Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the most senior figure in the Eastern Orthodox Church, has warned of the global 'disappearance of childhood' and the loss of children's innocence because of the rise in internet use.
In a speech at the World Council of Churches in Geneva for World Children's Day yesterday, he said that 'the impact that parents and family have on their formation is weakened when the Internet functions as a primary source of values on a global scale. An electronic device is not a suitable replacement for a babysitter, nor can it ever be a good father, mother or teacher.'
Bartholomew said: 'While humanity has labored for the protection and preservation of childhood in the last century, the "century of the child" and the "century of education", we are shortening the span of childhood through the "optical" and "digital" revolution of the Internet, television, smartphones and tablets. That means that the power of formation and the space where we can educate children is shrinking.'
He said these problems were intensified by consumerism and the power of the market, in which children were 'forced to adopt a competitive lifestyle, to regard economic criteria as supreme values, and to identify happiness and freedom with possession and with the satisfaction of their ever-growing needs'.
He also referred to the growing problem of child migration, which sees hundreds of thousands of children undertake dangerous journeys with no adults to accompany them. Urging the need to 'act more decisively, more rapidly, more collaboratively and more effectively against this challenging situation', he reflected on a visit undertaken with Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Athens to the Lesbos Moria refugee camp in 2016, after which the church leaders said that 'the Mediterranean Sea should not be a tomb' but 'a place of life, a crossroad of cultures and civilizations, a place of exchange and dialogue'.
He concluded: 'The eyes of all children are brighter than the sun, and their souls are purer than light. They never bear a mask – they are full of confidence and cordial wisdom. For us Orthodox Christians, the most frequently encountered and impressive holy icon is that of Jesus Christ as a child – a true child and a true God – embraced by His All-Holy Mother.'