Strengthening the ‘domestic church’ in the Year of the Family: Keeping your family safe online

Editor’s note: With the publication of his pastoral letter, “Enriching the Church: The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond,” Bishop Robert J. Cunningham announced a special Year of the Family, which began in the diocese on Dec. 3, 2017. In his letter, Bishop Cunningham reflects on the mission of the modern family — evangelization — and how it can be accomplished by forming an “ecclesia domestica,” a “domestic church,” through prayer and worship, formation, community, and service. Throughout the Year of the Family, the Diocese of Syracuse and its ministries will provide resources families can use to build their domestic churches. This week: Tech use tips for your family from the Office of Communications.

 

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Cunningham notes the threat that technology poses to today’s family. While our ever-present smartphones may prevent us from communicating effectively (or at all!) with our family members, constant access to the Internet and social media by children and teenagers is also a concern to parents. Here are some suggestions for families looking to “disconnect to reconnect” and stay safe online:

Create a “Family Media Contract” that outlines realistic rules for the use of smartphones and other devices. Visit https://www.commonsensemedia.org and search “family media contract” to customize a contract for your family. Invite children and teens to participate in the process, including the discussion on consequences for not following the rules. Review the contract together as a family and post it in a visible place, like the refrigerator.

Set “Screen-free Zones” throughout your home. Experts recommend that, at the very least, bedrooms (adult and children) remain screen-free. Worried about where you’ll charge your smartphone for the next day? Set up a family charging station in the kitchen and power devices there overnight.

Institute a “Device-Free Dinner.” For some families, sharing a meal without cell phone in hand may be a big transition, so start slowly by agreeing as a family to one device-free meal per week. Make it exciting: create a free e-vite and send to family members via email, serve a special meal, use the “good china,” etc.

Review and utilize parental controls provided by Internet service providers, web browsers,cell phone carriers, and social media sites. Consider setting limits for device usage: parents can set restrictions on the use of certain apps, limit access to certain websites, and more through their iTunes or Google account.

Talk about being a good digital citizen. Educate your family on cyberbullying and encourage children and teens to talk to you if they are a cyberbullying victim. Learn more: https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html

Consider your family’s digital footprint. By age 2, 90 percent of children have a social media presence, and sharing photos of your children online can potentially expose them to predators. Be thoughtful about the photos you post on social media and, if you do post photos of your children, limit access to just followers and friends.

It’s important for parents to educate themselves when it comes to typical online behaviors of children and teens. The Safe Environment resources page on the diocesan website provides several links to more information: https://syracusediocese.org/safe-environment/resources/