As I’ve been teaching these iParent classes and writing the series here on the blog, I keep hearing people say how scared and helpless they feel. They’re glad for the info, but feel ill-equipped to do anything with it. If that’s you, I hope you’ll read to the end of this post and then come back next Thursday for part 6, the final post in the series.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that parents tend to want hard and fast rules that apply to every family and circumstance. They ask questions like: How much time should you allow your children to be on their phones/social media each day? What time should they plug them in and turn them off for the night? How often should you check your child’s phone? Since every child and situation is different, set answers to those questions don’t exist. There are some basic guidelines for parents, though, that I think work for all of us. Consider these 5:
Wait until an appropriate age and maturity level. Some parents will say that a seven-year-old needs a cell phone so if there’s a problem at a sleepover, they can get a hold of their parents. My answer to that is if a parent thinks there is going to be a problem that the hosting parent can’t handle, they shouldn’t allow the child to stay overnight. Technology has allowed too much responsibility to be placed on the child for his/her own well-being. In other words, parents are saying yes to things they’d otherwise say no to, simply because their child has a phone. This is unfair and unhealthy. Kids need parents to do their jobs, so they do not have to grow up too quickly.
Communicate. It isn’t enough to have a talk with your 13-year-old on the day you let him get an Instagram account and then never revisit the topic of social media and texting responsibility again. Casual conversations about social media and how it is being used by your teens should take place on a weekly basis, at the very least. These discussions need to be ongoing and become more complex as kids get older; not less frequent and less involved.
When you do have those conversations, don’t just talk; listen. Ask nonjudgmental questions. Hey, what’s the difference between Facebook and Instagram? Which one do you like best? Why? What’s your favorite app? Do you know anyone who has sent an inappropriate text or photo? How would you feel if you had a picture like that was sent all over school?
If kids think they are going to be slammed by their parents on a topic, they will shut down. So be careful in how you approach the subject. Remember, it seems ridiculous to you because you didn’t grow up with it. To them, it’s normal, every day life.
Avoid overused phrases like cyber-bullying. They’ve heard that term at school so much that it rings hollow. Teenagers don’t call it cyber-bullying. They call it drama. If you want to invite open conversation, try to not sound like someone who just read an article on the dangers of teenagers and social media:)
Do your own research. Don’t count on your kids to educate you on social media, because they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know. If you want to know about current apps like Snapchat and Pheed, Google can be your new BFF.
Institute tech breaks. This can be at mealtime. Give everyone a heads-up a couple of minutes in advance so they can end conversations and not be focused on their phones during the meal. Build from that. Try to add other tech free times as your kids get used to it. Maybe add Sunday mornings, and a, “Let’s all leave our phones at home while we go to church” rule.
Encourage your teen to use technology for good. This blog would fail miserably if all I did was point out the challenges. Social media and cell phones are a great teaching tool and offer plenty of teachable moments – choose your words wisely, choose who you follow wisely, treat others how you want to be treated, think before you speak, etc. Teenagers long to live out their faith in practical ways, but they often don’t know how. Social media sites are a great place for them to do that. The world wide web is a mission field! Consider this:
*Social media allows us to spread the Gospel faster than ever before – it opens up opportunities for conversations they wouldn’t normally have.
*It challenges teens to know what they believe. Once, Abby posted a verse on Instagram and a girl she didn’t know commented, “I love your posts! I see you’re a Christian? I’m Mormon. I guess those are kind of like the same thing?” Abby didn’t know how to respond, and she asked me about it. So I pulled up a comparison chart on www.4truth.net for her to read. She said, “Wow! That’s a lot different!” but still wasn’t sure how to respond. Together, we decided to respond by commenting, “Actually, there are quite a few differences. You can read them here…” and included the link I had shown her. It was a real world situation where Abby learned more about what the Bible teaches and what other people believe. Check out the link below to 4truth.net. That website is GREAT! It includes comparison charts for world religions, cults, and denominations.
*It provides opportunities to take a stand for what they believe/learn how to speak the truth in love. The easy thing to do would be to avoid anything or anyone on social media and the real world that goes against your beliefs. But helping people understand the realities of earth and heaven are important. Social media forces our kids to choose – will I take a stand and speak the truth in love, or will I shrink back and remain quiet?
*It can be used to edify others – There’s more than enough drama among teenagers on social media sites. So I love it when I see teenagers sharing scripture, encouraging kids, standing up for the underdog, challenging others to live out their faith, and holding each other accountable. It is a very real place where they can be in the world but not of it.
Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
Common Sense Media
Jostens Pause Before You Post
The Source for Youth Ministry (with link to Jonathan McKee’s blog)
North American Mission Board 4Truth.net