Education and The Media: An Interview with Francesco Belletti, President of the Forum of the Family Associations (Italy)

Education and The Media: An Interview with Francesco Belletti, President of the Forum of the Family Associations (Italy)

"Parents must have the courage to discover and enter into the media world. There is no other alternative: their children are already there."

—Is the family in crisis or is the family an opportunity?

The family is without a doubt always an opportunity and an option.

To form a family responds to the human desire to develop a profound belonging. It is a place where one has the certainty of being able to love and to simply be. It can become the perfect place for developing the fundamental qualities of the human person and the qualities in which society is built upon. The family therefore is not an extra structure; rather, it is the heart of society. We need to believe in the family, which is precisely what John Paul II called for most during his pontificate. Even though great fragility exists in families today, it continues to be the place for men and women to grow and become educated.

—Is forming a family a job for super-heroes?

Today in Italy, building up a family is without a doubt a heroic venture for young adults. To form a new family implies two already difficult situations: being young and forming a family. In Italy, it is not easy to be young. The Italian youth are heavily penalized by our education, work, and welfare systems. Moreover, the family is not an option promoted by the social context. Two young people who say today, “we’re getting married in six months", receive the response "wait, who told you to do that”?

—Where do we go from there?

It wasn't like this years ago. There's a need to rediscover the fresh and beautiful challenge of doing a project together, forever. Today, forming a family is not easy because it is an endeavor which one must take on in a cynical climate that leaves the spouses unaided, on their own. It demands heroism, but a conscious heroism that is capable of presenting itself as something normal, and at the same time, attractive; a heroism for real men and women.

—The parents also see that a part of their educational role is taken by the media. Can they recover it?

The parents are in a difficult situation regarding their educational responsibility, with or without the media. The difficulty is rooted in the reality of being parents: to say yes or no, to have authority and exercise it. In general, the context of the modern world does not facilitate the development of parental authority because it generally denies "respect for authority". On the other hand, it is necessary to remember that loving the destiny of the children does not mean leaving them alone; above all, it requires the parents to enter into harmony with their children, to guide them and cultivate the growth of their talents until they become independent. Authority therefore, is one of the fundamental backbones of education and ought to be recuperated.

—Authority as education?

I use the word "authoritativeness" and not “authoritarianism” because the two terms are obviously quite different. However, it is necessary to clarify that the role of the parents is radically different than the role of their children. Being a parent requires the practice of a non-democratic, asymmetrical responsibility that generates an unequal power. It demands precise and direct responsibility over the children, which is nothing other than the fruit of conjugal love.

—Is it possible to combine love and authority?

It implies that a parent loves his own child, not only because he is "other than you", but in order to make him become autonomous, to educate him in respect to the truth and in the capacity to find and understand the reality as "other than himself", as a gift. To love therefore, implies positively entering into the development of the children, constantly haggling, so to speak, their freedom. In this context, there are two key words that are related to each other: authority, authoritativeness, and responsibility. The authority implies exercising judgment of a good or a bad; avoiding authoritarianism or the extreme opposite, which would be the renunciation of the responsibility to judge. This approach favors an seemingly politically correct "laissez faire" that in effect, results in the surrender of one's responsibility to educate.

—What is the idea of family that is presented in public opinion?

There is a "no idea" presented in public opinion that renders it one of the most difficult issues to discuss. The idea of the family is left for each individual to determine, since any way of living together has come to be considered family. The family, not only from a Christian perspective, but also in the lens of being something good in itself, is the loving and peaceful encounter between man and woman, who are open to life, assume the responsibility and therefore educate. It is in this way that society is built.

—What would be the key elements of the concept of family?

There are four elements of the anthropological identity of family: the relationship/alliance between the sexual difference (the great idea in Genesis which affirms that image of God is rooted precisely in this reality: "man and woman, He created them, in his image and likeness"), the procreative capacity, the educational and the social responsibility. From the ecclesiastical point of view, there is the additional responsibility to build up the Church.

— What are the profound needs of the family that the media does not address in a reliable way?

The first need of the family that the media does not address is the need for truth and love in the relationships within the family. Today the family must frantically follow the rhythms of life that are imposed on all of the members of a society full of activity and commitments. The risk is that in the midst of this congestion of commitments, love becomes neglected. The most important thing is to be happy in one's own house, with the people chosen as life-long companions. Being family is not a guarantee for happiness. The happiness within a family is a desire and a task that each one of us must take on in order to build it up day by day, throughout our entire lives.

The second great need of each family, though difficult to recognize, is the need for sharing and openness. The family that limits itself to the confines of its own living quarters creates a poor family life. The openness to other families, on the contrary, is a social mandate inherent to "forming a family". At the end of a marriage preparation course, the real question posed to the couples, especially to the young couples, is the possibility of finding companionship and friendship in the place where they have chosen to live.

—Are there other needs?

A third need of the family involves the public discourse on the family. If you live in a society where the family is presented as a viper's nest, a place of violence or a series of imprisoning relationships, then it is difficult to have a positive model. It is therefore appropriate to think of how to present the topic of the family in a positive way, as "good news". There are many happy families, though with difficulties and limitations, but they are truly happy. These families aren't presented by the media or in television series. Simply talking about how young people today try to form a family is already a positive step, for it is a representation of that ideal that people desire to fulfill.

—Is it that difficult to educate in the context of the media?

Now, more than ever, the family doesn't educate by itself, even though this has always been the case. The current social context is particularly intrusive and extremely powerful; and, the distance between generations is more strongly defined by the relationship with the media world. Parents today are in the front lines of this change and they find themselves at a critical turning point; above all because of the power of the new media that brings people to live in a totally virtual world. Parents must know that all of the media is an opportunity as well as a risk. They must have the courage to discover and enter into the media world. They have no other alternative: their children are already there.

—Could you offer any practical advise?

Perhaps the key is to avoid one's own child from becoming isolated before a computer or video game console, and find in those means the opportunity to educate, adapted to each circumstance. For example, to decide that there can only be one computer at home, located in a common room (similar to what used to be done with the television years ago), where people share and grow together, helping to exercise freedom.

In other words, try to find a space where it may be possible to educate the family in the responsible use of the media. You learn a language in the company of others. Many young people are still learning the intellectual alphabet in the virtual world. Even though they know how the programs work from the technical point of view, they have not mastered the nuances of a language composed of moral attitudes, relationship choices, values that deeply affect them. They are immersed in the language of the media that launches them suddenly into the context of a global culture, where concepts such as friendship, work, love, family, God, have undergone many ideological social pressures, and this generates a disorientation of values that is very difficult to contrast.

Our families should become places of experience and of testimony to the beauty of being together, of family bonds, of the alliance of couples and of families. Only in this way can our young people know how to govern the new media and the ensuing opportunities , instead of being governed by the new media, as it is often the case.