The world has changed a lot since I was a kid.
My teenage years were either spent with my head buried in a book, stretching the phone cord to my room to have a private conversation, or riding bikes through my local hometown. Being “connected” wasn’t even a concept I knew about or was aware of in the least. I didn’t even get my first cell phone until I was married.
Technology has advanced leaps in the last 25 years keeping us more connected than ever to friends across the world.
It’s a blessing, but as parents, it’s also something that we need to keep a pulse on, especially when it comes to teens and social media. Some kids are getting smartphones as early as ten and eleven years old!
I recently read an article about a study about what happens in a teenager’s brain when their social media posts get likes or retweets. As they see increased activity, it shows significantly greater activation in parts of the brain’s reward circuitry, the same region that responds when we see someone we love. Interpreting for our teenager’s brains: they find a lot of value in their online interaction.
I think we all like when our photo or post gets lots of activity online. However, without some healthy boundaries in place, teenagers are susceptible to getting sucked into a world that has the potential of depleting mental capacity, hindering real life social interactions, and leading them down a dangerous road of peer pressure which can affect their identity and self-esteem in dangerous ways. Boundaries define where the line is which creates a sense of security.
My son is fourteen. He loves engaging with his friends on social media. If we would let him, he would happily sit for hours “chatting” away. But, we have strict boundaries in place, something that he doesn’t like and tests often. Teenagers are trying to grow into adults. They don’t like it when it feels like they are being treated as the children that they are. The reality is, though, that boundaries actually create a sense of safety.
Enforcing boundaries is the most loving thing a parent can do, even when there’s resistance.
Our boundaries look like this.
- When my son got his smartphone, we made him write down all his passwords from his phone passcode to every single username and password for his email and all social media accounts. He thought it was a total invasion of privacy, but it’s an accountability structure we put in place for his sake. He knows that, at any time, we can check his online interactions. We also have it set up so that, in order to download an app, he has to get permission from us. Proverbs 27:23 says,
Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds.
In order to know well the condition of my teenager, I have to be proactive. It’s not being nosy or invading privacy. It’s being loving and caring.
Social media free zones.
Yes, my son is on his way to adulthood, but he still has to turn in his phone to create social media free zones. This is especially true at night. Before going to bed, the phone gets turned in. No one needs to be surfing the internet in the wee hours of the night because, as Proverbs 18:1 says,
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
It’s amazing how many hours can be wasted when your head is buried in social media. Turning attention to other things stimulates the brain in healthy ways that social media does not.
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, 16
2 John 12 says,
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
There’s something joyful about face-to-face interaction. This may sound extreme, but it’s quite possible that teenagers could spend so much time relating online that they don’t know how to pick up social cues that help them relate in person. Human interaction is vital. This can be as simple as encouraging them to invite a friend over. What a novel concept to hang out in person rather than chat through social media!
As we do our part to help our teenagers, we can also point them to some great resources to help them navigate their social media worlds. Likedis a great resource for teenage girls as it gives them tools for living in this digital age and truths to ponder on who they are and how to love themselves for the uniqueness God created them to be. It will be a great conversation starter for moms and daughters!
Let’s help our teenagers be the best person they can be, confident in who God made them, making a difference in this world. Let’s also remember to love them unconditionally and pray for them daily. It’s a pivotal time in their lives and they need support structures in their lives to help them walk the journey well.
* * *
How have you helped your teen navigate the social media world and stay grounded in who they are in Christ?