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This Sunday (and Friday!): Family Smartphone Resolutions

On the Feast of the Holy Family this we hear great advice for families: Obey your parents and honor them; live a holy family life; do not provoke your children. We also see a great example in Joseph as a father willing to go to great lengths to protect his family, traveling to Egypt and back for them.

All of this advice applies every bit as much in the 21st century as it did in the first century. But some extra “family advice” might be helpful in the age of computers and social media and ear buds. Here are some “Family New Year’s Resolutions” for the smartphone age.

1: Don’t check your phone in church.

Would you open mail in church? Then why open email? Would you pass trivial notes back and forth in church? Than why text? The house of God  is the house of God; just as we wouldn’t check our phones if we were sitting with the Pope in his living room, we shouldn’t check them in God’s living room.

There are some apps that aid prayer and provide liturgical readings. These are great — as long as they don’t lead the users to start clicking on every email and text and tweet and notification that lights up their phones. If you find yourself doing that, then you’re better off with the phone off, alone with God, than consumed with the greatest Catholic app.

2: Limit ear-bud use.

The evolution of isolating entertainment went something like this:

Porch conversations and card games kept Americans interconnected until the radio drowned them out. Americans sat looking at each other and enjoying radio programs until television turned all eyes toward it. Television sets gathered families around them for decades until the Internet and laptops drew people toward their own screens. Then smartphones and ear buds came along, so now, everywhere we go, people are all alone in their own individual entertainment worlds.

Don’t let this happen in your family! Schedule family movie nights; limit ear-bud usage to specific circumstances (exercising or certain chores), and never give children more technology than they need for their state in life as students, sons and daughters.

3: Play more group games and fewer video games.

The Hoopeses have experimented with video games over the years with our nine children, and we have always disliked the results. The boys become obsessed with them, and although this makes for a great motivator for chores, it seems to make them more sullen, less helpful and too focused on entertainment.

We know families who have used Wii and other systems constructively to encourage children to interact with each other, but my wife, April, and I decided it is better to encourage our children to find entertainment in the real world and in books. We have been delighted by the results.

Whatever strategy your family employs, it should firmly entrench the principle that the family is the center of your home life and video games are a small part of life.

4:  Filter your Internet.

Internet filters are not just for kids — with the proliferation of pornography, adults need extra help in making good online choices, too. You can find Internet content filters online in three basic kinds: filtering software; hardware filters at your router; and Internet proxy filters from your provider. Look them up, and get it done. Some parents also disconnect the Internet altogether for a period of time daily or weekly.

5: Love means turning off your phone.

I was struck (and personally convicted) by a Facebook status update from Brandon Vogt:

He quoted this piece of advice: “Leaving your phone at home on purpose when you hang out with someone is the new way to show them you care about them.”

“Great tip,” he commented. “Tough, but powerful.”

That’s what makes it a good New Year’s resolution — and a step toward a holier, happier family.

Photo: Flickr, Michael Broad

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

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Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Fatima Family Handbook and What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. He writes weekly for the National Catholic Register and Aleteia. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Catholic Digest. He lives in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife, April, and has nine children.