Building a media-smart family


When a group of teenagers was asked what they need to do to live well with their media, many of them said “to limit time spent” on screens.

Others said, “Be purposeful instead of using them to fill time.” Still others insightfully commented that they “avoid what makes them feel uncomfortable.” They recognize the need to balance time with their screens with other meaningful activities and relationships.

Catholic parents can be heartened by that, especially as they grapple with the unprecedented challenges of navigating the gadget-filled lives of their children and teaching them how to use media in accordance with the values of our faith.

When families talk about the morals and messages of the latest viral YouTube video, young people learn to examine media content according to their own family’s values. Asking children about the newest video games shows that parents are invested in their children’s lives. Talking with teens about the latest social media apps allows both you and them to reflect on your respective online behavior. And this is only the beginning of parents’ involvement in their kids’ media engagement.

Living virtuously with media

Living our Catholic faith in everyday life means we look to Christ to learn how to make good choices according to Gospel values. He is the way to follow that leads to a blessed life now and in heaven. Jesus shows us how to love, to be merciful, grateful, kind and chaste. Jesus shows us that choosing the good is the way of blessing. Living virtuously leads to happy living.

To build a media-smart family, here are four tips based on the cardinal virtues:

Temperance: Locate computers and devices in a central area of the house.

Temperance is the virtue of self-control. We want to use and create media without letting it rule our lives or lead to addiction. Positioning all media in central areas of the house is one way to hold each other accountable. That means putting phones on the kitchen counter at night to charge or using all laptops and gaming consoles only in public areas.

Prudence: Discuss online safety and behaviors.

The online world breeds scammers and predators. Talk to children about how scammers install ransomware for identity theft, and how to avoid them. Recognizing the red flags of predation in online relationships is essential for kids, so they can alert parents to what makes them feel uncomfortable. Open communication leads to cautious online behavior and prudent actions.

Prudence also means no double standards. If you have rules or protocols for your children, follow them yourselves. Modeling good digital behavior is one of the best ways to help your kids make good choices when it comes to their own media.

Justice: Discern together what is appropriate technology and screen time.

Justice is the virtue of moderation between having more or less than one’s share. It is realizing the fulfillment of our needs in relation to our obligation to others. Children may ask for smartphones at a young age because their friends have one, but that doesn’t mean they should have them.

Parents make the judgment of what is reasonable and fair while considering the ability of the child to obey the family rules on technology use. This goes for screen time, too. Talking together – and allowing children to express their thoughts – is appropriate and will help them become discerning citizens.

Fortitude: Question the values in media messages.

Being courageous in the media culture often means going against the cultural norms. Evaluating media messages according to personal and Gospel values can be the determining factor of whether the family engages in a particular television program or video game. We can always ask ourselves: How does our relationship with Jesus affect our daily media choices?


Digital family plan

Living virtuously with our media requires communicating together to become a media-smart family. Making a pledge or plan makes these choices concrete, so we encourage you to make a “digital family plan,” whereby each member holds the others accountable to what is agreed upon. Post the plan on the refrigerator door as a reminder. Begin today being virtuous media consumers and creators.


Sister Nancy Usselmann is director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles, a member of The Daughters of St. Paul, and a media literacy education specialist.

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