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25/1/2013 - RMG - Are there rules for educating young people in the digital continent?

(ANS – Rome) – For the fourth time in the last 5 years the Pope's Message for World Communications Day tackles the question of the digital world and the importance of making good use of the new options for communicating. The topic is very relevant and regards everyone with a role as educator or formator: parents, religious, teachers... We have seen this recently in an American blogger's letter picked up over recent days by any number of international media.

Janell Burley Hofmann, writer and blogger for the “Huffington Post”, gave her 13 year-old son Gregory his much awaited iPhone for Christmas. The boy also found he had another 'present' as well as the phone: a list of 18 rules, a set of commandments, so to speak that the youngster has to follow unless he wants to see his smartphone back under his mother's custody!

The matter is eminently educational and Burley Hofmann makes it clear from the outset: “I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it.”.

The rules cover the child-parent relationship (“I will always know the password”; “Do not ever ignore a phonecall if the screen reads 'Mom' or 'Dad'”), and includes good manners (“Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public.  Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being”); there is the matter of being responsible for the object (“If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs”), and some of the more delicate matters regarding sex education ( “no porn”; or “Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts.. … It could ruin your teenage/adult life. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear – including a bad reputation”)

The suggestions that strike one most, however, are those that deal with the relationship that young Gregory – who is naturally a “digital native” – needs to set up through his smartphone. In fact they are rules that invite the youngster to both use the potential of this technology but also know how to detach himself from the digital and experience life as it really is.

For example, Rule 15: “Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff.  Your generation has access to music like never before in history.  Take advantage of that gift.  Expand your horizons”.

The letter went viral immediately and has given rise to much comment. It is of worldwide interest and recalls an undeniable fact: educators need to continue their role in the digital world as well.

We too have joined in the provocation offered by this mother/blogger hoping to offer a contribution that is not so much rule-based but an invitation to reflection for anyone called to educate and form the young, including young religious.

Published 25/01/2013

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