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Screens offer youth the good, the bad, and the ugly

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Young adults struggle with social interactions due to technology, says youth leader
By Deborah Gyapong
OTTAWA (CCN)
 
 
Photo caption: The Ottawa Archdiocese is holding four consultations on the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment. On May 4, youth coordinators Melissa Monette, Michelle Miller, Fr. Vincent Pereira gathered at St. Theresa's parish where Ted Hurley, director of family and youth ministry for the Ottawa archdiocese, led the consultation and Krista Wawrykow, who works with Hurley, took notes.
 
With the ubiquitous use of smartphones and computer screens, today’s youth are struggling “with real social connection that is not through a screen,” says an Ottawa Catholic youth leader.
 
Melissa Monette, youth coordinator at Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Parish, was addressing a consultation the Ottawa archdiocese is holding for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment. “If they feel awkward they do not push through those emotions; they turn on their phone. They don’t deal with awkwardness or feelings anymore.”
 
Catholic youth leaders say young people face immense challenges, as well as opportunies. “Bullying has gone to a whole new level,” now affecting youth 24 hours a day, Monette said. “I don’t think any youth gets through this without wounds,” she said. The challenge is to help teens work through these wounds, and to help them from becoming bullies themselves. “It’s everywhere, damaging them, and we don’t know.”
 
“The amount of sex and drugs is insane,” Monette said. “I’ve met kids who said things at age nine that I had to look up. It starts way too young. There’s a lack of interest in God, in church, and in religion.”
 
For Michelle Miller, who serves as coordinator for young adults and faith formation at St. Joseph’s Parish near the University of Ottawa campus, university students, graduates and international students face “huge” financial issues. They have concerns about what they will do when they get out of school and where they may have to move to get a job.
 
They also face the challenge of the relevancy and trustworthiness of institutions in general, not only the Church, she said, noting the recent crumbling of the banking system during the last worldwide financial crisis. 
 
“Young adults wear an armour around them and you have to get through that armour,” Miller said. “They can smell authenticity a mile away. You won’t get through that armour unless there is some authenticity.”
 
Young people are used to being “seen as a commodity,” she said, noting they are aware of how much everyone has an eye on their wallet.
 
While Miller agreed with the concerns about over-dependence on screens, the ability to connect online allows them huge opportunities as well. They are connected to people all over the world and have access to materials on faith and spiritual conversion that are “completely out-of-the-box,” she said.
 
St. Joseph’s offers a 7 pm Sunday Mass for university students that offers low lights, candles and lots of silence, Miller said. Initially she favoured a more lively environment, but then realized the students craved silence.
They also seek out service opportunities, she said. In a narcissistic society, they “know it feels different” to help others.
 
“When they are convinced, they will do anything,” said Fr. Vincent Pereira, pastor of St. Theresa’s Parish. He noted how every year on the eve of the National March for Life, about 1,000 young people gather at his parish to walk to a candlelight vigil at the nearby Human Rights Monument.
 
Though many young Catholics no longer practise the faith, they want to stay connected, Miller said. They want their children exposed to the values they were raised with and plan to have their children baptized and confirmed.
Young people are also looking for tools to help them discern how to make good choices, she said.
 
“They are looking for a place to be accepted,” Monette said, noting that sometimes a teen “just needs to vent, to sit there and be upset.”
 
“This generation of young adults is the most accepting generation I’ve ever encountered,” Monette said. “At least in Ottawa, on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation – a person is a person. It’s beautiful how open they are to accepting people.”
 

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