Jesus, kids, and social media
It's very intimidating to write anything geared towards parents regarding children.
There are so many perspectives and an endless combination of personality/belief/application
I manage a team of about 15 people, and one of them had been with us for about 3 years (longer than most). When she left the company and moved on to other things, she also removed all of us from all of her social media accounts. This was the "talk of the town" for a couple weeks as people dealt with confusion, sarcastic humor, and slight hurt. The majority of my employees are in their early twenties, and this reaction shows the symbiotic relationship between people and their online selves.
What I mean to do with this article, is help us who are not socially tech savvy to engage our kids regarding social media. The easy way out here is to completely disengage, or maybe it's just as easy to become an online dictator who filters/blocks/deactivates any threatening content or "friends". What we want to do is lead our children in the grace and love and justice of our Lord in all things, including social media.
We are called by Jesus in Matthew 25 and Mark 16 to go and make disciples (baptize them, teach them) and to proclaim the gospel to all of creation. There is no difference for our kids, they need this. So it is with the gospel and commission of Christ that we are to come along side them as they navigate the complexities of social media and online "life". I'm just going to list a few common evils that they will most likely encounter, along with some general wisdom and scripture to help us turn a bad situation into an opportunity to teach them what Jesus commanded.
Cyberbullying is real and it's damaging. There are a number of organizations committed to the fight against bullying and cyberbullying, so do some research if you're skeptical. Then, engage your kids with questions: "have you been bullied online?" You know your kids and you know how to go about doing this in a way that they will respond to. Maybe they don't realize that they're being bullied, maybe they just ignore it, maybe they turn it into an opportunity for selfish attention seeking, maybe they lash back and seek revenge. Whatever the case, giving them a place to process the hurt from comments online is huge and they need reassurance of their identity. For them to receive hurt from a digital source and healing from an organic source (you) is a helpful way for them to see the reality of their hearts. They are spiritual beings, and regardless of the source, they feel pain and recovery in their souls. That can then lead to a conversation about how to be a force for good online. I love what Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” How applicable to our online presence! Keep your comments kind, post against online bullying ("do justice"), and be humble before God as you interact with others. This kind of action will make Jesus stand out fiercely unique in the midst of an angry online community.
What if your kid is the bully? How are you going to ask that question? How will you respond? I think Ephesians 2 is a great platform to talk about the reality of who we are, and who we once were. At the end of the chapter Paul reminds us that we were saved for good works that God already prepared for us to do. Remind your kids that mean and hurtful language is an insult to the Cross, and makes Jesus look like a waste of time for those who don't know him. How impressive and impactful would it be for a kid to apologize openly in a "public" setting like that? A changed bully shows the power of a kind Savior.
Bad relationships and online predators:
We want to protect our children from all and every malicious threat. We know that the Father has a heart for children as Jesus repeatedly welcomed children into his close presence. In Exodus 22 the Lord said, “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” This is a fierce and righteous promise to those who would harm the orphans of Israel. This is His heart, so we feel it too. It is our natural tendency, then, to monitor, control and if necessary block and prohibit our children's online relationships when we see them as a threat in any capacity. However, our children (young adults) will someday soon not have us as a filter, or a parental controlled firewall to shelter them from the evils of the world, and the digital harm that comes their way. What can we do now to help prepare them for dangerous interaction with others? “...Discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you,” Proverbs 2:11 ESV. Proverbs 2 is fantastic, and deals closely with how the Lord protects his people both directly, and by means of instilling wisdom into them. This is the direction we want to go regarding an online presence, and the perils therein. It starts with an open dialog between us and our kids around who they are in contact with online. Let's say a kid has a friend on social media who posts offensive/abusive things regularly. How does a Christian navigate that? Do we stand up for what's right and rebuke them, or maybe stay silent for the sake of peace? What about just removing that friend to avoid the hate they produce? These are decisions that we all face, no less our children. Let us navigate these scenarios with them and teach good biblical wisdom (see Proverbs 2, and others like it). This kind of wise decision making points to a wiser God, a God who can overcome anything, a God who can save from anything.
Additionally, they need to hear from us about the refuge and shelter they have in the Father, and how true and good that is. He is an unchanging and ever present help in trouble, that is a glorious and praise-worthy fact. Psalms 121 sums it up so well, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” Perhaps this verse and others like it are more for parents than for children regarding the very real dangers of digital predators and online stalkers. We can take refuge in knowing that our good and great God has never let our kids out of his sight, and we can continually pursue their trust in order to help them identify any dangerous contact online. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17 ESV
Here we go! The great struggle of the Information Age: wasting time online.... Where do I begin? I think there are two realities that we must believe in before we can wisely move forward in directing our kids to a healthy balance of time spending.
Reality #1. There is no time for wasting time.
Time for us is linear, and there's no going back, ever. What an epidemic of sin this is for Americans! How many hours have we spent wasting time in our lives? I don't want to think about it, personally. I would probably have an emotional breakdown from the numbers. But really, we are being constantly flashed with a furious clamor of advertising for things that are a true waste of time. This is just as true online. It's non-stop. Apart from all the advertising, the social media giants have designed their applications and sites to offer endless hours of entertainment and social possibilities. So here's what the Bible says about wasting time:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV
“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah”
Psalms 39:4-5 ESV
“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”
Proverbs 6:9-11 ESV
Obviously the Lord wants us to make good use of our time, being wise with it, understanding how little of it there is.
So, this may be the easiest problem to identify, but the hardest good habit to teach. How to be wise with our time, not wasting it! Now, social media is not a straight up waste of time, because it deals with people, and God really loves people. It can, however, and typically does, turn into time spent wasted. Hours upon end of unchallenging and useless browsing. So how do we counter it? I think there are definite times to just tell kids to go do something else, but does this teach them to spend their time wisely? Unlike the other topics, where a close and transparent dialog is key, this subject has to be both taught directly, and especially exampled in our own lives. Get ready for conviction. Kids replicate us in so many ways! How often do you happily/angrily realize that you're just like your folks? Well, your little spawns are probably just like you in so many ways, including how they spend their time. So be the example. Show them and teach them that time is precious and wasted time is a sin. Help them to self identify if they've spent too long on social media.
Reality #2. God created rest.
In direct contrast (but not contradiction) to the last point, we have to realize that God created rest and relaxation as a good thing. A thing that he exampled for us. A thing that he commanded us to do (once a week). So to those of us who are hyper-productive, this serves as a righteous reminder that self-disciplined time online for pleasure and leisure is actually just fine. Verses that describe this teaching come to mind easily (especially in Genesis). This reality is just to remind us that all time on social media is not evil. There must be balance between spending time on social media (which is not always relaxing, by the way), and not wasting time on social media. This is wise and good.
So ultimately, time spent online needs to be guided by wisdom and self control. More importantly though, the main reason I'd want kids to spend time online is to build Gospel centered friendships, and witness the love of Christ to those living in darkness.
This is the ultimate goal for social media: to advance the gospel in the lost world, to make Christ known, to make disciples. So navigate the hard stuff for the glory of Christ in your children's lives, not just for their protection. Times are always changing, but the great message of good news that we carry never changes. He is as true today as he was during our childhood, and as he will ever be in generations to come. May our efforts in all ways be guided by his grace, measured by his goodness, and focused on his glory.