Internet connectivity can make gossip, bullying and sexually exploitive pictures seem so normal for the modern child. This particular internet-hype appeals to the smaller self that seeks control and attention in worldly terms. Think about people posting pictures to appear more successful, prettier, and richer than others; think about gossip and bullying that goes viral; or sexting in order to please a love interest. The temptation to respond impulsively is strong. So when we consider virtue as simply expressing the dignity and power of the human spirit connected to the divinity within, it becomes a choice to be a positive influence in the world in all circumstances (Romans 12:2). For the internet-savvy child this choice can be translated as taking command of your own life by aspiring to become the person God designed you to be, and thereby overcoming the manipulations of others with a merciful heart.
Moral excellence; goodness; righteousness. A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God. (Source: Vatican Archive)
“Smarty pants” syndrome versus self-governing
No child wants to be duped. They instinctively want to be in command of their own life journey, and the virtue of our faith helps us to govern our own hearts and minds in order to do just that. And yet, in a cyber-powered world, it is easy to believe that everything you need to know about governing your own life you can simply “google”. That is why many parents will be confronted with a “smarty pants” syndrome when children believe they know it all, or even more concerning, they actually know too much for their own good, (think: graphic images of violence or gratuitous sex, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.)
So we can explain “self-governance” as recognizing that no human knows it all, and that knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. Wisdom is knowledge from the heart of God (Proverbs 1:7) applied in ways that are appropriate for the individual and promotes personal security; wisdom is derived from life experience which parents help impart to the willing heart. While being a “smarty pants”, on the other hand, leaves you vulnerable to having knowledge without understanding which can be harmful.
- Understanding the practical value of virtue helps children focus on their own relationship with the Lord and respond with confidence to the things that disturb the peace in their cyber social realms, such as gossip and bullying.
Prudence is knowing how to use the gifts we are given. Girls may dress and present themselves in social media with less modesty because they believe that is their value. But their value is in relationships with God, family and in the community.
Chastity is not just about sex. It is about a respect for who we are as people. It is the ability to recognize that we are more than what you see on the outside. Fr. Matthew, O.J.S. serves the congregation at St. Joseph Marello Catholic Church in Granite Bay, California. “The problem with porn is not that shows too much,” he said. “It is that not enough of the actual person is shown.” When our children realize that their body is the sacrament of who you are as a whole person, including the divinity within perhaps they can begin to accept chastity as how we express our authenticity as magnificent sons and daughters. (See related: Talking about sexting and internet porn)
Humility is the foundation of all virtue that helps us receive the wisdom to overcome the manipulations of others. No child wants to be duped or misled and they get a lot of fear and fakery in the social network. In this regard, humility is not thinking less of yourself; rather it is not thinking of yourself at all. When you put God and others first, it is possible to experience the power of God’s love in ways that bring about a peace of mind of knowing that when you tame your own ego, things get a lot easier.
“The primary responsibility of you parents in education cannot be delegated neither to the school nor to the Church.” (St. Joseph Marello Pastoral Letter on School Instruction and on Education of Youth in the Family, Acqui 1892)
Virtues conversation tips for parents
- First prepare yourself. Think about your own experience as a child and the role of virtues in your own life. Did virtue matter for you? Why or why not?
- Think about when you knew too much for your own good? Did “what you know” ever invoke shame? Did you talk about it with anyone? Were you able to have a conversation with your parents?
- It helps to be clear that the conversation with your child is not about you; it is about the child learning how to take command over their own life and you are the primary teacher. You may draw upon your own experience, but do not allow the conversation to digress into your adolescence and childhood. The idea here is to encourage your child to seek conversations with you about how to apply virtues in their life so you can encourage them to seek Wisdom (James 1:5) from the Lord and impart your wisdom.
- Pray. God grants wisdom freely to the sincere heart. (James 1:5)
- Consider a conversation about virtues as one of the strategies you and your child deploy to overcome the world. It helps to get your child thinking of virtue as a way to retain power; to not surrender all of the grace and wisdom God intends. It is not meant to be a way to be superior to other people. Rather it is a measure—a personal standard between you and the Lord.
Proceed to next article: Cyber rites of passage for children of all ages
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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