1st Sunday of Lent (A) – March 1, 2020
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalm 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
INTRODUCTION: SAFE HAVEN SUNDAY & THE PROBLEM OF PORNOGRAPHY
Today is the second annual Safe Haven Sunday. As many of you may remember, last year Bishop Kemme implemented Safe Haven Sunday as a way to bring to light, address, combat, and begin to heal the wounds caused by something which plagues our culture today. And that something is pornography. Pornography is not just something that a few people struggle with. It is an industry that each year, in the United States alone, exceeds the amount of money generated by the NFL and the NBA combined. A study of 70,000 children found that they began looking at it around 8 years old, and addiction began around 11 years old. Children begin sending inappropriate photos of themselves around fifth grade. Lawyers say that it plays a “significant role” in over 60% of divorce cases. And worst of all: your children (and your spouses) often think that this is what “love” looks like.
Pornography was not invented recently. So why is it such a big problem now? Simple. Smartphones and tablets. It is incredibly addictive on its own, incredibly destructive on its own. But when it is coupled with a device as equally addictive and destructive—when everyone carries around the source—it becomes an almost insurmountable problem. Especially if you think, “Well, my children will be fine.”
THE GOSPEL TEMPTATIONS
In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus faces those famous temptations. Did you notice that, in the Gospel, the devil is referred to as “the tempter”? And “the tempter” uses a simple trick: he entices us with our own desires (c.f., James 1:13-15). All of our temptations, whether it is food or money or gossip—we think it is something good, we really desire it, we really want it—but it is only harmful. Porn is the same way; and smartphones are no different. With our temptation, with our sin, it is the same: we think that our smartphone is going to provide so much good, but in the end it only provides harm, and in some cases “deadly” harm.
MEETING WITH MOTHERS
Recently I spoke with a group of about sixty moms and asked a few questions. And their answers were not surprising, but they confirmed what I had already suspected. I asked:
- How many of your children have their own smartphone/tablet? And all raised their hands.
- How many of your children sleep with their smartphone? All raised their hands.
- What was the reason you gave your child a smartphone in the first place. And the answers were different: “To communicate with them”; “In case of emergency”; “To make them happy.” And they knew these were just excuses—because there was usually no thought about why they gave them a smartphone, and there was definitely no thought about why not to give them a smartphone.
And then things got very interesting. I asked:
- How many of you are happy that your child has a smartphone? And no one raised their hand.
- How many of you have better communication with your children/spouse since they got a smartphone? And no one raised their hand (and many commented that communication had gotten worse).
- How many of you see problems with your children/spouse and their smartphone? And all raised their hands.
- How many of you have a problem with your smartphone? And almost all raised their hands.
Here is a reality check. Answer to yourself: What is the last thing you usually do before you go to bed? Eat? Pray? Read? Tell your spouse goodnight? Or, do you check your phone one last time, check email or Facebook or Instagram? Here is another one: How many of your sleep with your phone next to you? Or better yet: How many of you let your children (young or in high school) sleep with their phone in their room? Last one: How many of you, the first thing you do in the morning, even before you tell your spouse good morning, is check your phone?
Maybe the problem begins with our relationship with our phone and tablet. Maybe we need to admit that we have a problem. I have had countless husbands and wives talk to me about their spouse—countless—and the most common problem is that the other person is always on their phone. I have had countless parents come and talk to me about their children—countless—and the number one problem is that their children spend too much time on their phones and are doing things on their phones that are hurting them.
THE FOUR TAKE-HOMES
And so I have just four things that every parent should do. And these are for EVERY parent and couple, whether your child has a problem with technology or not. EVERY parent, EVERY family, EVERY couple.
First: Wake up before your device does, and it “goes to bed” before you do. What does this look like? It means that every device in the house should be out of your children’s hands and out of your hands before you go to bed. It looks like personally taking your children’s phone/tablet no later than 10:00p.m. This is the easiest one to do, and the most effective! Parents, anyone: give me one reason why your child, young or old, needs their phone after 10:00p.m. Children need to sleep! Homework should be completed by then to allow them time to sleep. And sometimes, homework is not done because they are distracted by their phone/tablet. Smartphone and tablet related dangers increase exponentially when your child is able to use their device late into the night, alone in their room. And so all devices should be out of bedrooms and out of your children’s hands by 10:00p.m. — and they shouldn’t get it back until they are ready for school (or until they get back from school if young). SPOUSES: If the first thing you do in the morning is reach for your phone, if the last thing you do at night is use your phone…you have a problem. Wake up before your device does, and it “goes to bed” before you do.
Second: Use screens for a purpose, and use them together, rather than using them aimlessly alone. What does this look like? Well, we have all seen our kid sit on their phone scrolling for hours, and not really doing anything. I have seen parents sitting on their phone, scrolling when their kids are there, when their friends are there. No! Phones are a tool. They are used for something. And they should be used for a purpose. Also, you should never allow your child to use their phone/tablet in their room alone (for obvious reasons); and you shouldn’t use your phone in your room alone either. As innocent as you think your child is (and as innocent as they may be), a phone/tablet in the bedroom is a temptation they are not equipped to deal with. Anything they need to do with their phone, they should be able to do in front of everyone. And if you are hiding in your room, scrolling through Facebook, avoiding your children…SPOUSES: You are avoiding each other by using your smartphone! Don’t. Use screens for a purpose, and use them together, rather than using them aimlessly alone.
Third: Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices. Your children do not have a right to their phone. You bought it, you paid for it: it is your phone. They are given the privilege of using it. You should also install parental controls on your children’s devices. That should have been done before you ever gave your child a smartphone. If your kids are able to use the smartphone better than you, that only puts them in a dangerous position. There are many apps, like Bark and Boomerang. iPhones come equipped with parental controls. SPOUSES: Stop hiding things from each other on your phones! Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
Fourth: Show up in person for the big events of life. Learn how to be human by being fully present to the person in front of you. What does this look like? You should have designated “no technology” spaces and times. For example: no phones after 10:00pm or before they are ready to leave for school (or until they get home from school); no phones at the dinner table or while eating with the family; no phones at mass; no phones while driving; no phones in their room. Why do I say this? Because you need to teach them to have a healthy relationship with their phone. I have been to so many birthday parties, quinceañeras, weddings…and everyone is sitting on their phone. I have gone out to dinner with families, and multiple people on their phone. I have had people in my office, talking to me about something, having a serious one-on-one conversation, but they are constantly checking their phone and talking to someone else at the same time. We don’t even feel comfortable engaging one another face-to-face. Why even leave your house if you are on your phone the whole time anyway? Have you ever thought that the reason people feel so lonely these days is because they feel like the person standing in front of them is not really there? Because their phone is always in their hand, and they’re always “somewhere else.” SPOUSES: Once again, you are avoiding each other by using your phone. Don’t. Show up in person for the big events of life. Learn how to be human by being fully present to the person in front of you.
I know it is easy to give your kid a phone and not worry. I know that when you give your small child a phone it shuts them up. I know it is easy. But it is harmful. Your teens are suffering. Give them permission to put it down. Give yourself permission to put it down. And learn to be human again.