The Rights and Duties of Parents to the Education of their Children And the Mass Media

Richard S. Aladics MA STL.

Today there are evident signs that the good of children is being overlooked: divorce, casual relations and the attitude taken by the State to many family circumstances, these are obvious ways in which the duty of parents towards their children is being interfered with. However, the mass media has become, in our day, an extraordinary influence over the lives of children and young people, and therefore over the rights and duties of parents. Many ideas about life are presented without due regard for the social order. False values and pornography have helped to break the primary role of parents in the education of their children.

In fact parents should have full access to their rights and duties with respect of their children's education, such that society and its media are called to support parents in their task.

When we consider the philosophical nature of rights and duties it is immediately clear that parents, precisely because they are persons with a special task to carry out, have a claim upon rights and duties which comes before that of the media, which is only an organ of society. Moreover, the family is a special subject of rights and duties.

The Family, unlike the mass media, pertains to the essential nature of man. Indeed, the social dimension of humanity finds its innate expression in the family. How do we account for this? The basis of the family is located in the nature of the human person. This nature is witnessed to in "the common conscience of humanity" [1], in philosophy, in culture, in the sciences, in law, especially Common Law, the ius gentium and international law. Furthermore, such an understanding about the family is witnessed to in the 1948 "Declaration of Human Rights", article 16. The same understanding is given profound treatment in Revelation and in the Magisterium of the Church.

Human rights and their accompanying duties are thus not identified in an arbitrary way, but are based upon the true goods and values of the human person. The true goods and values of the person together comprise the well-being of the person. These true goods and values are founded in the natural inclinations of man and in his ends as a person. Thus, both the natural law and natural rights are founded in the very nature of the human person.

The rights and duties of parents to educate their children is a specific element of human rights; it is a right which is recognised in international law, national law, the 1948 Declaration (Art 26, 3) and the Holy See's 1983 Charter of the Rights of the Family (Art 5). The Magisterium of the Church intensifies this understanding describing the education of children as the "proper mission" [2] of parents. The education of children, in fact, pertains to the essential nature of marriage: it is one of the goods of marriage.

Pope John Paul II defines the right to educate children as an original and primary right. It is a right which flows directly from the person, it is universal and is manifested in mandatory form. Moreover, it is not substitutable and it is inalienable - it cannot be negated or delegated (cf Familiaris Consortio, 36). The duty that parents have to educate their children means that they must also have the right to do so, and that all other agents of education within the community are subsidiary.

The Council document 'Gratissimum Educationis' speaks about the primary right of children to be educated and the primary right of parents to educate them. These rights engender civic consequences: that parents should be aided in their task by the whole community. It follows then that the community has rights and duties with regard to families: the community must protect the rights and duties of parents, the community is to aid parents in accord with the principle of subsidiarity and, in accordance with the common good, the community is to build schools. The Council confirms that the role of schools is subsidiary to that of the parents. [3]

The Mass Media, as an organ of society, is not the bearer of rights and duties in the same way as persons are. Essentially the media is ordered to the good of the person and society. In promoting the person's right to information and his right to communicate the media is promoting the person's end as a social being. The 1971 Vatican Instruction Communio et Progressio succinctly bears the purpose of the media in its title: the unity and progress of man. Two decades later the Instruction Aetatis Novae develops the notion of the nature of the media saying that the media realises the person's right to information, that the media promotes justice and the common good, and enables people to search for truth. The Council document which treats of the media, Inter Mirifica, emphasises the role of society in regulating the media and establishing the criteria of public service. [4]

Now, from what has been said we can make an important observation: that in the same way that a school's role is subsidiary to that of the parents, so too the media is subsidiary to the role of parents in educating their children. Indeed, society has the task of ensuring that the media maintains its subsidiary role viz a viz the task of parents.

In 1982 the Holy See published the Charter of Rights of the Family. Article 5,f of the document in amplifying the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, establishes the right of families to a truly beneficial media, and the right to be protected against the misuse of the media. This right is founded in the natural law and thus, in the nature of the human person. Therefore, the right to communicate information is secondary to the right of the family to a beneficial media. The media has a special duty towards parents and families.

The Church endorses the active role of media users within the media [5] and, singularly, promotes the active role of parents. [6] The task of parents in this regard consists in evaluating media production, selecting media, completing what is lacking in the information which the media communicates and, making their views heard in public. Indeed, parents have a particular right, within the common good, to express their opinions about the media.

Not surprisingly we find that this subject is given special attention in the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II Familiaris Consortio. The Holy Father describes how contemporary culture, especially a media which is a source of both good and evil, has interfered with parents responsibilities. He teaches that parents must respond to this new culture in three specific ways:

a. The responsibility of parents to educate children because of the state of the media, and the accompanying duty of the media to truly serve families.

b. The responsibility of parents to control the use of the media within families, and the accompanying duty of the community to aid parents.

c. The responsibility of parents to influence media production, and their right to be heard within society and the media empire. [7]

The rights and duties of parents are primary ones, the Magisterium of the Church emphasises them in a striking way. The media itself has the capability of promoting and developing these rights. However, the tendency today is to actually take the task of parents out of their hands. As I have noted, this is done by communicating false values, false conflict situations and bogus opinions which reflect badly upon the family.

When we reflect upon the actual agents of the media we find it hard to pinpoint who those agents might be. Within society as a whole and within the State we know that Government exercises only a pragmatic influence over the media and, apart from a few regulatory Commissions, probably the most dominant agent of the media is public opinion. In underlining the relationship of the family to society and in delineating particular rights and duties, the Church is declaring that parents are the primary agents of the media within society. We should not let the force of this statement pass us by. Parents have a responsibility over the media which is based in the nature of the human person and which overrides any other claim within the common good. This should not surprise us since the family is the true agent of human values, and it is the bearer of primary rights. The rights and duties of parents reinforce the family as the true environment for the education of children; these same rights and duties should be used more directly, within the public forum, to call for a reform of the media.

1. The Pontifical Council for the Family, The Family and Human Rights, Vatican City, 1999, para 1.

2. Gaudium et Spes, 50.

3. Gratissimum Educationis, 6.

4. Inter Mirifica, 5.

5. Communio et Progressio, 81- 86.

6. Inter Mirifica, 10.

7. Familiaris Consortio, 76.

Fr Richard S. Aladics


5th November 2000

Section Contents ©; Mark Alder and Fr Richard S. Aladics 2000

This version: 16th June 2001

Fides et ratio and Philosophy of Being by Fr. Richard S. Aladics

A Society of Households by Fr Richard S. Aladics.