With #Quarentine2020 we find ourselves spending a lot more time on social media just to be, well, social! But with the increased use of the internet, how can you be sure your teens are safe?
(This blog post is specifically written for the parents in our audience, but there are a few truths for all of us to learn)
How we see it
Social media (how parents think their teens see it): a way to get to know celebrities or your friend’s friend, a place to keep up with trends, the only way to keep up with friends, a right of passage, a way to gauge popularity, a place to learn about a person before you even meet them, an outlet for creativity, a source of information, a means of connection.
Social media (how teens think their parents see it): a certain way to end true connectivity, the fuel for comparison, a tool that gives too much power, a platform for the world’s evil to thrive in, a place where eyes will be exposed to too much, the apps that will be the end of us all.
It’s no secret that parents and teens have different perceptions of social media. There are elements of truth in what both sides think about social media. But these differences in perception are creating a wall between us. This wall is destructive. It is obstructive. And the only hope we have against the negative effects of social media is to break down this wall.
What we’re facing
The smartphone gives access to the world. With Google and other search engines, literally any information, any image, any video is at a child’s fingertips. Any social media account (Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok) can be accessed, of friends, of celebrities, and of strangers. YouTube and Netflix and Hulu and other streaming services have a wealth of content that is easily available. And of course the content on any of these platforms is not all wholesome by any stretch of the imagination. When not used within boundaries, they can normalize and exploit sexuality.
Not only do children and teens have access to the world, the world has access to them. Before it was common for young kids and teens to own smartphones, proximity was the only way that predators could be a threat. With smartphones and other devices, predators now can have a hold even in our homes. This video experiment by Bark shows that sobering reality:
What can we do?
Heartbreaking. Distressing. Appalling. These are all appropriate words to describe this kind of knowledge. But knowing that parents could have these reactions to the truth about what social media can be only fortifies that dividing wall. Fear isolates us. Fearing their parents’ distress, fearing their anger, their disappointment and shock can hinder teens and kids from bringing the truth into the light.
If this only reinforces the wall, what is there possibly to do? Closely monitor everything that is seen? Place internet restrictions? Ban social media and streaming services altogether? I am no authority on what rules and restrictions are helpful for your home. A good resource in this area is Protect Young Eyes.
What I do know is that each family will come to their own convictions, with the loving guidance of God through His Holy Spirit. What I do know is that it is important to start tearing down the wall, brick by brick. This means having hard conversations. This means talking about what may feel uncomfortable. This means communicating early and often.
Unfortunately, many parents, in an attempt to maintain their child’s innocence, refrain from talking about the realities and dangers of social media and the internet. But the truth is that kids hear a lot, whether at school, at the store, and even at church, which causes curiosity. And they need to be hearing it from you. With the internet, it is easier than ever to get information, to get images, to get videos, with or without parents ever knowing. If you want to be the one educating your children about sexuality, don’t let the wall be built between you.
As children grow older and enter the teen years, these conversations are vital to continue. Ask thoughtful, though not accusatory, questions. Show that you care. Keep tearing down the bricks. Research consistently proves that parent–child communication during adolescence about sex-related topics greatly reduces risky sexual behavior during adolescence and into adulthood.
Help them to build character in every area of their lives. Show them that you trust their integrity. When teens feel that they aren’t trusted, it adds another layer of brick. Walk with them in setting boundaries together. Show them your heart and show them your honesty. Ask them to do the same.
Fear is abundant regarding the topic of social media. It can feel hopeless to battle against the negative influences of the internet. The reality about social media and the internet can cause us to wring our hands with dread and anxiety for our homes. Or it can bring us to our knees before our sovereign and good God.
Communicate early and often with your kids. Communicate early and often with God.