Dear Parents and Friends,
We often confuse the term natural with the term common, and as a result we sometimes view as natural something that is merely common. This is especially true when using the terms to describe human behavior. Thus we talk about some type of behavior as being natural when it may not be. Natural behavior is behavior that is in accordance with man’s nature. Such behavior is always satisfying and fulfilling because it is a result of man acting according to his built-in guiding principles. We humans are happy when we do what we were created to do. On the other hand, common behavior is merely behavior that is widespread among a particular group of people, such as a family, a culture, or a generation.
In an ideal society, what is common to the group and what is natural to each one of its individuals are one and the same thing. We see this in our own families when love for one another reigns. Common behavior to the family – a loving family – is natural to each member: to love and be loved. In these societies, the individual lives in an environment that is conducive to his being fulfilled and satisfied. In many ways, the environment itself helps the individual to live a natural life, to be himself, to do what he ought. And there are so many activities which are natural to man – walking, running, laughing, crying, sleeping, eating, talking, praying – that one would think it should be easy for man to act naturally, and therefore be satisfied in his life.
Unfortunately, no society is ideal. Our society, for instance, suffers from several discrepancies between what is natural to man and what is common behavior. We all know that in our own lives we ought to do what is natural to us, even if it is uncommon, and avoid what is unnatural, even if it is common. At the same time, we also know the power of the “everyone else is doing it” fallacy, which, by the way, does not cease to control human behavior once you leave your teenage years behind. This discrepancy between what is natural and what is common is perhaps most apparent in the widespread lack of respect for the dignity of the individual. We live in a society where it has become common behavior to denigrate the dignity of the person by using persons as objects, especially in a sexual context. Thus, respect for women is natural – a man can only truly act in a manner befitting his dignity if he respects women as persons and loves them with virile purity – but it is not common. This objectification of women is most clearly seen in the terrifyingly fast-growing problem of Internet pornography.
Those of us who remember life before the Internet have witnessed the growth of a behavior that has become distressingly common, and yet is deeply unnatural –namely pornography. Aided by the astounding accessibility the Internet provides, pornography has become a major challenge for teenagers who want to remain manly, and for parents who want their sons to become morally strong. The teenager who successfully avoids pornography is that much more likely to maintain a natural approach to young women and to be able to interact healthily with them. He is more likely to see the
person of the young woman, and therefore be able to truly love that person. The teenager who ventures into pornography will find it difficult to remain wholesome, for his personality will be diminished as he loses sight of the fact that he and others are persons.
Because the Internet has made pornography more accessible, it has also made its avoidance more challenging. According to the National Coalition for the Protection of Women and Children, over 25 percent of daily Internet requests are for pornographic search engines. At the same time, the more common way people reach pornographic content is accidental – through ads, wrong URLs, and e-mail links. Obviously, the young man’s curiosity coupled with the accessibility of Internet pornography presents a special challenge to him. According to the same source, 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-old men visit pornographic sites in a typical month. Ninety percent of 8- to 16-year- olds using the Internet have viewed pornography online, while eleven is the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography. As a result, many parents may have sons who have been exposed to Internet pornography years before the parents are even thinking of how to approach the “birds and the bees” talk with them. And many more may have sons who are regularly dipping into the dark swamp of Internet pornography, even as they continue to live apparently normal teenage lives.
Numbers and statistics help us understand the magnitude of the challenge presented by Internet pornography. As a parent, you must know that your children are susceptible to the pornography trap, and therefore you must take extraordinary measures to help your sons remain wholesome. It is only wise to protect ourselves, and those we love, from this trap, because it is especially powerful, extremely alluring, and frighteningly addictive. To take measures so as to prevent our sons from falling into pornography is not a lack of trust in their moral rectitude and desires to be good men. Nobody would accuse a parent of infringing on his son’s freedom if he took measures to prevent him from playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun. As a matter of fact, that parent would be negligent if he didn’t intervene. The comparison is in many ways inadequate, but it is appropriate in that they both have death as an outcome, albeit pornography’s victim is the soul or spirit.
We cannot be so naïve as to think that we do not need to adopt preventive measures at home. Even without looking for it, the unrestricted Internet user is one little mistake away from pornographic material. Why should we live unnecessarily one mistake away from serious harm? Would any of us leave gaping holes on the second floors of our homes? Would we not be that much more careful to avoid such holes if we had active boys in the house? We would certainly scoff at anyone who accused us of being overbearing or too mistrustful of our sons’ ability to stay out of those holes as we carefully and solidly patched them up, or at least placed a firm barrier around them. And the reference to the home is an appropriate one because it is in the home, in the family, that young men learn behavior that is natural to man. This initial lesson is then reinforced, or eroded, by schools, peers and society at large, but the family remains as the behavior’s birthing community.
The first, and most important, lesson a young man receives regarding the natural way for a man to treat women comes from clear and deep parent-son conversations about how a man should behave as a protector of the dignity of women. These conversations should start early in the young man’s life – remember the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is eleven – and take place in
natural ways as opportunities arise. The silver lining of the common erosion of sexual morality around us is that you will have many opportunities to point out the beauty of sexuality as God intended it.
Secondly, you obviously should have control of Internet access at your house. Just as you would not allow your son to rent pornographic movies, or would not give him free tickets to Vegas for a solo trip, you do not want to allow your son’s unrestricted movement in cyberspace. The placement of computers in open areas, Internet filters, the ability to check visited sites, and Internet access discontinued after certain hours are all ways to help your son. Not one of them alone is sufficient, and not all of them together will prevent him from obtaining access unless they accompany his desire to remain whole. Those means will prevent accidental access to sites, but they too will be insufficient without your son’s regular desire to stay wholesome.
In any case, restricting and controlling your son’s Internet use at home does not totally protect him from engaging in self-damaging Internet use. After all, there are more ways for your son to access the Internet than you could possibly prepare for, such as friends’ computers and phones or other electronic devices. Your son needs to acquire the right way to approach the Internet, to learn to use it for bona fide purposes, and thus you have a responsibility to teach him. In the same way that he learned from you to look both ways before crossing the street and to keep his fingers out of the electrical socket, it makes sense that he also learns from you how to manage the Internet. You would not want your son to grow up in mortal fear of electricity, nor to approach it recklessly, ignoring its characteristics, but rather to learn how to use it to his benefit. And so should his approach to the Internet be: fearlessly but wisely using it to his benefit as a professionally and personally useful tool.
You are not alone in this important educational task. Your conversations with your son can be complemented by providing him opportunities to speak with his parish priest, as well as with the school’s chaplains and advisors. It often takes more than a family to raise a young man.
But the reward for your son is both magnificent and guaranteed. It will be magnificent because a life of habitual respect for the dignity of the person will bring him happiness, and guaranteed because such a life will necessarily satisfy him. After all, he would only be acting according to his nature. He will not only be a man who truly knows how to love, but he will develop a great personality because he will be a fuller person. And that, although perhaps uncommon, is only natural.
For a fuller treatment of this topic, you may want to read Bishop Finn’s Pastoral Letter on the Dignity of the Human Person and the Dangers of Pornography found here.
Alvaro J. de Vicente