Our pope has a huge amount of Twitter followers. We’ve seen him pose for plenty of selﬁes with Catholics of all ages during his papal audiences and during his travels. Taking selﬁes can be a good and a wholesome thing and can even promote the joy of the Lord. It’s all in the intent and the approach. Looking at selﬁes through the lenses of faith and the eyes of Christ will keep us grounded morally, spiritually, and legally as well.Not keeping up with the Joneses (or those Kardashians!) is another way to establish and maintain a safe selﬁe zone. So what if the neighbors and all of their children have their own iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini, and enough tech toys to make their living room look like a scene from the latest Star Wars movie? That doesn’t mean you have to plop the entire Internet world into the hands of your family members.
If you want your younger children to have cell phones for safety reasons, contact your carrier. All cell phone providers offer packages with plenty of parental controls. You can control how much, if any, Internet access your kids have. You can also limit the amount of texting and monitor their behavior from your own devices. And don’t buy into what the Joneses might be saying about “trusting” their children. Tell Mr. and Mrs. Jones they need to face facts—as in medical facts. The frontal lobes—the portion of the brain that help children, tweens, teens, and even college students decide if a particular action may have consequences, aren’t actually developed yet. This portion of the brain helps us weigh outcomes, form judgments, and control emotions and impulses. Since this area of the brain is not fully developed until a person is in his or her early twenties, what are parents thinking when they hand little Johnnie or Susie a device that connects them 24/7 to the wild world of the web?
One of the best media awareness organizations, Parents TV Council, offers a practical action-item list for dealing with all the messaging that ﬂoods our daily lives. This list is in the form of media resolutions for families. In an early 2016 article entitled “5 Media Resolutions for the New Year,” Melissa Henson, the PTC director of Grass Roots Education and Advocacy and a frequent guest on my radio program, suggests that one of the best ways to deal with the media issues affecting both you and your children is for families to address media challenges together. This adds to the overall accountability factor. If children know Mom and Dad are paying close attention to what they’re watching on TV or seeing online, they will be conscious of their own choices and more comfortable in talking with their parents about those choices. It is a lot easier to address an issue if parents establish regular and open dialogue. I’m sure there are at least one or two of these resolutions that, if applied, could make a real difference in all of our homes.
I encourage you to read Henson's article. Here are three of her five resolutions:
Watch, listen, and play with your kids.
Most children spend more time with media than with any other socializing inﬂuence outside of school—that includes parents. If you want to play a role in helping your child develop his or her value system, you must engage while you have time, before the media he or she is consuming has the last say. Sharing media with your children (watching TV with them, listening to the music they listen to, playing video games with them) is not only a good way to fully understand the messages your child might be exposed to, but it’s also the best way to mitigate against any potentially damaging or harmful messages in the media they are consuming.
Help your kids go on a media diet. Make and enforce media-free times. No cell phones during dinner, for example, or after 8:00 PM. Set up a family game night so that you’re spending time together away from the television. Use the weekends to go on hikes, or ride bikes, or take a camping trip. Time spent with you and away from screens will be far more meaningful to your child in the long run.
Make it count.
Not all screen-time is created equal. It is increasingly the case that kids have to spend a certain amount of time on computers or tablets in order to do their assigned schoolwork. Time spent Skyping with a parent deployed overseas is an unqualiﬁed good. Likewise, time spent on Minecraft or learning how to code; or on some creative endeavor like editing videos or writing for a blog; or with educational programs like Khan Academy or Rosetta Stone should not be viewed in the same way as purely passive activities like watching television. Don’t make media the enemy; make it count.
Even if you don’t have children, Henson’s resolutions deserve a closer look. You might even consider inviting some of your friends to join you in putting them into practice. You can do yourself a lot of good by getting your own media habits under control. Why not limit selﬁes, for example, to those that are very unique and meaningful? A photo op with the pope comes to mind, but if that’s not in your future any time soon, reserve taking selﬁes with dear friends and loved ones for special occasions, such as a birthday or graduation party or a wedding.
Say so long to selﬁes at the gym, the mall, and the silly, senseless ones in front of your fridge or in line at the grocery store. The less time you spend taking selﬁes, the less time you’ll spend posting, tweeting, and thinking only yourself. Such a decision might even result in time for other activities such as prayer and actual “face time” with family.