And of what should we be afraid? Our captain on this battlefield is Christ Jesus. We have discovered what we have to do. Christ has bound our enemies for us and weakened them that they cannot overcome us unless we so choose to let them. So we must fight courageously and mark ourselves with the sign of the most Holy Cross.” –St. Catherine of Siena
As a child, I attended a small Catholic school where we attended mass three times a week. Candidly, I enjoyed the experience mostly because of the fact that it ensured one hour LESS of classroom time in my day. Also, I liked the music. For those of you who may also have spent a few years in Catholic Schools back in the 70s and 80s, those were the days of guitar music from the Glory and Praise book. The Franciscan sisters who ran the school informed me that I would be playing the guitar at these masses when I entered maybe the 5th grade or so. We’ll call that being “voluntold”. It mattered not to them that I had no skills and didn’t play an instrument or read music. They simply said, “You’ll come after school and Sr. Helen Ann will teach you.” Filed under “useless information” in my brain to this day are all the verses to songs like “Be Not Afraid”, “Though the Mountains May Fall”, and “You are Near”.
The old people (aka daily mass attendees) barely tolerated our guitar tunes. I considered their clear preference for traditional hymns a skosh out of touch, but on the days when the pre-historic organist was in charge, I had to admit that “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” and other such hymns weren’t so bad, ha? I called those folks the “church people”. It was not a compliment, ha?
A conversation I had over lunch a couple of months ago has been working on me for a while and it made me think of those people. While I already knew our children live in a world that barely resembles the one I grew up in, this gal I met woke me up to the depths of that reality. A faith-filled woman with a sweet little voice met me for lunch, and I confess I was not prepared for an expert on predators to look and sound like one of the old church ladies from St. Lawrence back in the day. She spoke at length about the scourge that is human trafficking and the ways that her (Protestant) church is helping. Carolyn’s words and knowledge were stunning, and also not just a little bit frightening. I have since followed up with more questions for her.
One of the hats I wear at my parish is that I am in charge of the Gospel of Life Ministry. We concern ourselves about all aspects of the dignity of the human person. I decided I needed to dig in a bit more. So, several weeks after that, I had a chat with a local law enforcement officer who deals with online predators in his daily work. His bright smile and warmth stood in stark contrast with the serious nature of his concern about the present (and future) dangers the world holds for our young people. He had strong convictions about how social media affects kids negatively, causing them to be more insecure, anxiety-filled and even callous. Its use has deprived children from learning social skills they would otherwise have learned through face-to-face communication, he has observed.
The Child Mind Institute echoes his concerns saying that “Teens miss out on things like body language and facial expressions. They have become uncomfortable with live interactions and social media and text messages have become so integral to teenage life while promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem in profound and measurable ways. Survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.”
The good news is that ALL the experts agree that families can help lower the risks.
My parish actually hosted an event last week, led by Catholic Charities, that discussed how to keep children safe from online exploitation and human trafficking, which are both absolutely rampant across the country but also right here in Hamilton County, Indiana. At that event, attendees learned what I had recently been told, which is the fact that social media and gaming apps are the number one way that children are being groomed and sexually exploited.
Another disturbing truth shared was about how our teenagers engaging in sextortion is now the fastest growing crime among the group– through blackmail, threats and coercion.
My personal plan is to keep working on this issue. It seems to me that what we can do for each other in this life is step in and help where we can. In this case, education and awareness seem extremely important. Pretending that this is not a big deal or that it is not happening here is naive. I know many of you are worried about the issue of mental health. Where are children are concerned, I’ve learned from my conversations and research that this particular challenge is made much more difficult because of our electronic interconnectedness. Our phones, computers, and all the tools they offer can and certainly are used to do lots of positive things. They are also used as weapons.
Talking about problems and offering no solutions seems unproductive, so I’ve compiled a list of simple ideas I’ve compiled (from folks much smarter than me) that might help other parents as it relates to social media. I need to put several of these to work over here at the Thieme house, and I hope you find them useful.
Ten Ways to Keep Your Teen Safe on Social Media
- Set clear guidelines: Establish rules and expectations for your teen’s social media use, including what type of content is appropriate and how much time they should spend on it.
- Teach privacy protection: Help your teen understand the importance of protecting their personal information and privacy settings.
- Follow them: Regularly check your teen’s social media accounts to ensure they are not engaging in risky behavior or being targeted by online predators.
- Encourage open communication: Make sure they feel it’s safe to talk to you about any concerns or issues they may encounter on social media or otherwise.
- Teach the Golden Rule: Teach them to share about others what you would like them to share about you. Discuss the negative impact of cyberbullying. And if you catch them being a bully, there should be a serious, immediate consequence.
- Model positive behavior: Show your teen how to use social media in a positive and responsible way.
- Make Rules Together: It’s important to limit access to dangerous sites, for instance. Consider using parental controls to limit your teen’s access to certain apps or websites, but discuss them together. Alternatively, let them know there are certain sites that are simply out of bounds.
- Discuss the consequences of inappropriate content: Make sure your teen understands the potential consequences of posting inappropriate content, such as damaging their reputation or future job prospects– or losing their phone privileges.
- Share the data: Encourage your teen to engage in other activities besides social media to promote a healthy balance– show them the research about why this is important. Hard facts help back up the reason for guidelines like “putting the phone in time out”.
- Stay updated: Keep yourself informed about the latest social media trends and potential risks to better protect your teen.
P.S. Did I ever tell you my confirmation saint was Catherine of Siena? She’s a true badass if one ever existed, and she’s absolutely correct with her words above. Fight courageously, friends!