Going off the rails

It's easy to see the train going off the tracks. Many signs should have summoned the red lights. Alas, all too often a government policy seems a good idea at the time -- a bill covering prescription drugs for acute pain -- until someone else finds the pills in the medicine cabinet.

The unintended consequences come along later and become a rock in the road. Daily we are reminded of social destruction. Drug abuses, physical and mental, are rampant. Who can believe that allowing so-called medical marijuana is worthy legislation? As night follows day, new treatment centers will expand to deal with more addictions and overdoses.

Yet Americans are more divided than ever about which policies the country should adopt. Divisions grow but they began long before the recent heated election. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey indicates these divisions reach beyond Washington into the culture, economy and social fabric. In fact, the data suggest that political division is greater today between the parties, as people increasingly disagree not just on policy. It is more that we inhabit separate worlds -- worlds of differing social and cultural values.

The gulf is visible in an array of issues and attitudes. Democrats are twice as likely to say they never go to church as are Republicans, and they are eight times as likely to favor government action on climate change. Examining issues of social change, the parties divide again. More than three-quarters of Democrats, but less than one-third of Republicans, say they felt comfortable with social changes that have made the U.S. more diverse.

The family has been the social safety network for generations. However, increased diversity of views and opinions brings multiple norms for family behaviors. Take for example the Sunday dinner, once an American staple. Isn't it likely that venues such as Facebook and Twitter cause greater discord? How many postings by family members rattle those in receipt? Perhaps, this is a major contributor to the decline of the Sunday family dinner, though some in our parish continue the linen cloth tradition. At these gatherings, political discord can erupt. That possibility is nothing new, but the level of division is new.

What affects the family should be the red light or the green light for passing legislation. There's no going for the easy fix here. No network substitution for the importance of family will do.

Faith, family and schools are linked together. While our schools are still solid brick and mortar, much education seeps over the air waves. Valuable information lies at the students' finger tips, but much of what they absorb from social media is less than desirable. And then there is their addiction to their devices.

Observe any mealtime in a restaurant or at school and you will see students on their phones, rather than engaging in face-to-face interaction and exchange of ideas.

Some are addicted to ugly sites. Pornography is causing major social dysfunction. Scientists are increasingly reporting on sexual pollution. It is possible to recognize sexual pollution in the way we currently talk about air and water pollution. Catholic World Report writer Benjamin Wiker Print suggests we easily condemn evil effects of dumping raw sewage in streams or carbon dioxide into the air, but why be shy about sexual pollution.

Advertisers already invade television and online channels with product information aiding matters of sexual dysfunction, but scientists tell us any addiction "hijacks" the brain. Further, that addiction overworks the "pleasure" neuro transmitter dopamine and makes the addict look for an ever stronger fix -- spending more time chasing unnatural stimuli. We take on this topic because we know families who struggle with issues of sexual addiction induced by dangerous websites.

On this bleak note, what can parents do to strengthen the family and get back on the rails? A few ideas:

1) Examine the curriculum of schools at all levels. The content of the curriculum puts ideas into your children's heads. Are these ideas compatible with your faith and family? Where will your children thrive in a healthy and Catholic environment?

2) Everything is not acceptable. We are not "judgmental parents" simply because we have rules and expectations for our children's behavior. That's what families do. Aunt Jean should still be listened to even when she gives unwanted advice. Families have been the backbone -- the rails -- of societies fairly successfully by observing natural laws.

3) Parents need to be vigilant and to monitor their children's devices -- that means iPhones, iPads, computers. Those devices and the content they deliver have a huge impact on their values. Yes, such inspection puts limits on their freedom and their "rights," and there will be arguments over this point. But that comes with the job of being a parent.

4) Talk about issues -- such as sex -- with your kids. Conversation brings in the light of day. The devil wants them to keep stuff down and deep. Establish a sense of "you can talk to me." Or a priest. That's one of the reasons for confession.

5) Have fun with your family. Be active with your children and include their friends in your activities and chores. If their friends spout alien ideas, never mind. Show them how a good family operates.

Despite our political and social differences, we can't live in our own little bubble. It's the job of each of us to "get back on the rails."

- Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, Mass.