Facebook and Pasta alike?

Facebook and Pasta alike?

Have you ever heard about a “media diet”? If the news hasn’t yet reached you, it’s time to turn to an expert nutritionist in the field: Father Paolo Padrini.

In his book, Facebook internet ed i digital media. Una guida per genitori ed educatori, (Facebook, Internet, and The Digital Media: A Guide for Parents and Educators; Ed. San Paolo, 2012), he offers his personal recipe for parents and teachers.

Simple advice is directed to those who, out of the fear that the unknown world of social networks may engulf the youth in an abyss of alienation, prefer to outright ban these networks. In taking this approach, these people renounce a platform of real dialogue that the author describes as a fertile educational terrain.

Padrini’s intuition, undoubtedly derived from years of experience with adolescents and young students, comes from having understood that Facebook and the social networks in general are an integral- and therefore essential- part of the new generation’s ‘socialization experience’. In other words, the formative capacity of an educator is realized and bears fruit only in the context of an open and constructive dialogue with his/her subject. However, this much-vaunted dialogue must contextualize itself in the various places where young people express their own capacity to build up relationships, and therefore, also in the context of the media.

Given the present-day impossibility to exclude social networks as a place of exchange for the daily life of our children, such as school, church, and the gymnasium, we need to welcome these networks into our family, and better yet, into our living room. Just as children can bring their friends over for dinner, they ought to “virtually” bring them over as well in sharing these online relationships with their parents, discussing with them the content and images of the communication that takes place on the web.

This could become the proper context in which to develop an educational message that does not serve merely to condemn choices or behaviors, but clarifies the messages and ultimately, the core values that led to these the choices. The aim is that young people better understand the social reality in which they move. The distance that the adult eye tends to measure between the every-day reality and the virtual environment has, by now, finally shortened. The relationship between authority, freedom, and responsibility- essential to any activity of an educator-must now find grounds on the media front, which has thus far been feared.

There are no clear-cut, indisputable vetoes or prohibitions deprived of formative value. There is rather dialogue, grounded in reciprocal trust that is able to lead to agreements about the how these tools ought to be used, timetables, amount of time set aside for chatting, the computer’s placement in the house, etc. Only in this way will children know that “the internet is a space of freedom in which their choices are at stake; a very important space in which to live responsibly.”

Ultimately, Padrini reminds us that the role of the educator, and in particular of parents, is to help clarify the objective: to communicate information and oneself with sincerity, in an effort to bring to light the authentic message that the child wants to express through Facebook , which naturally is only one of the possible channels available.

If the objective is therefore well defined, Facebook and the like may be welcomed. In real time, they allow our genuine friends to share not only in the emotions of the moment, but also and above all in the existential, edifying and profitable experiences, and perhaps even in our vocational and prayer experiences.

In conclusion, Padrini ironically and brilliantly likens Facebook to pasta: it’s appetizing and good for you, but “it would not benefit our body if it were the sole basis of our nourishment.” For a healthy nourishment, you need a balanced diet: one that contains the balanced use of various media and a necessary integration with every-day real social experiences that can then be enhanced in order to properly develop the capacity to cultivate relationships; a capacity that I believe to be essential not only for young people, but for every human being.

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