The Observer— Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: September 2, 2005
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
The kids are back at school. They have new gadgets, new routines, new activities, new friends, and new teachers. They are in kindergarten, elementary school, high school or college. They are getting older and spending more time away from home. They may spend more time with their friends, surf the internet, watch television, go to the movies, play electronic games, and select their own reading material. They are becoming more independent.
They continue to learn from their parents, their extended family, their Church, and their teachers. But they are also learning from the dominant media culture whose viewpoints are typically not in accord with moral truth.
Years ago the culture assisted parents in transmitting moral values. Today, the popular culture ridicules those values.
A quick look at print and electronic mass media messages aimed at tweens, teens, and young adults reveals how they are being bombarded with the belief that non-marital sexual activity is proper and healthy; contraception is normal and “responsible”; and abortion is merely a woman’s “choice.” The innocence of children is violated repeatedly by immoral speech and images that permeate today’s entertainment media.
And while some people insist that these immoral images and words do not affect behavior, studies continue to demonstrate how the media culture does shape the values and behavior of our youth—especially in the realm of sexual behavior. A RAND survey published in the September 2004 issue of Pediatrics found “the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities and that talk about sex on TV had virtually the same effect on teen behavior as depictions of sexual activity. This finding runs counter to the widespread belief that portrayals of action have a more powerful impact than talk.”
Behavioral scientist and lead researcher of the study, Rebecca Collins, reported, “This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities.” Collins continued, “Even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is that parents can make a difference. Study after study clearly demonstrates that if parents take the time to really be involved with their children, they can be a positive influence. Dr. Thomas Lickona writes, “Parents who take pains to supervise their children can take heart from what the research shows: ‘hands-on’ parents—those who set rules and expectations; know about their children’s activities, friends, and behaviors; and monitor them in age-appropriate ways—have teens with lower rates of sexual activity as well as lower rates of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use than their peers.”
Yes, parents can influence their children’s behavior. The encyclical, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality reminds us that the Catholic Church “has always affirmed that parents have the duty and the right to be the first and the principal educators of their children.” Notice the word, “duty.” It is the duty of the parents to impart the truth about human sexuality to their children.
John Paul II in his message for World Communications Day 2004 emphasized the necessity of being vigilant when it comes to the mass media: “Parents also need to regulate the use of media in the home. This would include planning and scheduling media use, strictly limiting the time children devote to media, making entertainment a family experience, putting some media entirely off limits and periodically excluding all of them for the sake of other family activities. Above all, parents should give good example to children by their own thoughtful and selective use of media.”
If you are involved with your kids and communicate the beauty and benefits of chastity, you can make a difference in their lives. You can raise chaste children. It will take time and effort, but it will be worth it.