Connection, Communication and the Human Heart

Author: Esther Corrigan

Picture: Ultraslo 1/Flickr

Connection, Communication and the Human Heart

As teenage mental health problems rise, along with social media use, the Church must embrace technology and social media and use it effectively, says Esther Corrigan.

A 2017 report by the Samaritans found that, in the UK, 221 young people aged 15-19 chose to end their own life in 2015 – an increase of 30% on 2013 figures. Equivalent US evidence suggests this risk increases significantly in young people who spend two or more hours a day online and on social media.

Whilst much evidence suggests a convincing link between the two, perhaps, in our eagerness to blame social media, we are missing a step.

Our need to be seen and known, with what St Pope John Paul II called ‘the peace of the interior gaze’ (TOB 13:1), is being neglected, and we need to return to it.

In the recent controversial Netflix hit ’13 Reasons Why’, a 17- year-old girl takes her life, leaving behind tapes explaining how the actions of 13 individuals led her to that point, with social media and toxic rumours a central theme.

These individuals, one by one, take responsibility for their actions. It has become too easy for them to pick up and discard virtual friends, missing the reality of the person behind the screen.

When our communication becomes faceless, we lose real connection, as Pope Francis notes:“It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”

How Can The Church Revive This Connection?

The popularity  of the social media phenomenon will only continue to rise in the future. Pope Francis says: “The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth”. (2018 World Communication Day address)

This means asking young people what they need and meeting them there. How can we embrace the media in a way which sanctifies it, rather than supresses it?

I am privileged to journey with a wonderful group of young people through theASCENT – a 3 year discipleship process for ages 15-18. As that journey began, one young person said: “I just want holy pals!”

Recognising the struggle for Christian fellowship among her peers, she finds that connection within her PoD (pocket of disciples) – a small group who meet online weekly to discuss faith, share struggles, encourage each other, and pray.

Another positive example is American priest Fr Mike Schmitz, who produces YouTube videos engaging young people with key aspects of the Catholic faith and answering their questions in the context of youth culture.

Here is one of Fr. Mike’s videos:

How Can We Help?

Below are some suggestions to building relationships in effective and life-giving ways.

-        Dedicated phone-free time: Over the dinner table or for the last 30 minutes before bedtime. If charity starts at home, so does connection.

-        Check in: We all appreciate a simple ‘how are you?’. Reclaim personal interaction in its simplest form by showing an interest in people. Let those who are struggling know they are cared for.

-        Use media: Does your child,or a young person at your church, have a burning question? Are they struggling to find meaning in life? One of Fr Mike’s videos could help.

-        Be vocal: ‘That the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.’ (Philemon 6:1). People love stories. Describing what faith means to you and what God has done for you can be an incredible source of hope. For someone struggling with life, it could be a turning point.

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