Authors Posts by Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Francis Pizzarelli

Avatar
55 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It is already March, the temperatures are changing, the political rhetoric continues to intensify and the nation is now facing a new health crisis, the coronavirus. 

In the midst of all of this, Christian communities around the world have begun their season of Lent, a time of inner reflection and pro activity to prepare those who believe in Jesus for Easter.

The beginning of the Lenten season is marked by the spiritual tattoo of ashes in the sign of the cross on one’s forehead. At that service, Christians are encouraged to consider three different ways to prepare for Christ’s death and resurrection. 

The first recommendation is to find time in the midst of all of our chaos and craziness to pray, even if just a few moments, be consistent and do it every day during Lent. Not just the multiplication of words, or if you will, that give me God prayer but rather, use it as a time to listen to God speak to your heart.

The second recommendation is almsgiving; traditionally understood from a biblical perspective to give money to the poor. The focus of this recommendation is upon generosity of spirit — that the giving doesn’t have to be about money but it also can be about giving your time and your talent to others.

In simple terms, volunteer in a soup kitchen or a shelter for the homeless. Po’ Boy Brewery in Port Jefferson Station collected blessing bags for the poor and dropped them off at a local homeless shelter. Most of us reading this column could commit to bringing canned goods and other non-perishable foods to a local church or synagogue for the poor and needy on a regular basis -— that is genuine almsgiving. 

The third recommendation is fasting. For many Christians, it’s the yearly opportunity to go on a diet, give up all kinds of foods that we like and by the next day break every resolution we made.

Genuine fasting is supposed to be about changing an attitude or behavior that blocks us from fully loving and forgiving one another unconditionally. I don’t think it should be a practice only embraced by Christians during Lent but rather a practice all caring human beings should consider embracing all year long as we all try to make the world a better place.

This particular recommendation might be appropriate for all of our elected officials to consider. How about for 40 days, everyone who leads us fast from name-calling, from rude and disrespectful comments, from lying and misrepresenting the truth and from being judgmental?

As many of you know, I live with 62 people in the early stages of recovery hoping for wellness. At our Lenten service this year, I suggested in regards to fasting that they consider a couple of things: how about fasting from the F curse, how about fasting from blaming everyone and their brother for your addictive behavior, how about fasting from anger and the poor me pity party? 

It’s only been two weeks … but hope springs eternal!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that so much as happened since Christmas. The president of the United States has been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and acquitted by the U.S. Senate. 

Reaction to all of this has further fueled the divisiveness that has become infectious in our country. The rhetoric on both sides of the aisle is reprehensible. Those who lead us from the White House to our local town legislators should lead by example, no matter what their political affiliation. Speaking disrespectfully and acting vindictively under no circumstances is ever acceptable behavior from those we’ve elected to lead us or from anyone in the position of authority and/or leadership.

Despite that very troubling landscape, I was privileged in early January to shepherd a group of 122 people to Israel and lead them through the holy places where Jesus lived, died and rose. Our group was a cross section of all Christian denominations, predominantly Roman Catholic, a Muslim and a number of people from the Jewish faith. All of the participants represented a wide range of professions and religious practices.

We left JFK as a large group of strangers and returned home after 10 days of being together as a community of friends. The transformation that took place was beyond words. Every day we ate together, prayed together, laughed together and sang together. At the end of each day, most of us gathered to share what had touched us from the day’s journey. The sharings were remarkable.

The experience was further enriched by having the music group the HIMS (Hope Inspired Men Sing) and Her with us. All of our prayer gatherings and Masses were blessed with their music and voices. They also added music to our bus rides. 

These eight young men, who live at Hope Academy on the grounds of Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai, are in various stages of recovery from the affliction of addiction. They came together in treatment and created this music group that shares the message of hope and change wherever they go. They are a powerful reminder that people do recover, get better and make a powerful difference in our community.

There were so many moving moments during those 10 days — being on the Sea of Galilee in a boat much like the one Jesus road in; celebrating Mass on the spot in Bethlehem where Jesus was born; floating in the Dead Sea; renewing our baptismal promises at the Jordan River; praying and celebrating Mass at Gethsemane in the Church of All Nations; walking the streets of Caesarea Philippi; and singing and praying in the Chapel of the Encounters in Magdala where Mary Magdalene was born. 

On the final day, we got up at 4:30 a.m., went into the Old City of Jerusalem and walked the way of the cross – Via Dolorosa, singing, “Jesus, Remember Me” in between each station until we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for our Mass in the tomb where Jesus was buried.

There were many powerful moments during our time together. So many of the pilgrims highlighted the different experiences that touched them. Probably one of the most poignant and powerful moments was the concert given by the HIMS and Her outside the Old City of Jerusalem. A few hundred people gathered to hear this dynamic band singing about hope, change and transformation. Their final song, which is a song filled with hope, was entitled “Go Light Your World.” As they sang their hearts and souls out about being a light in the darkness, people took out their phones and lit up the darkened chapel where the concert was held. 

When we returned to JFK at the end of our pilgrimage, there was much hugging and tears. We had just spent 10 days in the most dangerous part of the world, never fearing for our safety, never sensing hostility or disrespect. These 122 strangers went beyond all of their differences and we were once again reminded that when love and respect are present, miracles happen; strangers become friends and hope lives!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

As the New Year begins, let’s not be distracted by a political rhetoric that is more fixated on ad hominem attacks and divisiveness but rather let us support positive action on behalf of all Americans.

As we begin a new decade, it is imperative that people from every race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and social class commit themselves to a new social discourse that is grounded in civility and respect for all people no matter what their political and philosophical perspectives. We can no longer remain silent about the reprehensible conduct of those who lead us. Being silent is being complicit. By that silence, we say that this horrific rhetoric and demeaning language is okay.

Our country is founded on the principle We the People. We must renew our commitment to stand up for social justice, for equality and inclusiveness for all people, no matter what their ethnicity, race, color, sexual orientation, economic or social status.

The leaders of our faith community, both locally and nationally, must move out of their coma of silence, not become political or feed the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness, but rather they must stand up and call us to civility and a discourse that supports and respects the human dignity and integrity of every American citizen.

Our moral compass seems to be broken. We can no longer count on those who lead us civically and religiously to recalibrate it. We must have the courage to stand up and be counted to speak out on behalf of the poor, work for social justice, for peace and for human rights for all and believe we can truly make a difference. I see these miracles happening every day. I think they can become contagious.

At the beginning of every new year, we traditionally make a series of New Year resolutions that we break by Jan. 2. This year let’s identify some important social issues that urgently need to be addressed and work diligently at creative solutions that will improve the quality of life in all of our communities.

Homelessness is a growing problem across our county. Our traditional approach is a poor Band-Aid that sets most homeless people up for failure. The poor and the homeless live in the shadows. They’ve no fixed address so they have no political representation — no one to voice their concerns and struggles.

Our Department of Social Services, which is charged to deal with the homeless, is working with an antiquated model that is outdated and inefficient. Therefore, costing you, the taxpayer, an extraordinary amount of money and does little to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in our midst.

Let us be mindful that more and more of our homeless are mentally ill, drug addicts and returning veterans suffering from untreated PTSD. We lack the basic human resources to break their cycle of dependency on the system.

Although Suffolk County has seen a decrease in fatal opioid overdose, the opioid crisis is still devastating communities across America. We are still paying lip service to a national infection but are doing little to treat it effectively. Evidence-based treatment says we need long-term residential treatment beds for a minimum of one year to 18 months, if we hope to empower the recovering addict to wellness and long-term recovery.

We have very limited resources in this regard. The few resources we do have are overtaxed with referrals and are underfunded. The time for talking is over; it’s a time for positive action!

May this new year and new decade be a new beginning for making our country great again — grounded in dignity and respect for all. Let us become the change we hope for!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that another holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving has passed. Our towns and villages are decorated with bright lights and wreaths. The season of hope is upon us again! 

If we ever needed to have our hope renewed, it is this season. Our nation is divided and profoundly wounded. Families are fractured because of our polarizing politics. Hatred and discrimination seem to be on the rise or at least more overtly expressed. People are obsessed with headsets, ear buds and iPhones. Human communication is impaired and healthy human connections are at an all-time low.

However, despite this dark landscape, hope and compassion still live. Every day I am privileged to witness random acts of kindness that are transforming our world one act at a time.

A local high school student recently had a collection for Pax Christi and filled two big cars with things for the poorest of the poor.

Christmas Magic, founded by a local attorney more than 25 years ago, continues to bring hundreds of volunteer high school and college students and adults together to make Christmas happen for thousands of Long Island children who otherwise would not have a Christmas.

It continues to amaze me how many local faith communities sponsor holiday season drives for various not-for-profit charities. It is beyond words how much love lives among us.

Every Tuesday I take the Long Island Railroad to New York City. I then take the train at Penn Station to Columbus Circle and walk to Fordham University’s graduate school of social service at Lincoln Center. I teach graduate school social work there.

For more than a dozen years that has been my Tuesday routine. I have always been struck by the number of people who are struggling and living on the streets of New York. They are not a particular color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or age. Homelessness knows no specific profile. It potentially can touch anyone of us without warning.

There is a particular man who sits right at the corner of 60th St. and Eighth Avenue; he’s been there for months. He has a knapsack and some very tattered clothes that he wears, nothing more. He sits on a crate and has a sign in front of him that says he’s homeless asking people to help him. It says that he has no family.

About a month ago I stopped to give him something. I said, “I wish it could be more.” His response was, “Thank you for treating me as a person and acknowledging me. It means more than you will ever know.”

It wasn’t the money but the human connection and acknowledgment that made the difference to that street person. I shared that story with the congregation that gathers every Sunday at the friary in Mount Sinai.

A few days later a young man in early recovery gave me a little lime green bag. It was filled with treats, a hat, scarf and gloves. It was for my homeless friend. He, his significant other and their 3-year-old son made the bag and asked if I would give it to the homeless man from them and wish him a happy Thanksgiving. I did that on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. He smiled from ear to ear and mouthed the words thank you as I hurried to class. I will always remember his eyes and his facial expression!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

“Acting responsibly in an irresponsible world!” was a topic I created for a class conversation in my Introduction to Social Work class at Suffolk County Community College. 

The conversation that ensued was beyond words. These college students represent the next generation of leaders and thinkers. They were insightful and challenging. It was clear to me that they were not being influenced by our present class of leaders or lack thereof.

What does it mean to live in an irresponsible world? They immediately pointed to our federal government and the lack of leadership. They expressed amazement at how so many bright, well-educated and experienced lawmakers could not have a civil conversation on any real issue. It should not matter if the participants are from the same political party or different political parties. They have been elected by the people to build bridges not walls.

This dynamic group of college coeds, most of whom are juniors and seniors, continued to talk about our irresponsible world. They touched on everything from undocumented immigration to health care, gangs, gun safety, racism, human trafficking and our poor care for the poorest of the poor among us.

As the conversation moved from an irresponsible world to acting responsibly, these students spoke about what really matters to them. No matter who is speaking, from the president to a homeless person, no one has the right to speak disrespectfully of another, to demean, name call and put people down.

Words matter. Calling people scum and lowlifes, making fun, calling people negative names; the list is endless and is clearly inappropriate. When people in public office engage in that kind of language, they dishonor and disgrace the office they hold, from the presidency to Congress. 

What my students found most disturbing is that so many respectable people elected to serve the needs of all Americans have been silent about this reprehensible language or have made lame excuses for why it is not a big deal. Some of our religious leaders have also have been painfully silent on this issue. 

My students pointed out that if their teacher or clergy person acted in this way, he or she would be sanctioned immediately and removed from their position. They expressed sadness that this behavior has clearly lessened respect for the most important office in the land — the office of the presidency.

So how do you act responsibly in an irresponsible world? Despite their poor role models in this regard, my students spoke passionately about being responsible, caring for the poor, being men and women of honesty, respect and integrity.

They acknowledged the need for more civic engagement on their part so that they can change the social and political order. They expressed a genuine commitment to restoring the social and political order to a civil and respectful landscape where all Americans are treated equally with dignity and respect.

These students expressed there is no place on the American landscape for racism, discrimination, violence, hate groups, divisiveness — no matter what one’s nationality, religion, economic status and sexual orientation.

We are a nation that was founded on religious liberty and freedom for all; a nation committed to social justice and human rights; a nation that must work to build bridges and not walls.

When the class finished on that Wednesday afternoon, I left renewed and hopeful that things will get better for all of us thanks to the next generation!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Hope House Ministries

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Fall is a wonderful time of year. On the North Shore, we are reminded of the beauty of the change of the seasons, by the tapestry of colors as the leaves change. This beauty is unfolding despite the horrific political landscape that is demeaning and reprehensible. Hope still lives.

The opiate epidemic continues to claim record numbers of lives from every walk of life, from every socioeconomic system. However, people do recover, reclaim their lives and become productive, contributing members of our community.

For more than three decades, I have lived among the most broken and wounded among us. I’ve been blessed to see human miracles every day. I have witnessed some inspiring human transformations that have strengthened my commitment to stay the course, especially when it has been difficult.

Every fall I think of the countless lives that have enriched me. I also painfully remember those lives that have fallen into the cracks. Their remembrance always challenges me to do more and to never lose hope or give up.

As I think back over the years, I remember different young men from each decade who remind me of why I do what I do. I think of what has become of these men. Each decade has a wonderful group of shining stars. The common denominator is each man was lost, overwhelmed and profoundly wounded. They had lost their way, but with a lot of support and love, they developed coping skills, not only to survive but also to change and transform their lives. They became extraordinary men. 

One young man who is now in his 50s is the father of three children. He lives in Wisconsin and is the executive director of a not-for-profit organization that services young people. He is active in his local church and works in youth ministry. Another young man from that decade is married with four children and is a practicing attorney for a large law firm in Chicago. 

Another young man lives locally with his wife and twin boys. He is a successful financial broker. He has given back for more than 20 years, anonymously dropping off pizza to the main house every Saturday for dinner. The present community only know him as the “Pizza Boy.”

This group of men from the 1980s refer to themselves as a band of brothers. They continue to connect with each other on a regular basis. Distance has never been an obstacle for connecting.

The 1990s saw the house grow in number with a new band of brothers — more lawyers, teachers, tradesmen and social workers. They all make sure that if they are in town to stop by, say thank you and urge the present community to stay the course and not lose hope.

One of the men from this decade who lives and works out of state recently stopped by with his wife of 15 years and their 12-year-old son. In front of myself and members of the present community he said, “This was and is my home where I learned how to love myself and love others and it will always be where my heart is!”

The men from the 2000s are doing great things. One is an author and a founder of a not-for-profit wellness center, another is a social worker in charge of a street outreach to the poor, while another is in law school on a scholarship. There is also a young man who discovered his gift for music performance who recently received a full scholarship to a local college. He and a band of brothers, through music and song, celebrate the message of hope through recovery and wellness on an ongoing basis within our larger community.

These are just some of the many stories of hope that have sustained me and encouraged me for almost 40 years. A very important part of the story is you — the community; without your love, support and encouragement none of this would be possible. For all of you, I am forever grateful.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Vaping is a new health hazard. Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It is hard to believe that summer is over and another school year has begun. This year the landscape for the opening of the new school year has been marred with another mass shooting and Hurricane Dorian, which has paralyzed the south eastern part of our country.

Schools around the country are beginning a new school year with intense anxiety around gun violence and the country’s inability to come up with reasonable, effective gun safety regulations that protect people’s safety and people’s Second Amendment rights.

The lack of decisive leadership on the part of those we have elected to lead is scandalous. The lack of clarity and the profound silence from the White House is deafening and shameful. Gun safety should be a priority issue that should not be buried in the political rubble of partisan politics. People from both sides of the aisle should be able to come together and pass legislation that protects the quality of life for all Americans. If they cannot, then simply vote them out!

As an educator and mental health professional, it troubles me deeply how those who lead us are quick to blame the mentally ill for all of our mass shootings. Every mass shooter has not been mentally ill. Yes, a number have, but our system for support of those battling mental illness at best is poor and honestly is so broken and fragmented that de facto it is useless.

We have an insurance system that sets people up for failure; when it should empower people to wellness. We must address the stigma we impose on people who need help with mental health issues and/or addiction issues.

Finally, we are holding the big pharmaceutical companies accountable for fueling the opioid epidemic. Will any of those billions of dollars be directed to long-term residential treatment or will they get lost in a bureaucracy that has lost its way?

We have to have the courage to do things differently, and the new school year is an excellent opportunity to live differently. Education is a gift, and our children should learn early on what a tremendous opportunity is being given them. Attending class, doing homework and excelling should be everyone’s expectation. We need to hold our children accountable; as parents we need to collaborate with teachers and school administrators to create the most life-giving environment for all of our children to grow and excel.

We also need to be concerned about our children’s social behavior. It is troubling that a growing number of our children in junior high school through college age spend more time on social media and texting than they do on face-to-face human communication and studying.

Ask your junior high and/or high school student if he or she could give up his or her cellphone for one month. Most will tell you no! Remember life before cellphones and social media? This present generation is not learning how to effectively communicate and build healthy human relationships.

One last concern as the new school year begins — vaping, e-cigarettes — are a new health hazard. Don’t be brainwashed by advertisements to believe that e-cigarettes and vaping are an excellent deterrent to smoking. They are not! Our children are not just vaping their favorite flavors, but cannabis.

These are not social behaviors that are healthy for our teenagers and young adults to indulge in. We need to take our blinders off and do our homework if we genuinely care about our children.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Father Frank speaks at candlelight vigil for Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These past two months have been an extraordinary time. Mass shootings occurred in California, Texas and Ohio. The Democratic debates in Detroit captured the nation. The unfortunate, reprehensible rhetoric that came out of Washington that lacks substance and is focused on hatefulness and attacking the character and integrity of people in leadership was most disturbing.

The presidency is supposed to be about unity, not dividing us. The presidency is supposed to provide support of the moral fabric of our nation, which is founded on diversity, integrity and the respect for human rights for all. Painfully, the end of July underscored everything we are not.

However, more disturbing than the despicable rhetoric coming out of Washington has been the deafening silence of our religious leaders across the country.

Shame on the leaders of all of our major religious traditions — religions that preach compassion, forgiveness, respect, inclusiveness of all; religions that claim they are founded on social justice and human rights, focused on building bridges and not walls. Your silence is deafening at a time when we desperately need your prophetic voices and leadership to challenge the infectious behavior in Washington. By your silence, you are complicit!

There are a few local clergy who are courageous, who are speaking out against injustice, who lead by example! There is a sign outside of a church in Mount Sinai that reminds us boldly that, “We must protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. And enjoy this life.” Amen; hope lives.

In the midst of this craziness, I witnessed firsthand the power of community at its best especially in a time of crisis and pain. In late July, a very dynamic and compassionate educational leader died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 49.

Rob Grable was the principal of Mount Sinai High School. I first met him when he was the assistant principal in the junior high school. I did a program on social responsibility for the eighth graders. We reconnected when he became the principal of the high school and collaborated on a number of projects for his high school students to build and strengthen community and social responsibility.

After his sudden death on a Monday night in late July, the district held a candlelight vigil to honor this dynamic, educational leader. Close to 2,000 people gathered in the rain to honor a man who was everyone’s principal. Mount Sinai was his life. He was everywhere for everyone. He walked with academic students, with the athletes, with the students who struggled, with the fringe students. They all claimed that Mr. Grable was their principal. His colleagues talked about a man of impeccable character and integrity, a mentor, a friend, a confidant, with tears in their eyes.

That night I was honored to be asked to offer prayer, but more importantly I felt privileged to be a part of a moment in history where we were a community at its best — men and women, students and former students holding hands in solidarity to honor a man who profoundly made a difference in so many lives, reminding all of us that we can all be people of integrity; that we have the power to make a difference in our world. It is fitting that the school district plans to rename Mount Sinai High School the Robert Grable Memorial High School.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Father Frank in front of the new plaque at the Cedar Beach basketball courts. Photo courtesy of Councilwoman Bonner’s office

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These are difficult days for our country and for the world. The rhetoric all around us is infectious and vile. Recent images from our southern border about undocumented people being detained in squalor and filth is unconscionable. There is no humane justification for separating children from their parents no matter what their legal status is.

What has happened to our moral compass that was once able to transcend political parties and nonsense and do what is right for humankind?

Despite this troubling American landscape, hope and compassion still lives. On Friday, July 12, I went to support the efforts of two brothers from Miller Place who lost their brother from a heroin overdose more than five years ago.

To honor their brother who was a senior at Stony Brook University and an avid basketball player, The Jake Engel Foundation was created. Jake’s two brothers did not want their brother’s senseless death to be in vain. They were determined to celebrate his life and “bring awareness, community and change to all people negatively affected by substance abuse in Suffolk County.”

Their focus is on developing healthy outlets for youth. They reach out to people who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They reach out to students who need to navigate peer pressure during school; people who know others who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They believe that the human community as a whole is responsible for creating a world free of addiction!

These two brothers could have buried their heads in the sand. When they started Hoops for Hope five years ago, the youngest brother was still in high school and his older brother was still in graduate school.

These two courageous young men have raised thousands of dollars for many worthy programs that treat addiction. Equally as important, they have raised the awareness of an entire community about the opioid epidemic that is taking so many lives senselessly in record numbers.

When I arrived at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for this annual basketball tournament, there was not a parking spot to be found. There were vendors everywhere raising money for this important cause. Thirty teams participated from all over the North Shore. Ten teams were on a waiting list for next year because of limited space. 

That Friday was really a community effort. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Republican) had the Cedar Beach basketball court renamed “Jake Engel Memorial Basketball Court “Shine On …” and a new plaque was attached on its entrance gate.

The spirit in the air that day was electric. I must admit it was so good to feel so much positive energy that afternoon. These two young brothers continue to inspire an entire community to be more. Their passion and commitment to make a difference should be recorded and sent to every elected official at every level of our government, challenging them to roll up their sleeves and lead this nation by example — working harder to build bridges and not walls and grounded in hope that tomorrow can always be better than today.

These two brothers and their parents are the embodiment of our great American spirit and that hope lives! Hope does not abandon us. We abandon hope! Let hope become the anthem of our souls.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Are our smartphones destroying the fabric of the American family? Think about that question. How many young families with children are allowing their elementary school children to have smartphones with little or no restrictions?

In April, I was at a celebration with a family with three children from the Midwest; all were in junior high school. Dad is a successful attorney and Mom is a tenured schoolteacher. Grandparents and an aunt were also there to celebrate the eighth-grade daughter’s confirmation. By traditional definition, they are a strong, intact family.

After grace was said, I was amazed at what followed. These children are bright and articulate. They are not inhibited to share their opinions. After a few minutes of banter, which I initiated, they immediately became obsessed with their smartphones. The only communication for the remainder of the meal was shared among the adults present. 

As I flew back home after the celebratory dinner, I could not help but be distracted by my cellphone observation. I decided I would be more attentive of young people and how and when they use their smartphones. I must admit I was taken back by my observation.

On Tuesdays, I take an early morning train to New York City. I teach in the graduate school of social work at Fordham University. I was deafened by the silence. Based on observation, most of the passengers were on their smartphones, their tablets and/or their laptops. It was the rare row of seats in this crowded train where people were actually engaged in conversation!

So I decided to look further into the smartphone issue. I already knew from my experience that smartphones were becoming a problem in college classes, so much so that I had to develop a specific policy on the use of cellphones in my classes. 

However, I wanted to know more. When did you get your first smartphone? How many hours a day do you spend on it? Are you permitted to have a cellphone at family dinner? Would you rather text than speak to someone directly or leave a voicemail?

I was definitely concerned by their responses. I sought input from my classes in a four-year school and a community college. All who responded were students in the classes I taught at these respective schools. For the most part, their answers were the same.

Most students said they received their first smartphone by late elementary school, early junior high school — that is fifth or sixth grade. As small children, their use of their smartphone was limited by bedtime. However, by high school most students admitted they were using their smartphones from 10 to 15 hours a day, and in some cases, even more!

Most admitted that they would rather text or leave a voice message instead of talking. The only split was with those who had family dinners where cellphones were prohibited; however, those not having a family meal said it was not an issue. They were equally divided on how many had a family dinner and how many had not had a family dinner since early elementary school.

These observations could not be seen objectively as conclusive since the survey is very limited in number. However, it does offer us a lot of food for thought. It helps to explain for me as a teacher why college students’ writing skills have deteriorated over the years and their critical thinking skills are almost nonexistent. The human connection seems to be lost. The next generation seems more grounded in one-dimensional nonhuman connections rather than face-to-face human interaction.

For the sake of our future, we need to go back to simpler times where people were more important than social media posts and human touch with respect and dignity more valuable than a social platform. We must reclaim the fabric of our American family life before it is too late!

P.S. I still write hand-written notes and letters! LOL!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.