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Opinion: We need urgent action to protect kids from technology

We cannot keep our heads in the sand while this major crisis unfolds.

(Image of boy: Warren Wong/Unsplash.com; image of fragmented light: FLY:D/Unsplash.com)

A frightening trend emerged when I was working in Catholic school administration. The acceleration of problems related to sexuality for young kids was startling, beginning even as early as kindergarten. There was one common source: technology. Without a doubt, the fact that young children regularly use smartphones has led to frequent exposure to sexual images and messages that have made some kids question their own God-given identity. After hearing of problems week after week, I wanted to shout an SOS to every parent: “Please, take away devices from your children, because it’s really wounding them.” We must exercise greater vigilance.

This is not just the overreaction of one Catholic educator. Even Denver Public Schools offered a workshop I attended on “Teens and Screens,” speaking of a public health emergency due to the impact of social media on the mental health of teenagers. Coming under increasing scrutiny, TikTok recently placed a 60 minute a day limit on usage for those under 18 (although they can continue after entering a passcode), with the head of their “trust and safety” department stating, “We believe digital experiences should bring joy and play a positive role in how people express themselves, discover ideas, and connect.”

The opposite is occurring, with the CDC finding that nearly 60% of teen girls struggle with depression and almost a third have considered suicide. The spike in depression and suicide began in 2012, at the same time smartphones were introduced. As technology use has increased each year, mental health difficulties have increased as well.

We cannot keep our heads in the sand while this major crisis unfolds.

Young people are experiencing an identity crisis, inflamed by ideological forces using social media and entertainment to call their sexual identity into question at young ages. In Catholic schools, we saw kindergartners and first graders imitating inappropriate things they had seen on screens. We heard from a third grader that she identified as asexual after she was groomed by an adult through an iPad, given to her by her parents. We often heard of bullying and sexting occurring over phones, even among elementary school students. These are the cases that make me repeat: “Parents, don’t give your kids a phone. Please take away their phones!”

I am a father of six with three teenagers and try to be very vigilant. We use Gab phones and Light phones for our teenagers that prevent any direct internet access. Our younger kids have never needed a phone. In Catholic schools, we often had to remind school parents that they could always call their kids at school and their kids would always be allowed to call them if there was a need. In their desire to protect their kids by having constant access to them through a phone, parents are inadvertently harming them by giving them this constant exposure to harmful influences on the web and social media.

Parents also need to examine their own technology usage. I took the drastic step, almost three years ago now, of introducing my smartphone to a sledgehammer. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life, as I felt a weight lift from my shoulders and a greater peace of mind. It cut out many distractions and gave me more freedom for reading and prayer. It also gave me the opportunity to witness to my kids that they, too, can live without a smartphone, that we had traded too much for the conveniences of its apps: namely, peace of mind and space for others, including God! It’s hard to protect our children if we are not protecting ourselves!

Lent provides us an opportunity to unplug. As we approach the end of this holy season, you could perhaps try an experiment. Keep your phone turned off for a few hours at a time. Instead, spend some more time in prayer and reading a spiritual book. See if you can stay focused, growing a little bit each day in your ability to tune out distractions and increase your ability to attend to God. And then, when Lent is over, try to keep it going. Carve out technology-free spaces in your life and dedicate more time both to God and to the tangible presence of the people right in front of you.

If we are going to protect our children from the harmful effects of technology, especially the saturation of social media, we will need to model an alternative path. We need God’s grace to make the sacrifice of stepping back from the convenience that technology brings. In return, there is much to gain, going back to a greater peace of mind and the ability to focus on others. Without the barrier of screens, you can also be more present to the teens that need your help in breaking out of the net in which they are caught.

(Dr. Staudt’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic.)


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About Dr. R. Jared Staudt 79 Articles
R. Jared Staudt PhD, serves as Director of Content for Exodus 90 and as an instructor for the lay division of St. John Vianney Seminary. He is author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option (Angelico Press), as well as editor of Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press). He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.

14 Comments

  1. Thankfully I rarely use my smartphone, keep it turned off daily except when making a call or expecting one. Reason is after decades of being on call day and night for parish, or hospital emergencies it’s a relief now to be mostly free from that responsibility [although much was gained spiritually].
    It was startling years past when teaching at a seminary in Arusha Tanzania or in Rome studying all the kids, virtually tots had their ears glued to their phones or were surfing. Instinctively, it appeared drastically abnormal. Intellects at so young an age become programmed by technology messaging to perceive reality as if it were not reality. Jared Staudt is perfectly correct. His sledge hammering his device a judiciously prudent act deserving applause. As well as his designed use of phones for his own children.
    Electronic technology in general is having a tremendous negative effect on everyone. The dynamics mentioned affecting kids affect adults similarly after years of that addiction [how many driving vehicles are seen with their phone against their ear?]. Pornography as well as LGBT propaganda has infiltrated the entire communications system. As Dr Staudt attests, our youngest are under severe threat. Bishops must address this scourge within their dioceses and offer means, suggestions to curtail it.

  2. As to the effect on adults of constant technological messaging our intellects become inured to disorder and adopt a sense of commodifying reality especially persons. What was previously perceived as the exception becomes an accepted rule of behavior when all seem to be engaged, for example, sexual indulgence and its multiple forms. A mindset of virtual reality sets in men and women engaged in longer periods of sensual satisfaction during work hours and at home [this phenomenon was reinforced by the Covid lockdowns].
    Technology becomes an immediately accessible means of sensual [in its various forms, some not sexual] fulfillment without the responsibilities of real life contact. A world of technical exchange turning persons into reclusive drones distanced from reality, subject to depression and suicide. For the Church it distanced people from the Church as a community of people.

  3. Yes to fasting from cellphones, but “saving our kids from technology? The Luddites tried that. Technocracy is a bigger target, like the academic replacement (not supplement) of Liberal Arts by STEM–the agenda of the industrial-educational complex. Four points:

    FIRST, as for affirming the Liberal Arts, how many such programs delve into De Lubac’s “Drama of Atheist Humanism” whose 1963 publication coincided with the first session of the Second Vatican Council? Chapter III begins by noting that “Christianity has never ceased to be assailed,” but that today—rather than the historical substructure (attacks of biblical criticism or on Church and dogmatic origins), the dominance of reason alone, political attacks of State against Church, internal exaggeration of Catholic Social Teaching to show that religion is not “the opiate of the people”. . .

    SECOND and NOW the principle attack is against: “The Christian conception of life, Christian spirituality, the inward attitude which, more than any particular act or outward gesture, bespeaks the Christian—THAT is what is at stake [!]. How timid those men now seem who, for instance, fought against the Church but wanted to keep the Gospel!”. . .

    THIRD, of “those men,” think of der Synodal Weg with its disembodied “gospel values” in a Church which is “Catholic but in a different way,” and think of synodal-ism where the Successors of the Apostles are silenced “primarily as facilitators,” and then toady up to the “aggregated, compiled and synthesized” script of “experts.”

    Yes, such open-ended “listening” could have been a corrective to technology-saturated somnambulism—butt look what the cat dragged in!

    FOURTH, so, from Staudt’s cellphone addiction, to academia’s STEM addiction, to ecclesial word processor addiction—how to rise above and evangelize ALL of this stuff?

    De Lubac is still timely as required reading. A modernday Jesuit who was still Catholic!

  4. Add to that the disgraceful detailing of the TV coverage of stories of Trump and Stormy Daniels, Access Hollywood, and the apparent rape of E. Jean Carroll. All related to sexual indiscretion.

    Then, add to that the out-of-control misdirection and lying of cable TV news. Note: I called the FCC on the subject and they said that they have “NO oversight authority over cable channel content”.

    The controversy over Fox News’ content was revealed when CEO Rupert Murdock said that “he knew his FN hosts were lying and he failed to do anything”. WOW! Low-hanging fruit? A national disgrace that needs immediate congressional intervention!

    Action needed: Contact your congressmen!!!

    • P Trump was the only recent Pres to try and stem the abortion tide.

      He had nuns at the White House and refused to make them cover contraception for employees, if I remember correctly.

      The Disciples, at least many of them, were rogue characters. They argued amongst themselves about who was the greatest, if that means anything.

      Fox is being sued by Dominion over the voting machine claims.

      • Dear Knowall. If you study Trump’s history, for much of his adult life he was pro-choice until he ran for presidential office.

        News Week: Trump, who now claims to be staunchly anti-abortion, has only taken on these views in recent years and was previously in favor of reproductive rights.

        • “Reproductive rights” is a euphemism for the murder of unborn children. We absolutely have the “right” to reproduce, but that right does not mean that we also have a “right” to murder our children – at ANY stage of development. The unborn child is fully human with the right, above all else, to life. No one has the “right” to take a child’s life away from him/her. He/she is a child, not a “choice”.

    • You know morgan, I was talking with one of my children about politicians & their personal indiscretions. They told me that they were no more interested in a politician’s personal life than that of their trash collector’s. If the trash is picked up on time & services rendered properly that’s good enough. Why would they be concerned with a trash collector or any public servant’s personal affairs in the first place?
      Where we live there’s a long history of colourful populist politicians who may represented their constituents well but came up rather short in other ways. If one’s behavior crosses the line into criminality, it’s out of our jurisdiction but up until that point I really just don’t care. If I was a straying politician’s wife, pastor, or friend that would be different. But I’m not so it’s really none of my business.

      • Dear MrsCracker. I agree with someone being considered innocent until found guilty. However, when a politician or a TV channel lies and misdirects incessantly I cannot ignore it and expect that my children or society will be protected.
        You said:
        “Your children were no more interested in a politician’s personal life than that of their trash collector’s. If the trash is picked up on time & services rendered properly that’s good enough.
        until that point I really just don’t care”
        That attitude seems to be in contrast with our moral teachings.
        Comparing ones casual removal from society to a trash collector is a poor analogy.

        America’s democracy is so divided so that it may not recover. I cannot ignore our toxic political environment, nor should you.

        God save our nation and take us to that mountain where we see your righteousness.

  5. Thank you Dr. Staudt. It’s part of our secular world’s conspiracy to use peer pressure to worship a modern Baal, the false God of materialism and self aggrandizement. Sacrifice of children and ritualized orgies in order to enrich the individual who worshiped Baal in the past is reappearing with a vengeance. Trust in the Holy Spirit and he will help you see, hear and feel evil for what it really is and help on the path of righteousness for all earnest followers of Christ and their families. We desperately need good and righteous Christian men with the fortitude to resist this evil Woke tide in our present world. Bend with the wind and drown in the deluge or stand fast like a mighty oak to witness the glorious sun after the storm.

  6. Excellent reading.

    Hope more of our priests subscribe to this as they are leaders and managers of their parishes.

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