I have been doing a lot of brainstorming (and drinking much coffee while I ponder) about my dilemma over electronic infiltrators in the past week since I wrote this and this post. I wish I could tell you I came up with some fabulous ideas for changes at home and they are so easy to make...but, you know better than that, don't you? I do have some ideas, and we have made some changes already, which actually were not all that hard to make. It's just that "in the long run" thing. It's hard to maintain. But, I am a determined German woman. I am more stubborn than my children, which is helpful in this matter.
The changes we made are not universal for all families. Maybe you don't have television. I really wish I didn't. But I am not the only person in my house and I cannot convince my people that it's a bad idea (if I could even just convince the leader of my people that it is a good idea, I could make it work). Maybe your children don't see movies because they are too young or don't even know there are movies to be seen. Lucky you. If your children don't have computer access, that's one less thing you have to worry about. We have many infiltrators to deal with, and, as mothers, we have to stay on the ball with this stuff because before we know it, our kids are into something we had no idea existed.
If you remember, from my previous posts, my goal is not just to protect my children from outside influences, most especially those I consider to be negative. My goal is to live with Christ at the center of our home, present at every meal, a silent listener to every conversation -- sitting next to us on the sofa watching a movie, viewing what is being viewed on the computer. That is the main objective. If we do that, all the rest follows -- we keep our children as pure as possible in this mean, nasty world. We give them a firm foundation in their faith before we let the outside world invade and teach them what it will.
The Boob Tube
When watching television, mute the commercials. In my house the TV tends be tuned to sports, Fox news, home improvement shows, and some cartoons. Mostly innocuous viewing, but still, the commercials can be very offensive. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the words "seek medical attention for an erection that lasts longer than four hours." Good Lord! What are these people thinking, and what am I thinking that I let that trash in my family room? Have you ever read, "There's a Stranger in My House?" Very enlightening. And all true. Even if commercials are not explicit and offensive, they are unnecessary noise. Children get a lot of bad ideas from commercials, spending money is the least of which. We mute even cartoon commercials since we established the "Mute" rule. The kids caught on pretty quickly and I'll say at least it keeps the remote from getting stuck in the sofa cushions. It's right on the coffee table for quick access.
Parental controls -- If you have cable you need to be intimately familiar with parental controls. In my house, if I do not absolutely know a channel is safe, I block it. I will unblock as requested, but only after I check it out. I block for ratings and content as well. Unfortunately we do not get our money's worth from cable, since about ninety-five percent of channels are blocked. But until I convince my family that cable is a bad idea, that's my solution.
Turn the television off. Sounds simple, but how often do we let the television drone on and on with no one watching anything in particular? Kids will sit and soak it up as long as it's on. Turn it off and round them up for something fun -- helping you cook dinner, or walk the dog.
I mentioned in my last post on this subject that I did an in-depth inspection of all the movies on our Netflix queue and I was really surprised by what I found. Even movies I thought were probably o.k. contained some really yucky stuff (primarily, I like to use this website because it gives me a blow-by-blow of each category -- ***, violence, drugs/alcohol usage, language). After cleaning out the queue, I limited the movies left to those I would watch with Jesus on the sofa. That eliminated quite a few, and that's o.k. If the children shouldn't see them, then neither should I. Of course, that doesn't mean those on the queue are all o.k. for all of the children. For example, I wouldn't watch historical violence with Faith, though I might find it o.k. for the older boys. I think what we will probably end up doing is watching fewer movies, and that's all right too. More reading is good, and more constructive play is good.
Going to the theater is another story. Most of the time you can just not go, right? Unless there is a movie you think is really worth spending the money on, just stay home. Easy enough. Except there is always a friend, or a birthday party, enticing your child to the theater. What kid doesn't love the promise of a bucket of popcorn and two hours of big screen entertainment with a pal or two? This has actually been one of the stickiest issues for us, especially when our kids were in school and there were more opportunities.
Once, about ten years ago, our oldest son was in 7th grade I think, and he was invited to an extravagant (the boys rode in a limo!) birthday party. Half of the party was to be held at the family's home, for cake and pizza and running around kind of fun, but the first half of the party was at the theater. The birthday boy et all were going to see The Fast and the Furious, which was rated PG-13 for violence, language and se*ual content. My son was 13 -- just barely. Ugh. I didn't know the mom of the birthday boy, so I couldn't suggest another movie, or even really express my reservations. My husband and I did not object to the party, but most definitely the movie. We didn't want to forbid the movie outright, because in my opinion that often creates intense desire. We just wanted to protect him. We also didn't want to lie to him about why he couldn't attend, so we actually created an event, which we told him he could not miss. I can't remember now what it was, but we made it up and we followed through. If I remember correctly we involved the grandparents to make it more real. We told him he could attend the party after the movie, but he would have to miss the movie. It ended up not being a big deal. He happily went along with the plan, mostly because no one said he was "forbidden" to do something (although I'm certainly not afraid to do that) and he got to go the party afterward.
My point with that story is that sometimes you have to be very creative and look at an issue from more than one angle. Especially when children get to be teenagers, if you say black, they say white. If you push, they pull. Outside influences are often very, very enticing.
Most likely if you have been a mom for any length of time you already know that your children should never have internet access without supervision. The problem with the Internet is, like so many electronic devices, is it is instant. Once your child has seen inappropriate images, you can't take them back. No do-overs. Imagine for a minute the most inappropriate image -- whatever is the most extreme inappropriate image you can think of (though don't ponder it for more then an second) -- and then imagine your child stumbling across it on the Internet doing a Google search for something. Disgusting, isn't it? Makes you sick to your stomach? Yes. But it could very easily happen. I once Googled the word "Madonna" and clicked on Google "images" looking for an image of the Blessed Virgin. Well, if you think for longer than I did before clicking on "images" you'll realize what I saw. Yuck. It's not difficult to go awry on the Internet -- one click and you're there. The computer should be in a very central location in your house and children should not be allowed to use it unless you intend to stay very close and keep at least one eye on it at all times. Limited access is necessary for this reason -- you can't sit and watch them all day. Set the timer and when it goes off, their time is up.
There are many Net Nannies available out there, and each computer has different needs, so I won't go into different programs. Just get one that you know is reliable. Google has its own little safety net called SafeSearch, which filters hits on Google searches. Once you set it you'll know if it's active by the colored balls that appear on the upper right-hand side of the screen when you do a search. I'm certain it's not foolproof, but it's a layer of safety that's helpful (if your kids are savvy they know they can go to another search engine, but mine still don't even know they are being filtered).
Your web browser might also have a filter. Check your browser software for parental controls. Again, not foolproof, but an added level of protection.
In the same thread, but also an issue are gaming devices that allow children access to the Internet. Boy was I shocked when I learn my son's PSP could give him access to the Internet and boy did that device disappear fast. Make sure you check out any electronic video device and know its capabilities -- game systems, iPods, cell phones are all dangerous devices where the Internet is concerned. Even if you don't have Wi-Fi in your home, your kids can easily access any number of neighbors' Wi-Fi if your neighbors' access is unprotected. I don't need to tell you what kinds of spiritual and emotional damage a young person can do with unfiltered, unlimited access to the Internet. The principal at our sons' high school always tells parents, "It's not a matter of if your son finds pornography, just a matter of when." They will, if they are not watched every minute. You thought you had to watch toddlers all the time? Toddlers are nothing compared to teenagers. Don't give them a minute of privacy, unless you are sure you know what they're doing. Listen to your gut, if you think they are up to something, then they are. Kids are really smart about this stuff, and you can almost not stay a step ahead, so you have to trust your instincts.
Making Jesus a Living Figure
Because keeping Christ the center of our home is the goal of all of these exercises, keeping Jesus a living figure is key. He's not on the cross, He's in our home, He's with each of us. But because teens especially can give you that suspicious sort of look (or the less controlled roll of the eyes) when you "preach," you have to go about this in an indirect manner.
Place images of Jesus around the house. I have always been good about hanging a crucifix in each room, but calling to mind Jesus as a living figure requires images of the living Lord. I can't afford a lot of expensive art, but I can buy small pictures and hang them in noticeable places throughout the house. I think that images of the living Lord are images that our children will take with them in their day-to-day lives, even after they are grown. Keep your eyes open if you thrift, or just pick up some artistic greeting cards at the Catholic book store and put them in frames. Even covers of the Magnificat are often very inspirational.
Make your domestic altar more seasonal and light a daily candle. Children notice fire, there's no doubt, and the presence of a lit candle will draw attention to an altar that has always been there. The presence of a few fresh flowers will also draw attention. Choose a flower in the color of the liturgical season. Make certain that Jesus is present on the altar -- a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or better yet, an image of Jesus interacting with the people -- the way we want Him to interact with us.
These are just a few of the things that we can do to help bring Jesus into our homes and make it a spiritually beautiful place for Him, and for us, to live. As Catholic mothers, I don't think we can ever stop bringing our faith alive for our children, to help them to travel the straight and narrow path to heaven.
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna. "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father." Matthew 18: 6-10