families form family friendships with other, like-minded Catholic families. This provides a healthy setting for socializing children in a context larger than the immediate family and also creates opportunities for strong, loving relationships to form, reinforcing the virtues and the faith of children.
A particular difficulty arises with regard to romantic relationships. The age at which reproduction is possible is typically in the early teens, sometimes as early as twelve or thirteen years old. This is an indication that nature intends members of our species to reproduce shortly after this age. Nevertheless, our culture is such that the requirements of providing for a family and of acquiring the requisite knowledge and virtues for family life often are not possible until the early twenties. And so there is about a ten-year gap between the natural inclination to marry and the circumstances in which marriage is reasonable.
All this means that much self-discipline will be required on the part of young persons dating members of the opposite sex, and much prudence and discernment on the part of parents. As one experienced father of a large family counseled me, “Raising a teenager is like catching a fifty-pound fish with a five-pound line.”
One of the most important things you can do is to make sure your children invite their friends, especially persons of romantic interest, over to your home. This at once assures your children that you are open to permitting them to form friendships with people outside your family and also allows you to evaluate the quality of their relationships. (It also helps build integration, rather than division, between their friendships and their family life.) If you can tell that the friendships are healthy and that their families are healthy, then you can consider allowing your children to visit the homes of their friends.
To sum up: Parents, understand that the education of your children—and that includes protecting them from bad influences and fostering good relationships—is precisely the common activity that constitutes the reason for your marriage. The more intentional you are about directly cooperating in the education of your children, the stronger your marriage will become. No one cares about your children as much as you do. And that means the care of your children belongs to you.
Always a Catholic
– Sebastian Walshe, O.PRAEM – Catholic Answers (Paperback)
Most Catholic parents agree: our number-one goal in life is to pass on the Faith to our children.
But here’s the bad news: today’s world has a million ways to steal your kids’ souls. From sects to sex, from atheism to consumerism, rivals to Catholic doctrine and morals want to snatch your children away from their baptismal heritage and eternal destiny.
Don’t be afraid, says Fr. Sebastian Walshe (Secrets from Heaven). Because there’s good news that’s more powerful than the world’s temptations: God loves your children even more than you do, and he desires their salvation more than anything. In Always a Catholic, Fr. Walshe shows you how to cooperate with God to bring about the fulfilment of his will for your kids.
There are lots of Catholic parenting books promising results with this or that system or trick. But although it contains solid practical counsel, Always a Catholic reminds us that keeping our kids in the Faith (or helping them get back to it) is more than a matter of technique. Above all, it’s about the way we live out Catholicism—in our own lives and as a family—from day to day.
Fr. Walshe gives you the principles—drawn from Catholic teaching, truths of human nature, and the best habits of successful Catholic families—that you need to transmit the joy and confidence that will keep your kids in the Faith for life. The world and the devil don’t stand a chance!