Calling on all parents

Do you know how many text messages your teen sends each month? How does the number 3,000 grab you? According to the latest statistics released by the Pew Research Center, one in three teens sends more than 100 text messages a day, or about 3,000 a month. That’s an alarming figure when you think of all the trouble kids could get into with just a few clicks on a cell phone. 

The Pew Center report is just part of a growing body of evidence showing a connection between the new technology and relationship issues, including harassment, “sexting” and bullying among teens. That’s what makes a project by the Archdiocese of New Orleans so timely. 

The project in New Orleans was launched not long after a bullying case in Massachusetts made national headlines. In late March six high school students were charged with felonies after prosecutors claimed their relentless bullying was to blame for the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. Research combined with real-life stories prompted the archdiocese to take action. 

In an interview with the archdiocesan newspaper, Sister Mary Ellen Wheelahan, the safe environment coordinator for the archdiocese, said the campaign “Stay Informed, Stay Involved” included a multimedia effort to raise awareness in Catholic schools, parishes and families. 

“We are experiencing the children having difficulties with their relationships with each other in ‘sexting’ and texting, cyberbullying. So we want to get the word out not only to the child but to the parents. The parents have to get involved and check the social-networking sites, their children’s iPhones, and the log of the calls so they know who the children are talking to and what they are saying,” she said.  

Sister Wheelahan couldn’t be more on target. The Pew Center Report, “Teens, Cell Phones and Texting,” found that 98 percent of parents of cell phone owning teens believe their kids need the phone for safety issues. They feel better, they say, knowing they can keep in touch. That’s understandable. But that approach, if unaccompanied by the reality of today’s cell phone capabilities, can be self-defeating. Parents may know where their kids are, but do they know what their children are doing, or with whom they’re communicating? 

The Pew report found that 26 percent of the youths surveyed said they had been bullied or harassed through text messages and phone calls. Another report by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that media usage among young people has risen to 53 hours a week, with much of the activity taking place without parental supervision. So, there is still a lot of education and awareness needed. That’s why, in addition to public service announcements featuring Archbishop Gregory Aymond, the archdiocese teamed with the Louisiana State Attorney General’s Office to conduct presentations in schools. The archdiocese has also posted great parental resources on its website at www.arch-no.org/safe_environment.php

It’s encouraging to see the Church take active steps in dealing with a real-life issue affecting families and society in general. Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are meant to be in relationship; first and foremost with God, and then with each other. Since most of us relate in one way or another through the latest and greatest technology, shouldn’t Catholics take the lead in getting a better grip on media influence? The Archdiocese of New Orleans is doing what it can to make a difference. Let’s hope others in the Church follow this fine example.  

Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.