Raising faithful families in the digital age

Parenting and living in a family in the digital age is challenging “as the technological advances we experience are constantly evolving,” says Lisa Hendey, who travels throughout the United States and internationally giving workshops on faith, family and Catholic new media topics.

“My biggest advice for parents is always to focus on nurturing their own faith lives and those of their children as top priorities,” says Lisa, who has been a speaker at parishes in the Diocese of Sacramento. “Technology will change over time, but the need for a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ and his church is a timeless way to ensure that we will stay on the right track in all aspects of our lives.”

Lisa is the founder of www.CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of several books, including “The Grace of Yes,” “The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion,” “The Handbook for Catholic Moms” and “A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.”

Speaking with Catholic Herald magazine recently, she discussed raising faithful families in the digital age, parenting of children with technology, and how people can prosper in their own spiritual lives. She offers these practical tips to parents:

  1. Technology usage should be a privilege for children, not a basic “right.” Technology is a valuable learning tool, “but children should demonstrate a maturity level that demonstrates their spiritual, emotional and intellectual readiness to employ these tools prior to having access to technology,” she notes. “Access to the Internet and good technology is a fundamental educational right, but I don’t think having an iPhone at age 5 is a right.”
  2. Parents need to model appropriate technology use for their children. For example, a parent should never text while driving, avoid using technology during family meals and act responsibly on social media. “Our actions speak louder than words with our use of technology tools,” she says.
  3. Parents should have standards, strategies and rules for device and platform usage. “In our family, we limited the use of technology in the private areas of the home,” she notes. “When they were young, our children (now ages 26 and 2 had a ‘no screens in the bedroom’ rule and devices were used in common areas of the home with screens facing outward. Your rules will vary from mine, but you should put thought and responsibility into this aspect of your parenting.”
  4. Parents should act with respect for the privacy and safety of their children when using social media. “We are establishing a ‘digital footprint’ for our children, in many cases even prior to their birth,” Lisa notes. “We must supervise their use of technology, but we should also respect their privacy in our own usage.”
  5. Just in the same way parents would not send a child out to drive a car without proper instruction, they should not provide them with access to technology without education and spiritual formation. “The legal and spiritual ramifications of the ‘digital footprint’ can have a devastating impact on children,” she says. “We live in a culture that glorifies selfies and use of social media. I’m a fan of teens using Instagram to tell the story of their life and faith and teens can use these tools with great impact to share with others. But they can also put them in some very dangerous situations, so parents constantly being on top of social media use is important.”
  6. Parents should conduct regular, random checks on their children’s technology tools. They need to use the many available resources to be aware of questionable apps, platforms and media providers.

Lisa was born in Indiana but moved to Orange County with her parents as an infant and grew up in an active Catholic family. She graduated from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana and the University of Notre Dame, where she met and married her husband, Greg. She earned a master’s degree in human resource development from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., while her husband was in medical school. They moved to Los Angeles for Greg’s residency at UCLA and later lived in Fresno for 23 years before returning to Los Angeles with Greg’s appointment as chair of emergency medicine at UCLA in June 2016. They have two adult sons, ages 26 and 23.

In 2000, with two school-age sons at their parish Catholic school, Lisa launched www.CatholicMom.com, welcoming visitors online from around the world. The website today features columns by more than 150 contributing writers who volunteer their expertise on everything from Natural Family Planning to parenting humor. CatholicMom was initially an effort for her to learn more about her faith so that she could pass it along to their sons. Her husband Greg was not yet Catholic and she was feeling the responsibility of “creating a thriving domestic church for our family.” Greg later became Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

“I was active early on in employing emerging technologies to share the faith and was a ‘pioneer’ of sorts with blogging, podcasting, social media and video,” Lisa notes. “Those early workshops led to retreats, service to parishes and dioceses nationwide, an active retreat ministry and even speaking internationally at large conferences.”

The growth of CatholicMom led Lisa to create a podcast, “Catholic Moments,” in 2008, in the early days of podcasting. That interview format led Lisa to connect with her publisher, Ave Maria Press, and the imprint of the CatholicMom books imprint. She was also active on the board of directors of KNXT-TV, owned by the Diocese of Fresno, and hosted and produced “Catholic Mom” television segments and a show called “Making the Grade,” which focused on Catholic education in the diocese. In addition, she has been a frequent guest on Catholic TV and EWTN and does regular radio segments on EWTN and Relevant Radio.

In July 2017, CatholicMom became part of Holy Cross Family Ministries. Lisa moved into a consulting role, stepping back from day-to-day oversight of the website and ministry. The site features a daily Gospel reflection written by hundreds of contributing volunteers and a “Tech Talk” column which highlights the latest software, apps and programs for faith and family. Additionally it is home to a Catholic Book Club, featuring book reviews of fiction, non-fiction and children’s selections by Catholic authors. The site’s “Catholic Music Spotlights” highlight the work of Catholic recording artists in an interview format designed to help promote Catholic music and aid parents in helping their children make uplifting music decisions.

“My work is now evolving as I endeavor to broaden my service for the church to an audience that includes Catholics of all ages and vocations, and those interested in learning more about our faith,” Lisa notes.

“The goal of CatholicMom.com has always been to celebrate our faith, to nurture Catholic women in their own spiritual lives, to equip Catholic families to live in vibrant domestic churches, and to provide a positive outreach to anyone wanting to learn more about the faith. The blog and our affiliated social media platforms endeavor to create a community that will encourage our family of readers to learn about, actively practice, and share their faith.”

Chime Travelers series involves children as ‘saints in the making’

Lisa’s newest project, the "Chime Travelers" fiction for elementary school readers, is based upon the lives of the saints. The five books in the series for young elementary school readers are “The Secret of the Shamrock” (St. Patrick), “The Sign of the Carved Cross” (St. Kateri Tekakwitha), “The Whisper in the Ruins” (St. Francis of Assisi), “The Mystery at Midnight” (St. Clare of Assisi), and “The Strangers at the Manager” (the Holy Family).

Lisa’s books were written in conjunction with Franciscan Media. The series features twins who, when faced with challenges in their daily lives (such as bullying, body image issues and too much technology), learn valuable lessons from Catholic saints. The goals of the series are “to help our children know and love the saints, to help them understand their own call to sainthood, and to encourage them to recognize that they are cherished, valued, important members of the body of Christ,” she says.

For the past two years, she has been traveling the country to conduct in person and “virtual” author visits in schools and religious education classrooms. In these 30-minute sessions, she discusses with students their role as “saints in the making” and offers an overview of the book publication process with an eye toward encouraging children to share their own stories using the gifts God has instilled within them.

Learn more about this series and how to invite Lisa to visit your school or parish (in person or by Skype/Facetime) at www.ChimeTravelerKids.com.

Catholic Herald Issue