It’s really hard to be so vigilant about your children in the online world. The evil out there is just a click away, and there is scarcely any shelter. In our family, we don’t shelter our kids from nudity entirely. When we were in Paris a couple of years ago, we took the kids to museums, and when nudity presented itself in a sculpture or on a canvas, we talked to them about the beauty of the human body, and how it is not a dirty thing, though it can be depicted in a dirty way. We want them to learn that the body is good, and that sexuality is good, before they have to confront the ruin that perverse people make of these gifts.
But the world doesn’t work according to our priorities. What really ticks me off are parents who know that they’re not doing the right thing with their children and their access to the Internet, but who let themselves off the hook by telling themselves that there’s really no way to prevent it anyway, so let’s just not even bother trying. It’s an excuse for laziness. You can try hard, like my friend, and still fail. The vile pornographers of the world are always and everywhere trying to poison minds, even the minds of seven year olds. We have to be merciful with ourselves when despite our best efforts, something slips over the wall. Still, that just means we have to redouble our efforts. Because once a child sees, he cannot unsee.
We talk about the Benedict Option; here’s a practical consideration: I want to live in community with parents who share my wife’s and my conviction about the evil of pornography, and our militancy about protecting our kids from it online. Not only do I want to know that my kids are safe when they go over to someone else’s house, but I want to be held accountable by other parents. I’m very sorry for what my friend had to go through with her seven-year-old son, but I’m grateful that she shared it with her readers, and I’m grateful that it made my wife and me have a talk about how we have let down our guard in ways that we ought not to have done.
I’ve talked about Rod’s “Benedict Option” ideas here on this blog before. Essentially, the idea is that it would be great if people who are serious about living a Christian life could live in some proximity to each other, ideally gathered around a Church that could foster and nourish an authentic community.
But there’s a downside to that idea, and that’s also something I’ve talked about here. The downside is that sometimes an intentional community becomes a cult, that what starts as a group of like-minded people just trying to follow the light in a world of increasing darkness becomes a sort of emotional prison where a strong, charismatic leader preys on the weak and the vulnerable. There have been cults of this description in every religious group; some people who lived the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi life would unhesitatingly call LC/RC such a cult, especially when Maciel was alive and actively living a life of evil while using his religious group to hide that evil from the world.
Sometimes it seems like we don’t have terrific choices. Live in a world where it’s all-too-common for preteens to stumble across Internet porn? Withdraw from the world in a way that means no computers or TVs or other “evil access points” in our homes? Become sort of “Catholic-Amish-Lite” for the good of our families?
The truth is that while there have been times and places wherein living a Christian life and raising good Catholic kids has been easier than it is now, there have also been times and places where it’s much harder--even now. Keeping young children from accidentally accessing smut is a real problem, to be sure. Keeping your children Catholic in a country where Catholics can’t practice the faith openly, or where they have to belong to an “official church” not in communion with Rome, etc., is much harder.
There’s a reason we are called to follow a narrow path. Too much freedom, too little oversight, and our children may suffer for it; but too little freedom, a parental attitude that thinks removing all sources of potential evil and hiding from the world is the better way, may be just as dangerous in the end. In every aspect of our vocation as parents we will have to use discernment, vigilance, patience; we will have to fine-tune the art of listening and foster open communication; we will have to make sure that our children are protected from the evils of our world from the inside-out, so to speak, not merely in some external way. But that is the vocation of parenthood, and it is both a great responsibility and a great gift.