By Barb Arland-Fye
Deacon candidate Brian Dugan stopped by the office last week to prepare me for the fifth-grade religion class he teaches at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. I substitute for him the second Sunday of the month while he attends deacon formation classes.
The lesson plan for the week included additional material, a video and follow-up exercises on personal safety to prevent child abuse. Time permitting, I could start on chapter 4 in the class workbook, Brian advised. A review of the materials indicated we might not get to chapter 4, which focused on the Holy Trinity.
I always look forward to teaching Brian’s all-girl class of seven; they engage easily in conversation and keep me on my toes to help them stay on topic. The girls also live busy lives; four of them made it to class Sunday. I greeted them with the news that we would watch a short movie in the parish hall and have discussion and an activity about it afterwards before opening our workbooks.
“Did you bring popcorn?” one of the girls asked jokingly. When I mentioned that we would create a poem (one of the suggested activities), another girl looked puzzled and said, “A poem?” Note to self: choose one of the other activities!
Roberta Pegorick, our parish’s director of religious education, explained the video’s purpose to the children seated in front of the large-screen monitor in the parish hall. The 10-minute video covered safe and unsafe boundaries, safe and unsafe persons and situations and self-empowerment.
I thought the video conveyed an effective message for elementary school students. However, the girls felt they had already gotten the message at their public schools. They launched into a discussion about what they learned at school and on their own about unsafe social media “apps” that put children in danger.
They described how the apps and social media could lure children into unsafe situations under seemingly innocent pretexts, which amazed me. I was unfamiliar with these apps, so they educated me about each one. Later that day, while proofreading advance pages of this week’s Catholic Messenger, I came across a story titled “Advocates detail ways to shield kids from online exploitation.”
The Catholic News Service story by Mark Pattison confirmed everything the fifth-graders told me that morning, and provided additional details that underscore our need to be vigilant online and offline for the sake of our nation’s children.
Pattison quoted Haley Halverson, vice president of advocacy and outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation: ‘“Social media is removing previous barriers to grooming victims for child abusers, sex traffickers, pimps and even sex buyers themselves because apps make minors’ accounts easily discoverable and accessible.”
The representative of a firm seeking to protect children from exposure to pornography suggested in the article that social media might be the next industry to come under federal regulation. He pointed out that meatpacking, automobile manufacturing and other industries had been regulated to make their products and American consumers safer.
Back in the classroom at Our Lady of the River, we discussed how the girls could maintain safety and self-empowerment in their daily lives. They demonstrated through the examples they shared the trust they have in their parents and other significant adults. They also described a few situations where they felt uncomfortable and reluctant to express that discomfort. We talked about what they could do in the future, if faced with those situations again.
The girls and I did not get through chapter 4 on the Holy Trinity, but we left the classroom with valuable lessons about living as Catholics in today’s social media-fueled world.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)