In the news: social media
As a definite ‘digital visitor’, recent headlines have racked up my anxiety levels around the influence of social media on our children and teens. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, linked the rising rate of knife and gun crime to the impact of social media; earlier in March, a poll released by the Association of School and College Leaders reported that 9 out of 10 headteachers said that their pupils’ well-being was being affected by social media, citing increasing levels of self-harming, bullying and low self-esteem. Add to this flamboyant headlines such as ‘Condoms, Ikea and tide pods - the dangerous social media crazes parents should be aware of’ and it is clear to see why many parents are anxious or even fearful about their children’s social media habits.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are many benefits to our children engaging with social media and I know there are practical steps I can take to help me parent well around it. There are websites and books* that can educate you about social media in all its forms as well as give great practical advice on how to navigate all this with your children, and equip them to make good decisions about how they engage with it.
But is there anything extra God might bring to this conversation? What about if we started by recognising that our core foundation as Christians is God’s love – his unconditional love for us and his desire that we share his love with others? How might this help us all negotiate the tricky world of social media well? I think there are three things about God’s love that will help us.
1. We all, our children and teens included, need to know that God’s love for us is unconditional, never-ending and so so generous. We are made in his image and have intrinsic value and worth simply because we are his children and he loves us. So when we engage with social media, he wants us to do it in a way that is good for us.
Some ideas for you to explore:
- Frame your own use of social media, why you post what you do, how you decide which platforms to interact with and why, what prompted you to take a social media fast … where is God in this? How has he guided you? Discover more about framing in our 'Making sense of life' session of the course.
- Ask questions and start conversations - why do you think people follow social media crazes? Wow, what great fruit came from that social media campaign! Hmmm, I’m not sure I’d like a picture of me like that to be posted online. What do you think? OK, this app has a 13 age restriction on it. Why do you think that is?
- Equip your children to think critically about what they see, read or hear. Is it something God would want me to see / hear / feel / do? Does this fit with what a loving parent would want for me? Is this good for me?
- Philippians 4:8 can be really helpful as a standard to hold things up to as we help work out whether to engage with something or not: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
2. Inseparable from God’s love for us is his desire that we partner with him in sharing his love with others. Understanding this can help us think well about how we use and interact with social media. It may also mean that sometimes we choose to stand out from the crowd, which may be difficult or costly.
Some ideas for you to explore:
- Consider what loving our neighbour as we love ourselves looks like on social media. Does what we do share God’s love? If I post a comment, will it build someone up or knock them down? Am I careful with what I ‘like’ or share?
- Could you, as individuals or as a family, create ways to deliberately share God’s love via social media? For example, by supporting a campaign, by setting out to encourage others, by raising issues, by sharing posts that build up people or share God’s love and good news.
- Equip your children and teens to be prepared to stand out in a tricky online world – where we are ‘in the world but not of it’ just as much as in our physical world. Share stories from the Bible and of Christians who have lived in a ‘strange land’: Joseph in Potiphar’s house, Daniel in a Babylon, Paul and his struggles with the Corinthians, Corrie Ten Boom, Danielle Strickland, Jackie Pullinger, for example. Wonder together what it was like for them, even though they knew God was with them. Was it easy standing out from the crowd? What helped them?
3. God’s love for us, his belief in us, his acceptance of us, is a safe refuge when the world becomes hard. For our children and teens, sometimes exposed to cruel comments online or haunted by comparison, God’s love is the place they can be reminded about who they really are – beloved and valued children of the King - and find the strength to face their bullies or their own fears and insecurities.
Some ideas for you to explore:
- Help your children know how to find refuge in God when the world seems against them: share stories and passages from the Bible such as Elijah retreating into depression and meeting God in the quietness (1 Kings 19); Psalm 22; the story of Mordecai and the Jewish nation in the book of Esther; Psalm 37:1-7; Psalm 69; Jeremiah’s complaint after being put in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-13); Jesus at his trial and crucifixion.
- Share stories about your own experiences of being embarrassed or humiliated. How did you feel? What did you do? What was God doing? What helped you get through it?
- Help your child connect with God if they are struggling to chat to him themselves about what’s upset them – there are ideas about how to do this in the ‘Prayer Ministry’ session of the Parenting for Faith course.
*for example, websites such as internetmatters.org and vodafonedigitalparenting.co.uk and books such as Left to Their Own Devices? Confident Parenting in a World of Screens - Katharine Hill and Raising Children in a Digital Age – Bex Lewis