One of the top concerns for youth today is that their cyber-powered communities can become a single point of reference for life. It is easy to believe things that are not true and focus on things that don’t matter. Some examples include:
- My worth is measured by the number of followers and likes in my social network.
- I am nobody unless I have a profile on Instagram or SnapChat
- In order to express affection to a love interest, I must send an explicit photo of myself (sexting).
- Casual sex is required to be intimate.
There is great confusion between love and exploitation. The things that degrade the individual can seem so normal as the standards for respect for self and others are lowered to empty, gratuitous acts in the name of “connecting” and “fitting in”. We are all searching to become a part of something greater than ourselves, and the worldly impulses and senses can mislead.
This confusion between love and exploitation is a conversation ignited by the public response to Shades of Grey, the block buster movie based upon a bestselling novel about a virgin seduced into a sexually exploitative relationship with a rich, handsome man. Fr. Phil Massetti, Pastor at St. Joseph Marello Catholic Church in Granite Bay, delivered a provocative homily last Sunday that centered on the Gospel teaching of Jesus healing a man with leprosy and related it to the popularity of Shades of Grey. After pointing out that leprosy was a disease that outcast individuals from society with no hope for healing and reconnecting, he invited the congregation to think about what leprosy looks like today. “And so let’s think about the ways today each of us are feeling isolated or outcast, like the leper,” Massetti said. “When we think about that, then we can understand why young people might be attracted to Fifty Shades of Grey. It is simply that they have a need to be touched that can only be fulfilled by the love of Christ.”
So how can parents communicate the power of God’s love, the Christ in them, to their cyber-powered child who is dealing with emotionally charged images and feelings invoking shame, guilt, isolation and fear? Jesus gives us the model (see also the description of the character of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8):
- Meet them where they are at (in the realm of heart and mind), no matter how wrong, angry, hostile or elated.
- Speak truth about their inherent worth, the value of their soul to the heart of God; and point out the untruth with a merciful heart (not condemning/no fear).
- Show them the way; explain the thinking and behavior that is correct. Ask them some questions to get them thinking about what they know to be true deep in their own heart.
- Express your confidence in your child’s God-given ability to think for himself.
- And then let him think about it and choose her own course.
This is the posture that enables parents to present themselves as a trusted resource and teacher for life when correcting children. As you monitor your child’s on-line activities, especially tweens and teens, it is possible to engage their intellect and will by the grace of God who equips us when we are also willing to support, instruct and honor the free will of our children with hope and mercy. When we explain forgiveness as the power by God’s grace to choose what to believe and more importantly, what not to believe, especially when an experience happens with real consequences that disturb the peace (think sexting and cyberbullying), it is possible to empower children to overcome the falling into traps and snares that exploit individuals, and then stand corrected.
To learn more about creating a family culture characterized by open communication and individual resilience, go to: Fresh Start.