“I don’t like dealing with things face to face because its really easy to hide behind your phone but face to face, like, you have to deal with the other person.”
“A lot of people follow me that I don’t know. 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.”
“I would rather not eat for a week than have my phone taken away”
If you’ve read the study or the article by CNN entitled “#Being13” you know that these are quotes from teenagers that participated in a study conducted to discover social media trends of young teens. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a look, especially if you have children in your home or church (fair warning: there’s language in the full study). 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.
Okay… are you ready? Sure? Take a deep breath and let’s go…
Moms, Dads, Ministers… 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. Toddler’s intelligible babble will be tomorrow’s emoticons. The change to a digital society stops for no man..or parent..or child. It’s happening.
Moms, Dads, Ministers…you CAN fight for unchanging truth.
You can give your kids the unchanging foundation of Christ to build on no matter what come into their life 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’s a few practical ways you can do just that.
Help your kids create face-to-face relationships with real people.
That might sounds pretty basic, but the results of this study shows that it is not. 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 playdates. 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 5 adults/child in order to build a “sticky web” of relationships. Make face-to-face relationships a priority in your home.
Teach your kids how to have a conversation.
Remember when your “baby” said his/her first word and you just couldn’t believe he/she was talking? 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. But 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. (Hint: Cheesecake Factory does awesome dates for parents with kids and even gives you conversation starters at the table! Chick-Fil-A regularly does date nights for parents and kids as well).
Disciple them through your 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. The truth is, not everything about social media is bad. Let them see that. But the truth also is that 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. (Jon Acuff has some amazing blogs at www.parentcue.org on social media; they are worth your time to read, trust me!).
Be brutally honest about your own social media habits.
Listen, I am in no way anti-social media. I accept that it has become a major cultural trend and something I need to be involved in and aware of as my children grow. But at some point, we (and I’m talking to me here!) 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.
Do you want to know the coolest thing that the study found? I mean, the absolute best thing about the whole study. Something that needs said over and over again until we believe it, we know it, we accept it, and we live into it…
Parents, you are the single greatest influence in your child’s life.
Period. End of story. You.
What the study actually showed was “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.
“Effectively erased the negative effects.”
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 (James 3:17); let that wisdom 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.
Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.