The world treats virtues like chastity and prudence as judgy and unfriendly things. This hostility to wisdom can easily be perceived as a path to freedom by undermining the inherent value of such virtues. In my lifetime I think of the radical movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s which declared “free love” and “peace” as an anything goes philosophy for life. All formal authority (i.e. establishment) was rejected as civil protests against war and for the rights of minorities and women surfaced to find a place as a new norm in our culture.
Much like a forest fire clears the ground for new growth, perhaps rebellion was necessary for the rights of minorities and women to find a legitimate place in society. During such times of upheaval and transformation, virtues like humility, chastity and prudence took on an obscured, perhaps even obsolete, and for some an offensive connotation. I recall the motto of the time was “if it feels good, do it”.
Nevertheless I believe that always virtues stand the test of time because they represent the trustworthy character of God’s love as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; a description of the core desirable qualities of any individual you would seek in a spouse, a teammate, a co-worker, a boss, a roommate, a sibling, a parent, a friend, and most importantly, in a sovereign entity.
Isn’t it true that virtues make human beings hospitable and relatable creatures after all?
Now let us fast forward to the network culture of our time.
More dramatic than the cultural revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the advent of internet and mobile connectivity inspired a radical power crisis for the individual and for the family. In a world, flattened and boundary-less by cyber communications, the opportunity is ripe for the parent-child bond to be strengthened and deepened as a “new norm” beyond that of previous generations.
Youth today cannot imagine the world without internet connectivity. They are conditioned for authority differently. The value of hierarchical authority is less prominent; and for this breed of human, authority is a relational experience.
Now more than ever, children need parents to express the virtues of discipline as liberating from the nefarious and enslaving influences in the social network that involve bullying, addiction and exploitation. Fearful responses to the internet-enabled devices seducing children (into relationships, communications and media thought leadership) is to hyper focus on the technology and engage in “parental control” by forbidding access and imposing limits. The reality is that this type of parental control is an illusion because we do not control what children believe and think. We do not control them by remote or even proxy.
And this is where the value of virtues becomes a practical reality for our children so they can better understand what it means to choose to become free agents in the social network as well as in the flesh.
Explaining virtues as pillars of self-governance
Father Matthew Spencer is a member of the Oblates of Jt. Joseph order of priests serving Granite Bay, Loomis, Roseville and Rocklin, California at St. Joseph Marello Catholic Church. Prior to joining the order, Spencer was a technologist working on information systems engineering. After suffering a brain injury and surgery that nearly took his life, Spencer re-evaluated his life during rehabilitation period which he says took over three years.
“I realized I needed to do more than work with the technology,” he said.
So Spencer turned to a life of ministry with an appreciation for the benefits of technology. He is currently the executive of communications for the order, and continues to apply his technology expertise to support the ministry operations.
Spencer offers insights for parents concerned about the adverse impact of technology. “We have a tendency to try and fit all of our youth issues into one box,” he said. “We want it to be a black and white problem with one solution.”
When it comes to addressing the issues of youth (anxiety, depression, addiction, exploitation, bullying), he encourages parents to not emphasize the technology, but rather aim for the root of the problem in the individual person. According to Spencer, honest conversations about the practical value of virtues are worth considering because they may help youth understand their own power (through embracing wisdom) to be safe from the dangers in the social network.
Fr. Mathew’s talking tips: The practical value of virtue in the social network
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. “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.
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.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She 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.