How a Different Approach to Lent Can Help Your Children

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different approach to lent helps children

Sometimes the easy thing to do in Lent is to give something up. We give up sweets, watching television, and maybe try to stop spending excessive amounts of money on material things. We might even give up the same thing each year.

Giving things up can sometimes be the easy way out of a Lent that could otherwise be full of great growth for you and your family. I often give up things during Lent too. However, this year I am taking a different approach and that’s to do something, to act, instead of giving something up. I started off Lent by asking myself one question: “What is something I can do, instead of give up, that will lead me to a deeper relationship with our Lord at the end of Lent?”

For many of you, you might find this the opportune time both to grow in relationship with Jesus and to push yourself to be the parent God has created you to be, which happens to easily go hand in hand with your personal relationship with our Lord.

There are many ways one can strive to be a better parent on a daily basis. Simply put: place your child first this Lent. You know what they need most, but here are a few ideas:

  • Be more present to your children
  • Ask them about their day and help them with their homework
  • Take them to church and pray with them
  • Play their favorite game with them
  • Cuddle, kiss, and hug them
  • Educate them on all sorts of topics, especially topics of morals
  • Learn how to protect your child

It’s never been more difficult to actually do these things in the day to day, especially because of the Internet age! Parents now have to worry about pornography, sexting, and cyberbullying too. Truly, protecting our children has never been more challenging than it is today. Parents need to know what their kids are up to on the Internet and engage in healthy, informed conversations about online threats. This is all a part of the sacred duties of parenting.

To equip parents to effectively protect their kids on the Internet and technology, the U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote a pastoral letter called Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography. In the letter, the Bishops share why the most important place to respond to pornography is in the home. The letter equips parents with practical steps to protect their kids and challenges common myths like “My child is a good kid and wouldn’t do that” or “If my child saw it, he or she would just look away.” The Bishops offer parents the following five steps to take, and Lent is the perfect time to reflect on these and integrate them into your daily living space as a family.

1. Form, protect, and guide your children

Parents today face increasing challenges in protecting their children from pornography, which can enter the home through many different ways. While popular culture sees pornography as acceptable, we’re called as parents to prepare our kids and protect them from harmful effects of pornography. As the Bishops explain, “You are the first guardians and teachers of your children and are called to be their models of chaste and fruitful love” (p. 18).

2. Teach your children the meaning of sexuality and love

Our children live in a hyper sexualized culture, as do we, that is awash in pornography. The likelihood that he or she will escape it unscathed is a near impossibility. The goal of parents should not only be to do your best to protect your children from pornography, but also to prepare them when it’s shown to your child by peers.

Along with this, create a loving and open environment where you can talk about anything, including pornography. You’ll have to be committed to doing this because creating an open environment doesn’t happen overnight. It requires steady action over time.

The Bishops encourage parents to “teach your children the meaning of human sexuality, enabling them to see its beauty as an expression of total love. […] [Do] whatever you can to protect your children from pornography and [help] them to reject it and other sexual sins as they mature” (p. 18). This will include having informed conversations, where you take time to listen, where you don’t give lectures, and where you prepare your children to confront what culture presents them.

3. Be vigilant and educate yourselves about technology

The Bishops state, “Be sensitive to the prevalence and sexual content in even mainstream television and film and the ease by which it comes through the Internet and mobile devices. Educate yourselves about filtering software that can assist in protecting your home” (p. 18).

4. Foster openness and trust with your children

Encouraging us to create a safe home environment, the Bishops say, “Foster openness and trust with your children, so they know that they can come to you if they see a sexual image” (p. 18).

To protect and guide our children, we need to have accountable homes. This goes beyond utilizing Internet Accountability and Filtering services. We need to be talking with our children and have a life style of openness and trust with them. Your children need to know that they can come to you with anything. That’s the goal of accountability. The software won’t work as it should if this step isn’t taken. The relational aspect is key.

We need to form our children in a way where if they see a pornographic image, they won’t hide it and keep going back to it. Instead, they’ll respond in a healthy way by telling you they saw an image, then you can discuss and process through it with them. Remember it is a traumatizing experience for them to see those images or videos. Conversations about love, sexuality, and marriage need to happen more than once and need to be ongoing.

5. Rely on God’s mercy and grace

The Bishops conclude with this message to parents, “None of us is perfect, and parents are the first to model [God’s] mercy and forgiveness that all families need. Rely on the Father’s Mercy, especially if you face the difficult situation of a child who has seen or uses pornography. Many good families experience this; you are not alone, and the Church is here for you” (p. 18).

In other words, be patient and merciful with your son or daughter. If you find out they’ve been viewing pornography, respond mercifully. Also, if your children or spouse have been viewing pornography for an extended time period, the process of seeking accountability and help from your pastor and counselor will take patience and mercy too. But, it’s very important and worth it!

In the same light as the Bishops’ message of relying on mercy, I wish to share one more note of encouragement. There is no ideal family. Not one! Even if your family falls along the way—and it will—as Pope Francis says, the strength of the family “lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love” (The Joy of Love, no. 53).

If you’re working to incorporate these suggestions in your life, I encourage you to utilize a helpful tool called CMGConnect Parents. It’s a free online course designed for Catholic families, which will be helpful to you this Lent and beyond as you raise your children with faith-filled morals, especially on the Internet. For our non-Catholic families, I highly recommend downloading our free e-book, Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives.