Bernardo M. Villegas
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Parents Are Still the First Educators (Part 3)

          Education children in freedom and responsibility is especially critical in how they use their free time for entertainment and leisure.  Another article that appeared in the by J.Nubiola and J.M. Martin provides very valuable insights into this paramount duty of parents.  Parents should be rightly concerned about how their children spend their time in entertainment in the evening after they come home from school.  Here, more than ever, dialogue is of paramount importance.  On reaching adolescence, children may strongly demand an amount of freedom that at times they may not yet be ready to manage in a mature way.  This does not mean that they should be deprived of the measure of autonomy that rightly corresponds to them.  Rather it is a question of something much more difficult:  teaching them to manage their freedom responsibly and learn to account for their behavior.   

            There is no substitute for dialoguing.  It is the way to teach.  Things cannot just be rammed down the throats of adolescents.  Is also the only way for them to understand.  Teaching children to use their free time properly in worthwhile entertainment requires dedicating time and attention to them, speaking to them person to person, one by one.  The parent should avoid “lecturing” to the children.  Instead, there should be an atmosphere of friendship and trust.  An open and sincere dialogue that is affectionate and intelligent is the path for discovering the truth about oneself.  The human person is “constituted” through dialogue.  The family is the place par excellence where we learn to relate to others and to understand ourselves.  It is in the family in which every person learns to love and to be loved, in an atmosphere that engenders trust.  Trust in turn is the atmosphere in which a person learns to love, to be free, to respect the freedom of others and to value positively the obligations each one has towards the other.  Without trust, freedom grows in a stunted way.  

            An atmosphere of friendship and trust will allow parents to speak frankly with their children about the way they use their free time, always maintaining a tone of genuine interest, avoiding confrontations or uncomfortable situations in front of the entire family.  There is no need for giving “sermons” or conducting interrogations which could imply unfounded suspicions.  What parents have to do is to provide their children “criteria of judgment, articulating values, indicating points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life” that will enable the children to lead a truly human and Christian life.  Little by little, parents should get to know the environments in which their children spend their time and what their friends are like.

            Obviously, it is best if the atmosphere of trust and confidence has been nurtured from the earliest age possible.  If parents have educated their children in virtues from an early age, and if children have experienced their parents’ closeness, it becomes relatively easier to help them when the challenges of adolescence arrive.  Parents should not be surprised if, despite having been close to their children from an early age, they still undergo a crisis when they reach the teenage years.  They should not get discouraged.  Everyone in the family, both parents and children, need second, third and more chances.  Patience is a very important virtue in the task of childrearing.  An indispensable attitude in forming others, especially the young, is that we are patient with the defects of others and they need to patient with our own.  Good intentions are not sufficient either.  It is also important to dedicate time to family life, planning events that can be done together during weekends or during the holidays.  Domestic tourism, for example, is not only good for the economy.  It is also very helpful in creating a congenial family atmosphere, constructing what St. Josemaria Escriva, called a “bright and cheerful home”.

            To foster closer friendly relations with their respective sons, some fathers have organized father-and-son clubs which give occasions to playing sports together; going on camping trips either to beaches or mountains; and even practicing corporal or spiritual works of mercy together, like visiting the poor and sick to converse with them, bringing some food, clothing or other useful items with them.  These visits to the poor or the sick go a long way in inculcating a deep social responsibility among the children.  Mothers can do something similar with their daughters, getting involved together in hobbies like baking or cooking, sewing clothes, gardening and other hobbies. 

            A dictum worth following in educating children for freedom is to always keep them short of money.  This is the anti-dote to the harmful practice of strolling through shopping centers and buying an item or clothing that strikes their fancy, or have a meal at  a fast-food restaurant and go to a movie.  The choice of leisure activities has been unfortunately infected by the vice of consumerism, the belief that what defines the good of a person is what he or she possesses in material goods rather than what he or she is as a person. As much as possible, leisure must contribute to companionship, friendship and spending time with the people close to us, especially with members of our family.  Leisure activities must not foster habits that are individualistic, passive, little given to participating and showing solidarity with others.   Oftentimes, certain forms of entertainment restrict personal freedom and dehumanize people through “degrading manifestations and the vulgar manipulation of sexuality so common in today’s world.”  This way of acting goes against the very essence of leisure, which should be a time of liberation and personal enrichment.  In fact, as a famous philosopher said, “leisure should be the basis of culture.”

            Parents should not forget that young people harbor in their hearts strong ideals about which they can get enthused.  Young people are willing to do anything for their friends.  Unfortunately, they have not had the opportunity to discover that Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Great Friend.  In this regard, St. John Paul II said at the closure of the Fifteenth World Youth Day: “Christ loves each one of us in a unique and personal way in our practical daily lives:  in our families, among our friends, at study and work in  rest and relaxation.”   He further said that our society, so taken up with consumerism and hedonism, has urgent need of the witness of people who are available and sacrifice themselves for others.  “Our society desperately needs this sign, and young people need it even more so, tempted as they often are by the illusion of an easy and comfortable life, by drugs and pleasure-seeking, only to find themselves in a spiral  of despair, meaninglessness and violence.”

            In this task of educating children in freedom and responsibility in the use of their leisure time, parents need the help of the Government in the regulation of what can be shown in movies and television shows that are accessible to children.  We should support the move of the Chief of the Movie and Television Review Board (MTRCB), Diorella Maria “Lala” Sotto-Antonio to ensure that the right content will reach the appropriate age group across platforms such as smart TV, web-based and mobile devices.  So much harm can be done to children by the wrong content to which they have access.  Among other practical ways of achieving this, Ms. Antonio announced that Netflix will promote the use of in-app parental controls, which allow users  to place a PIN code and designate a “kids’ account” for young viewers. 

            The public should support the initiative of MTRCB to amend the law that created the agency to include coverage of online streaming providers. Even more important, though, is the active participation of “parents advocates” who will help the agency promote the “Responsible Panonood” program, as well as parent deputies who will help in terms of monitoring movies and TV Programs.  This is a role that can be played by a good number of NGOs promoting family values such as the Christian Family Movement, EDUCHILD Foundation, the Parents for Education Foundation and others. Under the principle of subsidiarity, the vigilance of parents is key to providing a morally safe environment for children in the use of their leisure time in this rapidly digitalizing world.  For comments, my email address is