Saturday, March 17, 2012

The dark side of technology

Practice makes perfect
Virtues are a bit like skills. Both require practice. If we want to become proficient at a particular skill, we need to work at it. Elite athletes, for example, do not magically become stars. Star status, if it comes at all, follows years of practice, skill development, good coaching, and sacrifice. Natural ability alone does not guarantee success. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.

We could say the same about virtues. If we want to be virtuous, we need to practice making good choices from an early age, and we need good examples to guide us along the way. Family, religious tradition, education, and the cultural milieu play a role in shaping our moral character.

Technology not all its cracked up to be
Today’s technology, with its ubiquitous use of smart phones and social media, can powerfully influence the development of a person’s character. While technology has many good uses that benefit humanity, it also has a dark side that can negatively impact child development. Sexting, webcamming, and the easy access to pornography that technology makes possible are part of this dark side.

While sexting and webcamming appear to be more popular with girls, pornography is more popular with boys. It has become trendy for elementary school aged boys to view pornography on their smart phones while riding the school bus.

An overtly sexualized culture
These behaviors are symptomatic of a much larger problem. Western culture has gradually become overtly sexualized. A 2011 BBC survey concluded that overt sexualization has become the norm in the television, film, and music industries, in electronic and print media, and in marketing and advertising.

We are being bombarded with sexualized marketing, and it is influencing attitudes about sexual behavior, and relationships. Sociologists and psychologists are expressing growing concerns about the hyper-sexualization of girls and the hyper-masculinization of boys. At increasingly younger ages, girls feel pressure to dress and act in a sexual way in order to be liked, while boys feel pressure to become tough and aggressive in their interactions with girls and with other boys.

A generation is in danger of losing the old-fashioned virtue known as chastity.

Recovering a sense of chastity
Chastity is often misunderstood as prudery. Although practicing self-control in any area of behavior is virtuous, the concept of chastity far exceeds the repression or denial of sexuality. Chastity is the ability to accept our sexuality, and to embody it appropriately in our interactions with others. Chastity enables us to affirm the dignity and worth of others. Chastity supports the healthy psychosexual development that makes good relationships possible between spouses, family members, friends, and co-workers. The opposite of chastity is sexism, which denigrates others and seeks power over them.

Today’s culture frequently treats human sexuality as recreation, entertainment, and a commodity for profit. These societal presentations of sexuality divorce it from its interpersonal context, and insult the innate dignity of the human person.

Since children have little context for many of the attitudes and images that bombard them about the human body and sexuality, sexting, webcamming, and viewing pornography present a serious risk to the development of their moral character. These activities, especially if they become habitual, desensitize the person to the goodness of human sexuality, and impair the individual’s ability for healthy, supportive, and loving relationships in the future.

We do not need to wring our hands helplessly because pop culture trivializes sex. We can help young people assimilate the virtue of chastity in its broadest scope as the respect for self and others. We can become moral coaches, not by preaching, but by our example.

We model chastity for young people when we treat others respectfully, when we eschew bad language and suggestive jokes, when we avoid sexually explicit media, and when we promote the goodness of the human person through acts of charity and justice.

Parents and others who are directly responsible for the nurturing of children can monitor the use of technology. They can ensure that the television and films a child views, and that the music a child listens to are age appropriate. They can use the teachable moments to communicate healthy messages about human sexuality and relationships.

The overt sexualization of our time distorts the good of human sexuality. The promotion of the virtue of chastity offers a corrective. We do not magically become people of virtue. Habits, good and bad, develop with practice. Let’s ensure that our children develop virtuous habits.

Photos courtesy of
"Young kid in action" by photostock
"Couple watching TV with children" by Ambro

1 comment:

profesora de espaƱol said...

Well written Louise! A very timely reflection - it is a struggle to help young people understand and learn the difference between reality and the virtual world which is distorted by all this overt sexuality. I guess you have hit the nail on the head with your last sentence. Developing virtuous habits in our children - a goal that all parents should have.