Parents should remember that they have a most serious duty to guard carefully lest shows, publications and other things of this sort, which may be morally harmful, enter their homes or affect their children under other circumstances.
- Vatican II, Inter Mirifica, 10
In the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the use of social communications, the Council Fathers treat comprehensively of the moral use of the mass media by all involved with them. The quotation above, however, points to what is perhaps the most widely practical aspect of their teaching: the role of parents in their children's exposure to the means of social communication. It is that most solemn duty that we will discuss briefly here.
When we speak of the means of social communication, we are thinking not only of television, film, radio, and the press (which the Council had specifically in mind), but also of the Internet (especially social networking sites), mobile phones, personal data assistants, and the many other technological spheres of human life where ideas are communicated en masse. One is easily overwhelmed by the availability and extent of such means of communication and by their normalcy in the life of our young people. It seems more difficult than ever for parents to fulfill their duty to govern and regulate the exposure of their children to the means of social communication. And yet they must.
Speaking generally, we do ourselves no favor if we bury our heads in the sand and deny that the odds are stacked greatly against the possibility of raising Christian children in our Western/American society. Rather, fathers and mothers must be realistic about the challenges and understand that they will often feel "weird" or "out of place" or "over-protective" in their parenting habits, if they are truly fulfilling the role of Christian parents in the 21st century. This is especially true in the area of the regulation of their children's access to the means of social communication.
And yet it seems, sadly, that we are most neglectful of this aspect of Christian parenthood. How many Christian parents give their children cell phones (even before the age of ten!), justifying it by their concern for their physical safety, while ignoring the spiritual harm that is wrought by such unregulated exposure to evil? How many Christian parents allow their children to have television or Internet in their bedrooms, naively overlooking the evils so often produced by their unsupervised or solitary use? How many Christian parents consider the means of social communication to be "necessities" of life which must be present in the home at any cost and which ought not be denied to a "well-adjusted" child? We must be honest about these things. Many Christian parents - today - right now - right here - are neglecting their solemn duty to "guard carefully" the exposure of their children to the means of social communication.
The purpose of this entry is not to brow-beat or to berate. Neither is it meant as a statement of certain moral absolutes about how much TV or Internet or cell phone is too much. There is room here for much "parental prudence," as St. Thomas might say. Some parents will judge wisely that a certain amount of television and Internet and cell phone use (et cetera) will be appropriate for the healthy moral development of their children. Others will wisely judge that they must rid their homes of these things in order to create a space free from their potentially evil influence. Still others will take an active and participatory role in a more widely extensive use of the media in the home. There is no one proper course of action.
There is, however, no question that the neglect of this duty by Christian parents is a grave sin and a serious evil for the Church, society, and the individual children. To assume that the market or the government or the culture, or some other protagonist outside the home, will be able to set properly the object and extent of the use of mass media by our children is to be naive to the highest degree. Fathers of families especially should be vigilant to protect the home from evil communications from without, while mothers of families should strive to purify and regulate whatever use of the means of social communication is in fact permitted to their children. They must fulfill this duty together, never allowing their own communication to be compromised or diluted by the means of social communication of which they avail themselves.
The family is particularly attacked in our time by the Evil One and his cohort. These attacks are often made through the mass media of social communication. Christian parents will fulfill their duties beautifully if they take it upon themselves to heed the teaching of Vatican II and to guard carefully the full extent of their children's exposure to these means of communication.
St. Joseph, pray for us!