Technology is a way of life for us. Social media is here to stay. It’s not a trend. It’s not a fad. It’s part of the atmosphere we breathe in, like oxygen. Like it or not, social media is here.
You and I who are parents of teens and preteens grew up in a very different world. I remember the first broadcast day for MTV. Remember the first video? It was “Video Killed the Radio Star.” And it was prophetic.
We also grew up at the advent of the Internet for home users, email, and social networking when it wasn’t cool.
Email started out as a kind of inter-office instant messaging system. Now, seven out of 10 people check their email a minimum of six times per day.
In the first internet generation, we would “dial up” and then “disconnect.” You could hear the modem scream and then hope for a “You’ve got mail” announcement.
Now, it’s always on. We’re absorbed in it.
I have a daughter and, as of this writing, she’s about to turn 15. I couldn’t be more proud of her maturity when it comes to social media and technology. But it’s something I think about every single day. I have two boys – currently 7 and 4 – and I often wonder what else will develop in the world of social media by the time they hit their teen years.
Rather than seeing all of this as negative, I think it’s wise to apply a bit of a SWOT analysis to our current cultural conundrum.
Strengths of a Tech-Ready World
The strengths of our tech-saturated, social media generation include:
- the ability to connect with people more readily and quickly,
- the freedom to communicate with family instantly across great distances, and
- the capacity to solve big problems – medical, political, educational, etc. – faster than ever.
Weaknesses of a Tech-Crazy World
The weaknesses have to do with our humanness. We humans tend to be creatures of habit, and some of our habits can become quite destructive.
- We tune in online when we should be tuned in to the person face-to-face with us.
- We get anxious when we’re disconnected for too long.
- We produce and access things we shouldn’t – hence the internet porn epidemic.
- We are so inundated with bad news that we disconnect from it emotionally.
- We waste a lot of time!
Opportunities of a Tech-Enabled World
I believe the advent of social media affords us a ton of positive opportunities. I even wrote a whole book about how social media can help us share the love of God. We can use technology to our advantage:
- to stay tuned in to what is happening in the world,
- to be alerted to emergencies and urgent situations,
- to lead and influence a generation in ways not possible before, and ultimately,
- to meet new people and spread positivity further,
- to spread the message of Jesus further and faster than ever before.
Threats of a Tech-Infected World
The threats of tech-everywhere range from the common, everyday annoyances to the Matrix-level conspiratorial stuff. But for most families, the threats are:
- Cyber-security issues, requiring us all to be aware of hacking and phishing.
- Privacy issues related to people stealing and abusing our personal information.
- Intrusion into our lives by people with ill intent.
- Porn. All kinds of it. Tons of it.
We need to think of all of this in a balanced way. We need an awareness of the dangers and what I often call the common social media isms. But we also need to know that social networking is our present reality. It is a reflection of and window to our culture.
And it’s a space where we can make a difference.
So how do you parent teenagers in the rushing rapids of our current technology-driven cultural change? Here are a few tips:
1. Anchor your lives in eternal things.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. No new technological advancement changes the nature of Jesus or of God’s Word. The Gospel is and forever shall be the Good News that the risen King Jesus saves and redeems.
Be about eternal things, not temporal things.
2. Be aware of the major trends.
You don’t have to sign up for accounts on every new social network that opens up. You do have to keep an eye on the potential threats. You need to know why Snapchat is so popular and how kids are using Instagram and why they don’t share all on Facebook.
You don’t have to be an expert. You do need to be aware.
3. Have intentional and honest conversations.
I know you want to make them feel trusted. But they’re still kids. They need us to ask tough questions and offer solid answers. The last thing they need is our silence. Don’t assume that you’re on the same page when it comes to standards of privacy and decency.
4. Engage with them in their world.
Your kids probably don’t want you joining in on their group conversations with their friends. In fact, it’s a certainty. But separately from those conversations, they’d probably be delighted if you occasionally spoke their language via text or direct message, or funny GIFs and memes.
5. Develop an understanding about online privacy.
First, make sure they know that there is no such thing as online privacy. It’s an illusion. Someone is always watching. Someone always knows. That’s not a conspiratorial statement – it’s a fact. If you don’t know what a ping or an IP address is, you’re already in over your head.
6. Establish some standards.
In our home, our kids knows that we’re not going to insert ourselves into all of their conversations. They also know that until they’re 18 and out of the house, their devices are our devices and are always subject to and available for inspection at a moment’s notice. It isn’t that we don’t trust their character. It’s that we know their character is still in the testing and development phase.
7. Let grace prevail.
If you parent using fear and intimidation and shame, your kids won’t turn to you when they mess up or encounter something they shouldn’t have. They might, however, open up to you when they know that there is grace available to them.
That doesn’t mean there are never consequences for disobedience or unwise choices. It just means that our love, affirmation, and affection are based on grace, not on their performance.
You’re not going to navigate all of this perfectly. Neither am I. But it is possible to be wise, to be loving, and to boldly lead our kids when it comes to how they interact with today’s rapidly changing social technologies.
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