by Craig Maart
Oh yes, the blessings and curses of the modern phenomenon of the internet and social media. The positive sides are glorious. The down sides are very dark and destructive. So how can we navigate this with our teenagers? Whether or not your kids are currently using social, the fact is, social media in some form is here to stay. Therefore, we need to be wise and proactive when it comes to leading our families in this area.
This article has taken more time to write than anticipated. The breadth of approaches to this topic is wide; so how do I put this into a one-hit-wonder article? I have experienced the joy of students and my own kids using texting and social media to encourage friends and witness for Christ. I have also experienced the heartache of counseling families whose kids have been bullied online. The emotions are real, and the consequences are too important to gloss over how we interact online.
Before I give my points to consider, I want to fist say there is a bigger issue at play. This is bigger than the nitty gritty of analyzing the pros and cons, contracts with your kids, rules and boundaries. The bigger picture question to ask is, “Am I raising up my child to be a disciple of Jesus with their identity as the Image of God?” We need to be proactive with a greater purpose in our lives and our kids or we will find ourselves being reactive and constantly negotiating with our kids over online and social media uses. We have to see online and social media as an extension of our purpose from God as disciples. When there is clear vision and understanding of this greater purpose, it become easier to release identity issues and addictions to social media to God in exchange for his greater purpose in our lives. Otherwise we will constantly be checking our “likes” for validation and finding ourselves checking with our “friends” before proactively following the way of righteousness. See these verses for conversation on this topic with your kids: 1 Corinthians 6:12-13; Psalm 101:3; James 1:13-15; 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Here are my thoughts when it comes to social media and online activity:
1—This is not just an issue for teenagers.
Adults are just as guilty of overuse, being distracted, and falling into the comparison game. How often do you see families at restaurants and all members have their noses inches away from their phones? How many family nights are nothing more than everyone in the same house but all on separate devices? How many times do you hear your kids telling you or asking you for time and you are checking your phone again? I also hear from parents that they don’t want to follow the restrictions they desire for their kids. Therefore, they let things go and neglect to oversee what is going on in their own homes. We need to set an example for balancing our lives without being controlled by our phones. (Distracted Parenting: How Social Media has Changed the Way We Parent)
One characteristic of Gen Z (those born between 1995 and 2010) is that they feel used as commodities for others: school to take tests for funding, coaches for padding their records for promotion, and bosses for their time to make money off of. They can feel the same from parents; when we are frequently posting pictures of our kids, we could inadvertently be sending them the message that we are using their performance, social status, grades, and other accomplishments for our benefit with our family and friends.
The reality is, teenagers want time with their parents. They are NOT going to say it directly, but I often hear, “I wish we would just sit down and have meals together.” I promise you, kids don’t want Disney; they want the time and experiences doing things with you and learning things from you.
2—There is an epidemic of loneliness and anxiety.
More and more studies are revealing how alarming this cause and effect is. Our time online and on social media is increasing anxiety, identity issues, and isolation in people. This is especially true for adolescents at the most vulnerable time of their life. Articles like these shed some light on this reality:
Another characteristic of Gen Z is a desire for authentic relationships. They know what is presented online is mostly fake. They know what fake news is. They know their number of “friends” on social media does not mean they are real friends. Therefore, face-to-face time in real relationships is essential. Your kids need and want time with you. In CORE we have small groups that meet on Wednesday nights. In these groups they have an adult leader or two who will commit to loving and caring for them, along with the others in their group. I cannot recommend our CORE groups enough for this reason.
3—Replace FOMO with JOMO.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) needs to be replaced with JOMO (Joy of Missing Out). Lead yourselves, as parents, to take more breaks from social media and evenings spent online to really be with your kids, and talk to them about JOMO. Lead your kids to see themselves as disciples of Jesus, not disciples of their friends. Help your kids see how the comparison game has affected them. Help them release the need to constantly check their phones with the real freedom this brings.
Here is a recent article from Kevin Durant about his experience with taking a break from his 10 million followers:
I have never met anyone who is glad they are addicted to their phones or constantly checking status and “likes.” On the other hand, those who take breaks from social media and time spent online are typically thankful for their decision. There is relief and a release from the pressure of keeping up on “everything.” They experience far less drama and can live with joy instead of constant pressure.
4—Delay giving your child a smartphone and unlimited online access.
Because of the things I have written here, I want to suggest you delay giving your child a smartphone as long as possible. A smartphone is NOT a necessity! It is NOT true that “everyone else has a smartphone.” It is NOT a right of passage. When you give your child a smartphone, without a lot of conversation about identity as the image of God and their purpose as a disciple of Jesus, you are basically giving them something that will most likely add a lot more drama to their lives and conflict with you. Why set them and your relationship up for this pressure and conflict? We have to see past the temporary thrill of seeing our child happy when they first get a phone, for the long-term approach of “bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” They will live without one. Flip phones are making a comeback, so they would be ahead of the curve with that!
The internet is a blessing and a curse. No matter what, you need to be in charge of what you allow for online use. God has commanded us to raise up and bring up our kids. They are not to grow up on their own. Proverbs 29:15 ends with “… but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” We need to be proactive and help guard the hearts of our kids, no matter their age.
5—Excessive online and social media use changes us—and our kids.
Research is also showing how screens are changing us, especially our kids. We need to do more than pay attention to this fact. Social skills and actual face-to-face interaction need to be learned. Have you ever had an angry or irritated reaction from your child when you talked with them about getting off their phone or the computer? Are there addiction tendencies in you or your kids with their screen? This is a bid deal. Here are two articles to help us see this reality:
If you have any questions or want more information on teens and social media issues, please contact Pastor Nick or Pastor Craig. We would love to make sure you are equipped with the information you need to evaluate the decisions you make as parents.
So start with the bigger question first and go from there. Commit yourselves to raising your kids to be powerful disciples of Jesus who are able to be secure and thrive in the changing culture they are part of.