Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 31, 2019
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Joshua 5:9a, 10-12; Psalm 34:2-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Safe Haven Sunday
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
It is my hope that the resources provided to you on Safe Haven Sunday will both encourage and teach all individuals and families dealing with the effects of pornography that loving support is available. It’s worth battling pornography for wholeness and purity for you, your spouse, your children, and the future of everyone in our diocese. (Most Rev. Carl A Kemme, March 31, 2019)
The Life of Dissipation
In our Gospel today, the younger son begs his father for his inheritance, and when he gets it he goes off and spends the fortune “on a life of dissipation” (Luke 15:13). The son begs for everything, everything he thinks he wants—even to the point of trading his family, his home, his father. And even though the father knows exactly what the son will do, he gives it to him anyway (c.f., Romans 11:32). And we have all been there. Whether it is us or our kids, we don’t always really know what we’re asking for, but we beg for it anyway. But then, just like the son, we see that everything we asked for wasn’t what we wanted, and all we want is to belong again, to be safe, at home.
This Sunday has been designated by Bishop Kemme as Safe Haven Sunday, a time to raise awareness about a problem that is pervasive in our culture and in our own homes, and that is the problem of pornography. I don’t think any of us would argue with the Bishop when he says that “we want holy, healthy, and safe homes, free of pornography and other online threats that deprive the home of its role as a safe haven” (Letter from Bishop Kemme, March 31, 2019).
Pornography is not something we are comfortable addressing. We all know it when we see it, we know that it’s wrong. But we don’t really know what to do, or we think, “Well, it’s not really hurting anyone.” Well, that’s not true. It is physiologically destroying your children’s brains—this is not just moral problem, it is a physiological problem. It disrupts our ability to form deep meaningful relationships, including marriage. And when someone in a marriage is using pornography, it leads to betrayal, infidelity, divorce. And (and I will say this many times) these are facts, we know this! This is not me talking, these are facts, scientific facts. The data and the studies are clear!
For instance, the average age a person first sees pornography is eleven. By fourteen years old, ninety-four percent of children have seen pornography. About seventy percent of men and twenty percent of women view pornography at least once a week, and almost ninety percent of men view pornography once a month. And the real issue? Almost eighty percent of children say that their parents have never discussed the issue of pornography with them. We just don’t talk about it, especially with our kids. And this is causing a lot of harm. “When parents and guardians haven’t created an environment where it’s safe and welcome to talk about uncomfortable topics, children will often hide these experiences out of shame and embarrassment” (Kemme).
The four biggest reasons why kids go back to it, besides sexual gratification, are first, for educational reasons: this is how kids are learning about sex, they think this is what sex is. Young men think this is what women are for, and young women think this is what they are expected to do. Another reason is loneliness, and this just works to isolate them even more. Another reason is peer pressure: listen to the conversations that high school boys have when they think you can’t hear; there is pressure to look at this. And there is a pressure on your own daughters to make it! Based on studies, two-thirds of your daughters in middle school and high school have been asked to send nude photos of themselves to boys. And finally, the most common reason: boredom. Your kids are just bored. But the saddest part: it’s not entirely their fault, because this seeks them out, it finds them.
What is at the root? Why does this affect us so much today?
Just like the father in our Gospel today, the Father has let us, as a culture, go in this direction; he has allowed us to use our freedom and to experience the effects of our freedom. Now, just like the son, now that we too have led our life of dissipation, it is time to turn back. Parents: you must take charge of your home! Fathers, if someone broke into your house, would you just sit there as they attacked your children? Because someone has broken in, and they are attacking your children. How? Well, through smart phones, tablets, computers. And here’s the hardest part: it’s our fault, we opened the door. They didn’t break in, we let them in. As the Lord himself said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6-7). My dear parents: if we are going to stop being the cause of our children’s sin, we have to address this at its source: smartphones, tablets, computers.
And so I say: if you love your children, you will not give them unfettered access to a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Almost all of your children have access to a tablet or smartphone. Over eighty percent of your kids sleep with their phone or tablet in their room. Fifty percent of kids will admit that they are “addicted” to their smartphone or tablet. And guess what? They’re right. This is a real, physical, chemical addiction. When we engage with cell phones and social media and pornography, there is a release of a chemical in the brain called Dopamine. Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, drink, gamble, and do drugs. In other words, it is highly, highly addictive. We have age restrictions on smoking, drinking, and gambling, drugs are illegal—but we have no age restrictions on social media, cell phones, or pornography. So what you need to know is that when you hand your child a device, you are handing them an addictive, numbing chemical substance through cell phones, social media, and pornography.
If you saw your 10 year old son on the back porch drinking a beer, what would you do? If your five year old was smoking a cigarette, what would you do? If your 15 year old daughter was gambling in Mulvane at the casino, what would you do? So why do we hand our children a cell phone or tablet?
(1) A common objection is, “Well, Father, Everyone else does it,” or, “I don’t want my kid to be left out.” Well, left out of what exactly? Cyberbullying, sexting, higher rates of depression and anxiety, texting and driving? Do you know who isn’t “doing it” and who is “leaving their kids out”? The CEO’s of Apple, Microsoft, and major technology companies. The people who make this technology will not let their own children anywhere near it! Why? Because they know exactly what it does, because they intentionally designed it that way: it is designed to be chemically addictive. Do you know who else makes a lot of money making and distributing a product that they don’t want their own children anywhere close to? Drug dealers. (2) “Well, Father, it’s an easy way to get my kid to calm down and be quiet.” Fair, but it is also destroying his ability to ever be able to sit down and be quiet because of what it is doing to his developing pre-frontal cortex. Again, especially with young children, these really harm their brain. This is a physical problem! (3) I have also had parents say, “But what if I need to get a hold of them?” Well, there are cheap, pay-as-you-go phones where you can text or call. (4) Or the most common, “My kids won’t like me.” Again, you are their parent: your job is not to give them whatever they want, it is to help them get to heaven. Look at what happened in the the Gospel when the Father gave the son everything he wanted: the son didn’t end-up happier.
Now, I know, smart phones and tablets are not all bad. And yeah, alcohol isn’t the issue, too much alcohol is an issue. Gambling isn’t a problem, too much gambling is a problem. Smart phones and tablets aren’t the problem, too much smart phones are a problem. And the real problem is that kids cannot say “no”; you as the parents have to say “no” for them, you have to establish rules and boundaries. Remember, they are chemically addicted to their smartphone or tablet! They are an addict. They cannot stop. You have to intervene.
The American Pediatric Association has guidelines for technology use for kids. And so I want you to think about your own children and compare them to the recommendations of the doctors. For children from zero to two years old: no screen time. For children between two and five: no more than one hour of quality screen time, in other words, you cannot hand them a device and let them run off for three hours. For children between five and eighteen, you need to develop a plan that allows for enough sleep, school, and physical activity, which comes to about no more than two hours a day. Again, cell phones aren’t all bad, but unfettered access is.
It is through unfettered access to smart phones and tablets that we are giving our children an addictive, numbing, harmful “drug.” The statistics are clear, the data is clear: they are addicted, they cannot put it down. The statistics are clear, the data is clear: they are destroying their brains and their health and development. The statistics are clear, the data is clear: when pornography is factored in on top of this, it becomes exponentially more harmful. The statistics are clear, the data is clear: kids are not happier, more fulfilled, healthier, more social, cooler when they have a smartphone or tablet. The statistics are clear, the data is clear: where there is unfettered access to smart phones, tablets, and, by default, unfettered access to pornography, we are crippling our children. Neurochemically, it is no different than handing them alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs.
What can we do?
“Well, Father, I feel kinda guilty now, but what am I supposed to do?” Well, just like the father in our gospel, we need to be able to welcome our kids home, to a safe home; not a prison full of oppressive rules; no, a home. And really, it is nothing more than teaching your kids to be human.
1) First, sit-down with your kids and talk about the issue of pornography, soon. It will be awkward and uncomfortable, but you won’t regret it. Don’t accuse them or interrogate them, no. Remember, it seeks them out, and it seeks them out through devices that you probably gave them. Sit down, talk, and look for a path forward.
2) The second thing is to teach them the Virtue of Temperance by establishing clear, definite, fair rules about use of their smartphone and tablet. I know, almost everyone has a smart phone or tablet, and I know I painted a pretty bad picture, but using them isn’t all bad. But, unfettered access is never OK. Your children do not have a right to their smartphone or tablet all the time.
Here are four ideas. First, no cell phones in bedrooms! NEVER. Right now, if every parent would commit to NEVER allowing their child, young child or high school child, to use a tablet or a cell phone in the bedroom—if you want to make one change that will dramatically turn everything around, this is it. Most problems with pornography, but also with friends and boyfriends happen when the person is alone, isolated in their bedroom with their smartphone or tablet. Second, have a time each night when all smartphones and tablets must be turned-in to you. None of your children should sleep with their phone/tablet in their room. If they need an alarm clock, buy them an alarm clock, they are eight dollars. I suggest that they turn their smartphone or tablet in no later than 10:00p.m. “But Father, what about homework?” Glad you asked. Third, install parental controls on your children’s devices. These can limit screen time, how long they can use certain applications, send you reports of what they are doing, block inappropriate content. They are very cheap. And if you can’t afford it, tell me and I will pay for it. Fourth, have designated “no technology” places and times. For example, no phone at dinner, leave phones at home during mass, no phones after 10pm, no phones before 8am.
I know this sounds strange and new and crazy. So were seatbelts. But I’m not just asking, I’m begging. Especially to the fathers: men, this is your responsibility. Remember, there is an enemy in your house literally and physically attacking your children. What are you going to do about it?
3) So those are some practical rules and limits, but as I’m sure you know, it you just limit their use of technology and stop there, you are asking for war. So the third step is to propose a path forward for you family and home. For example, start eating dinner together as a family. Don’t just eat food, but actually sit down and have dinner, as often as possible. Talk about the day, talk about problems, cook together, clean together, be at home together. Another idea is to give your kids something meaningful to do, like cooking the meal, or cleaning-up after the meal, laundry, pets, hobbies. Also, you need to pray together as a family. Sit down and pray the rosary together, go to adoration together, go to mass together. And also, play together. Have fun together as a family, exercise, watch a movie together. When you don’t have the device in front of you all the time, you just learn to start to enjoy the world and each other.
Just like the father in the Gospel today, the Father is waiting to welcome us home, ready to run out and embrace us, throw us a party. But we have to turn around, turn toward him. He let us experience this so we would ever more appreciate our home with him, so we could recognize that what we truly want is not the latest and the greatest but simply to belong, to be loved. Your kids don’t want everything: they want a home, they want you to love them, they want to belong, they want a safe haven that they can call home.
USCCB, Create In Me A Clean Heart, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/pornography/upload/Create-in-Me-a-Clean-Heart-Statement-on-Pornography.pdf
Simon Sinek on Millenials in the Workplace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU&t=296s
How to Develop a Media Plan With Your Kids: https://www.healthychildren.org/spanish/media/paginas/default.aspx#planview
Damour, “Teenagers, Stop Asking for Nude Photos,” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/well/family/teenagers-stop-asking-for-nude-photos.html
Brett Ullman, “Parenting Tips: Talking to your teens about technology: Cell Phones,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RCGTMMuJh4
Brett Ullman, “Parenting Tips: Talking to your teens about technology: Social Media,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AilAZuUQhqU
Brett Ullman, “What age should kids get smartphones? Parenting Tips,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCFcLSGjM04
Brett Ullman, “Why you should eat dinner as a family | Family Dinners,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4iEO3-dG-E
Conan O’Brien, “Louis CK Everything Is Amazing And Nobody Is Happy,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUBtKNzoKZ4&t=98s
Conan O’Brien, “Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c
Covenant Eyes, “Porn Stats: 250+ facts, quotes, and statistics about pornography use (2018 Edition),” www.covenanteyes.com.