Eric LaMere, a 2023 graduate and valedictorian of St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Kenosha, recently won a $500 scholarship from the Knights of Columbus.
The scholarship was largely based on his essay on overcoming social media and online pornography addictions and how both have affected his relationship with God. The 18-year-old said he chose to write about the topics because he feels they are the most difficult struggles he has faced thus far in his faith.
“I also feel that they affect countless other young Catholics in America,” he said.
LaMere, who belongs to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Kenosha, plans to study computer science and physics at Northeast University in Boston in the fall. He is the son of the late Steve LaMere. He lives with his mother, Lori LaMere, and stepfather, Steve Rosenberg. He also has a brother, Mike, and a stepbrother, JC Rosenberg.
While LaMere admitted it was difficult to quit such strong habits, especially considering the brain’s pleasure center, he said that with strong faith and the support of friends, he believes that any addiction can be overcome.
Talking it over with a priest during confession was key in helping him to get through the challenge, he said.
“The priest told me that we, as humans, are simple beings looking for adventure and beauty,” LaMere said. “Social media and pornography are both mediums to achieve this sense of adventure and beauty, but in the wrong way.”
In the end, it was his Catholic faith that helped him get through the struggle.
“It was absolutely huge. It was the one thing that really centered me on my path to overcoming those challenges and guided me towards the correct path,” said LaMere. “So, I urge others who are struggling with the same issues to find beauty and adventures in their everyday life. Once I realized that God’s creation was beautiful enough, it was easy to quit.”
Eric LaMere’s winning essay
Throughout history, Christians have been tempted to sin and stray from the path of God toward pleasure and selfishness. However, in the modern age of technology, these temptations have invaded every facet of our lives. Specifically, the cell phone has opened the floodgates of temptation with the prevalence of social media, constant notifications, and easy access to pornography. These effects of the cell phone are insidious and cause us to stray from sanctifying grace.
In 2023, 95% of internet users, including myself, are also social media users. A recent study found that most teenagers spend up to 5 hours daily on social media such as TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat. At my worst, I spent 4 hours of my day on social media. This was due to the addictive tactics that social media platforms use to keep you on their app. For instance, apps like Instagram or TikTok track how long you spend viewing a post before you scroll to determine other content the algorithm should show you. This hooks young, impressionable teenagers with constant dopamine rewards to make more money from the advertisements the apps display. By doing this, free time becomes all about social media. We lose the time to form meaningful relationships, think critically, learn, volunteer, and pray. Whenever I was “too tired” to pray before bed, it was always due to hours of mindless scrolling. Social media has corrupted our minds and damaged our ability to think in silence and listen to God. To combat this addiction, I simply deleted my social media and set hard limits on my phone usage. By doing so, I have found that I have so much more time to spend doing other things I enjoy. I have also found it much easier to communicate with God and discern my path.
The average cell phone user receives hundreds of notifications a day. Whether those be text messages, calls, emails, or social media notifications, we are relentlessly bombarded with our ringtones. After each of these interruptions, it takes about 23 minutes to refocus. And when these notifications are constant, it is not uncommon for people to be unfocused for hours at a time. I have struggled to study, read, or pray with a phone around as the notifications constantly tempt me to check them, even if I know nothing important. And each time, I found it increasingly difficult to refocus and complete the task, especially during prayer. After a notification, I would often drift from my prayer into other thoughts, such as what that person said, where my friends are going, or what new post my favorite celebrity made. To solve this, I have started to pray with my phone in an entirely different room. There is no reason I need my phone during prayer, so why allow it to tempt me and distract me from growing closer to God?
Finally, the most detrimental effect of the internet and cell phones is easy access to pornography. Forty million U.S. adults regularly visit pornography websites, and 10% of U.S. adults have admitted to having an addiction to pornography. This type of content is the devil’s way to poison and corrupt our minds. It is impure and causes unhealthy changes in your dopamine reward center, brain chemistry, and views on sex in general. It sets unrealistic expectations as to what sex truly is: the joining of two people into one after marriage.
Admittedly, during the COVID lockdown, I discovered pornography as I had nothing else to do.
I quickly latched onto it as it gave me a fleeting sense of pleasure in an otherwise lonely world.
It was challenging to break the habit as, like a drug, it was as if I needed it to be happy.
However, through prayer and an awakening to the sickening videos I was watching, I went cold turkey. And, even though that avenue of pleasure was gone, I found myself much happier and at peace through my prayer life.
Ultimately, leading a good Christian life is difficult, especially in today’s society, where cell phones have provided us with multiple methods of distraction and unhealthy pleasure.
However, through prayer, discipline, and an acceptance that the cell phone is a problem, I have found ways to limit the effects and temptations of my cell phone. In hindsight, it is unsurprising that through the “loss” of my unhealthy “dopamine crutches” from social media and pornography, I have found a much more fulfilling and enjoyable life in the Church.
Need help or know someone who does?
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has resources available to help those who are struggling with a pornography addiction. Visit archmil.org/pornography-help.