There is often a modern disconnect between parents and children that is quite disturbing. Children spend time playing with tablets or on the computer or listening to their music or watching TV but there is little or no dialogue in the home. Increasingly parents and children are living separate lives even though they live under the same roof. The issue with music is very telling. When I sampled a listing of preferred songs from our confirmation teens a few years ago I was shocked at the level of vulgarity and obscenity in the lyrics. When I brought the issue to parents there were two main responses. Some of the parents were surprised as they had no idea as to what their children were listening. Generations earlier teens had huge speakers and stereos that announced to the whole neighborhood what music young people preferred. Parents would shout, “Turn it down!” and “How can you listen to that garbage!” Nevertheless, the music was tame compared to modern material. Females today are called “b’s and hoes” and rape and murder are regular themes in the provocative and angry music. Indeed, even the pop music drops the “f-bomb” and other obscenities. Given that most music is downloaded as mp3s with no physical element like vinyl, tape or a disk— parents do not see what the kids are buying or pirating. Further, the new technology makes music entertainment somewhat clandestine. Music devices are the size of old matchboxes or just another application on phones. Ear buds have replaced bulky earphones and a loud concert takes place in their heads while there is quiet in their rooms. I urged parents to take note as to what their children were listening and to offer real guidance. The response of surprise I expected. However, there was also a response from parents I did not expect— some of them defended the musical choices of their teens and attacked me as being insensitive for offering a negative critique and possibly even racism against the black subculture. Now it should be said that some of the vulgar music emanated from white singers and bands. Nevertheless, instead of taking helpful criticism, they went on the offensive. Parents have to make a fundamental decision— when it comes to the moral development of children, are you going to be part of the solution or part of the problem?
When computers and the internet first became fashionable, many concerned families placed the machines in family rooms to help avoid the temptation of watching pornography and other questionable sites. This helped both children and adults. However, today every tablet and phone is essentially a portable computer. Indeed, many use them also as television sets. How do families manage this technology in a way that preserves the purity and decency of children? Even with virus and parental guidance software, how do we balance a desire to be protective while not violating personal freedom? These are the kinds of issues that families as people of faith should discuss. The formation of catechesis at school and in the parish can quickly be sidelined or short-circuited by the non-Christian or anti-Catholic formation of the secular media and online predators. Having a phone was once regarded as a privilege given an older teenager. Today, even young children are being given devices, especially with the disappearance of pay phones. Parents want a quick and easy way to stay in touch with their children. Unfortunately, parents are not the only ones communicating with them.
I have seen teens at gatherings run away from their parents. They complain about the rules with which they must abide. Parents lament that their teenagers share little about their lives and refuse to talk with them. It can be frustrating but parents should not surrender their power.
Do not give the kids everything they want. Witness to them responsibility and good behavior. Set down rules that have a definite purpose and never dictate in either a capricious or tyrannical manner. Make your kids talk with you. Keep insisting until they give in. Do not be afraid to take away privileges when there is rebellion or misbehavior.
We often hear the moral exhortation about not going through the motions of faith for show. Generally speaking, this is good advice because God sees the truth about our faith level and the intentions behind all the things we do. Nevertheless, when it comes to family and the home, parents should both in word and action externalize their faith and values for the children to see. This is no violation of humility, but rather an effort to establish a clear and positive pattern of living one’s Christianity in all the things we do.
Show your children what it means to be a Christian man and woman, a husband and wife, and a father and mother. Do not be afraid of repetition. This will help the youth to learn.
Given the current scandals in the Church, many are rightly demanding transparency. This quality is also vital in the family as any duplicity will steal the value of any external witness. As people of prayer, let the children see you pray and invite them to pray with you. Mothers and fathers alike have an important role to play. The father in Christian tradition is viewed as the priest of his home. The children are his little flock. He has a special obligation to protect and to nurture his family. He must insure that the children know their catechism and prayers. The wife is imaged as Mother Church. She has a role to play to insure their relationship with Jesus and to appreciate the twofold commandment of love in all its implications. Just as disciples in the Church have many differing gifts, so too does the domestic church or the family. Divine gifts are given to be used. Each has a role to play in the family’s growth in holiness and grace.
When children come to catechism class and they do not know their prayers, it is a sure bet that they are not praying at home. Rather than condemning parents for their negligence, I urge them to see today as a brand new day. It is in Christ that wayward lives can be turned around. I tell parents repeatedly, pray with your children. Conversing with God— coming into communion or union with him— this is essential to remaining a believer.