Some teenagers check their social media accounts 100 times per day.
A CNN article titled “#Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens” provided this and other eye-opening insights into the impact of social media on teenagers.
“I don’t like dealing with things face to face because it’s really easy to hide behind your phone but face to face, like, you have to deal with the other person,” one teen said.
“A lot of people follow me that I don’t know,” another commented. “There’s actually a lot of people who I have no idea who they are but I let them follow me because the more the merrier.”
A third teen said, “I would rather not eat for a week than have my phone taken away.”
Shortly after the release of the study, a follow-up blog, “5 Takeaways on CNN’s Study of 13-Year-Olds,” was written to help parents make sense of all the information.
It seems clear that you cannot fight changing culture. More than likely, those elementary kids you love on today will be living into this reality in the near future.
Toddlers’ intelligible babble will be tomorrow’s emoticons. The change to a digital society stops for no one. It’s happening.
But you can fight for unchanging truth. You can give your kids the unchanging foundation of Christ to build on no matter what comes into their lives in the future.
No matter what screen they end up behind, no matter what digital relationships they find themselves in.
Even now, when they are very young, you can give them the tools, the gifts, the foundation they need to enter this digital world and not lose themselves. Here are four practical ways you can do just that.
1. Help you kids create face-to-face relationships with real people.
Encourage healthy friendships by welcoming your kid’s friends into your home and life.
Be aware of who they are hanging around with at school and preschool even when they are young. Host the play dates. Get to know the other parents.
In addition to children, help your kids find healthy relationships with other trusted adults in the church.
Sticky Faith recommends a ratio of five adults per child in order to build a “sticky web” of relationships. Make face-to-face relationships a priority in your home.
2. Teach you kids how to have a conversation.
Talking and conversing are not the same, and social media is a great place for talking but a terrible place for conversation.
Words are often blurted out without adequate thought given to the person on the other end of the screen.
A conversation, when you are engaged with another person emotionally and intimately, takes awareness of the other person and thought given to the words you speak.
Take your kids out on dates and have conversations. Ask questions, listen for answers, participate in the dance that is dialogue.
3. Disciple children through you own social media.
As your children grow and as it is appropriate, let them sit with you as you scroll through Facebook or look at pictures on Instagram.
Not everything about social media is bad. Let them see that. But there are things that aren’t great. Walk them through that, too.
Explain that sometimes images pop up that aren’t godly, words are said that aren’t holy, and lives are flattened to a screen view that doesn’t reflect reality. Point them to truth in all things.
4. Be brutally honest about your own social media habits.
Social media has become a major cultural trend and something parents need to be involved in and aware of as our children grow.
But we can cross a line where social media can begin to define us and how we process life.
We need to ask ourselves the hard questions. If the thoughts of the 13-year-olds above sounded familiar to us because we’ve thought them, we need to consider what we are teaching our kids about the importance of social media in our lives.
The study offered a surprisingly positive finding as well: Parents are the single greatest influence in your child’s life.
“Parents that tried to keep a close eye on their child’s social media accounts had a profound effect on their child’s psychological well-being. Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts,” noted study co-author Robert Faris, a school bullying and youth aggression researcher.
Parents did that. Just by being involved. Just by being active. Just by being the parent.
Don’t let fear frame how you approach social media with your kids. Let the wisdom from heaven that is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (see James 3:17) guide you.
#Being13 can be an incredible time of growth for the kids you love, and God has given us all we need to get them ready for it by his grace and in his love.
Christina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on her website, Refocus Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @EmbreeChristina.