By ANGIE THORNE
Guardian staff writer
FORT POLK, La. — A Family Life Symposium, hosted by Fort Polk’s Main Post Chapel, delved into navigating and coping in a world inundated with technology and social media. The symposium was held March 7 at Glory Chapel for leaders and others interested in learning skills to better deal with the fallout of too much screen time.
Chap. (Maj.) Jerrod Glenn, Fort Polk Main Post Chapel Family Life Chaplain, organized and led the symposium addressing the challenges of social, digital and online addiction.
Glenn thanked those in attendance for their courage in tackling such an important subject.
“Everyone has a phone. If you go to a restaurant, you see more people engaged in their phones than each other. There’s this social media revolution going on that’s taking the place of interaction. That’s affecting relationships in negative ways at a staggering level,” said Glenn.
Glenn said while the symposium addressed a broad subject, the focus was narrowed to key areas within technology based devices.
“Chaplains tend to face a large amount of couple related counseling and crisis management on a community level, all related to cell phones,” he said. “In a sense, the phone and the digital world are gateways to more harmful issues such as accessibility to pornography and sexual addictions. This is a personal and intimate issue for people, but we can’t just put our heads in the sand and ignore it. Getting this group of counselors, chaplains, leaders and concerned citizens together is a start,” he said.
Event topics included sex and the brain, predators and family impact, digital/emotional affairs and unmet emotional needs. Guest speakers included John Fort, Be Broken Ministries director of training — a Christian ministry that helps men, women, marriages and families overcome pornography and sexual strongholds, and Cindi Geeslin, a licensed clinical social worker at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Geeslin said that sexual media addiction is almost unavoidable in today’s world because people have been desensitized.
“It seems like every television sitcom and commercial makes some type of sexual reference or innuendo. You can’t divorce sex and its influence from digital media and the brain because it’s everywhere,” she said. “That leads people to believe life isn’t complete without it (sex), which is simply not true.”
Sex adds cement to relationships with a layer of intimacy and commitment, said Geeslin, but pornographers prey on people’s loneliness and cheapen it (sex) by making it a commodity to be purchased — making it a solo and shameful activity that objectifies women, she said.
“This (pornography) is out there and you need to know about it and make informed decisions about what you believe, not what culture tells you to believe. Then you need to figure out how to have constructive conversations about it,” she said.
Julia Stevenson, a Family life chapel intern currently working on her master’s degree in counseling, was part of the chapel team working at the symposium.
Having grown up with social media, Stevenson said what she learned at the symposium was a revelation.
“Technology and social media are an ingrained part of my life. It’s all around me and I didn’t even realize the problems it could create. Listening to the speakers has opened my eyes to the negative aspects of digital media,” she said.
Stevenson said that doesn’t mean everything about technology is bad.
“When my husband was deployed, it was a blessing to be able to talk to him. I’m so thankful for that, but I understand better now that it can also be a curse. It can become a hindrance to relationships by taking away time spent together and intimacy,” she said. “The symposium focused on those challenges and the skills needed to correct the issues.”
Allison Aebi, Family Life Center volunteer and licensed professional counselor, said the symposium was a response to the growing awareness that social media is taking over the world.
“People don’t always realize the impact it (technology) has on our lives and the way we communicate. It’s not just about social media, but access to all digital media,” she said.
Aebi said she hoped the symposium would bring an increased awareness of the negative impact digital media has to culture in general. “At the end of the day, I also want the people participating in the symposium to walk away with the ability and skills to better discuss the subject while educating others about the perils of social media and technology,” she said.
Alexandra Rost, 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment master resiliency trainer, said she attended the symposium to gather relevant information to bring back to her leaders, Soldiers and Family members.
“I think the symposium is helping people realize these issues in digital media are a problem that needs to be addressed. It’s important to learn and hone the skills necessary to combat the difficulties brought about by technology, social media and a lack of communication in every day life,” she said.
Tonia Gutting, a member of Protestant Women of the Chapel — a ministry where women can seek God and connect with each other through Bible study, prayer, fellowship, friendship and spiritual growth that adds to the richness of military communities, said she attended the symposium as a concerned member of the community.
“I wanted to know more about how this topic affects people and how to help,” she said.
Gutting said she learned it’s critical to know what needs society has and how to fulfill them.
“This includes identifying people at risk and addressing their needs. People can become addicted to media to fill the emptiness they have inside,” she said.
Raymond Folsom, a retired Fort Polk deputy chaplain, said he attended the event to support Glenn and the symposium agenda because he still enjoys helping Soldiers. The symposium’s ultimate focus is helping people learn how to cope and stay healthy, he said.
Talking about a technology or media-related addiction can be awkward or even shameful for people, said Folsom.
“Their entire life revolves around a digital world and it’s hard for them to talk about. It becomes a secret lifestyle that is an unhealthy way to release stress,” he said.
“This kind of addiction is a new threat that is untapped because the resources are easy to access and there is no real end to it.”
Folsom said pornography is the perfect example.
“It can be the substitute for an unmet need, such as loneliness. People have to find a healthier way to cope with an unmet need,” he said.