Chapter nine, part one is here.
Chapter nine of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi discusses bringing a Catholic approach to the world. In the first post on this chapter we discussed bringing Catholic values into our societal concerns. The second part of this chapter address bringing Catholicism into youth culture.
This book was published in 1989. Most of the essays were written in the early eighties. The concerns about youth culture touched on drugs, alcohol, sex, and teen music. The offensive tunes list included Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop”. Well, things haven’t gotten any easier in the last twenty years. Add increasingly raunchy television and the internet to the drugs, alcohol, sex, and teen music. And teen music has gotten a whole lot more vulgar than Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop”. So what do you do?
I wish I had perfect answers. Part of the challenge is to pick your battles wisely. Values and standards must be consistently enforced but some issues are more critical than others. My teens eschew the modern teen music for classic rock. This means my car radio is blasting The Who, Journey, Led Zeppelin, and Pat Benetar. Sure, it would be ideal if we always used this travel time to listen to Christian music, recorded prayers, classical music, or turned the radio off and just talked. Sometimes this does happen. But Led Zeppelin is tolerable. I do draw the line on what sorts of lyrics are allowed. I do not allow my children to swear and I do not allow music that is filled with profanity. We do not listen to lyrics promoting violence, rape, or misogyny.
Television, the internet, video games, and movies are electronic time sinks. They can completely absorb your family. Often the content conflicts with Catholic values. Our approach has been to make it clear that we control these entertainment electrons. They do not control us. Using any of these electronics is a privilege, not a right. When the children are young, it is very easy to limit what they watch and avoid unwanted content. As they get older, it is important to keep tabs on what they are watching and hearing and help them see how well their music and video measures up to Catholic standards. If it is a flagrant affront to Catholic values it needs to be jettisoned. Sometimes just commenting on the conflict will be enough. We watched the movie Bruce Almighty. It really did have a valuable moral to the story. However, half way through the movie it becomes clear that the main characters are not married, but just living together. This was a good time to clearly point out their behavior was unacceptable. Don't let this teaching moment pass. Failure to comment let's your children think marriage is just a matter of personal preference. Even though the characters were nice people they had made a bad choice by cohabitating.
We avoided the mindless television habit by setting pretty stringent limits when the children were young. We didn’t own a television for many years and just subscribed to cable two years ago. A television has never been the center of our family room. No television is ever allowed at meals. No televisions in the bedrooms. We sit down to watch specific shows, not just channel surf for something to watch. When the show is over, the television is turned off. It is never just background noise. Watching television is a deliberate choice, not a default activity. While we have been much quicker to adopt a computer-assisted lifestyle, the computers are located in central locations that are subject to parental viewing. We have allowed strategy computer games, but no first person shooter games. We have never purchased a video gaming system. I don’t believe computer games, video games, and television are inherently immoral. I do believe it takes an enormous amount of discipline to keep them from crowding out far more valuable family activities. The benefit of these activities is often not worth the effort to control them and it is easier to just get rid of them.
My teens have not rebelled too much against these limits because these limits have been presented as part of the Catholic identity they have always known. We warned them being Catholic means being counter cultural in our modern society. Their music, movies, television, internet, and clothing can all be held up to judgment against Catholic standards. The older they get, the more I let them do the vetting, but if I think they have grossly erred, I will step in.
Encouraging groups and activities that foster Catholic values is a big plus. We have been blessed with a dynamic high school youth group at our parish. I cannot overemphasize how critical it is to build a community of support for Catholic culture. We do our children a great disservice when we assume they will have no interest in an authentically Catholic life. Low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy.