The challenge of parenting children who are digital natives

By Ben Smith, Director of the Office of Life, Marriage and Family

Is it possible for parents to succeed in their attempts to control their children’s access to digital technology? Parents can be quite IT savvy but their children are digital natives and can be a few steps ahead. What are parents to do?

One thing that parents can keep in mind is that the Holy Family had their own challenges with Jesus when he was an adolescent. After one of their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, Jesus stayed on in the Temple to listen to the teaching of the doctors and to ask his own questions. He neglected to inform Mary and Joseph of his movements. At some point Mary and Joseph realised that he was not part of their “caravan” travelling back to Nazareth and when they returned to Jerusalem it took them three days before they found him in the Temple. When they were reunited, Mary expressed her anxiety at his disappearance. Jesus responded as if he was not lost, but on the path to growing in human maturity.

While the Holy Family had its own unique features, adolescents in general have their own way of challenging parents. It is important for parents to protect their children from danger in the physical and the virtual world. However, adolescents do need space to grow as individuals.

Pope Francis has provided some direction for parents in this situation in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, by pointing out that: “If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space. But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges. What is most important is the ability lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy.” (Amoris Laetitia, 216) Consequently Pope Francis proposes that: “The real question, then, is not where our children are physically, or whom they are with at any given time, but rather where they are existentially, where they stand in terms of their convictions, goals, desires and dreams.” (Amoris Laetitia, 216)

Twenty-first Century parents should not be afraid to use relevant tools to monitor their children’s use of the internet in an age appropriate manner. But as children start to mature, parents need to be prepared to loosen the reins and accompany their adolescents on the journey to guide them to discover who God has created them to be.

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