What Social Media Is Offering Our Kids (And What To Do About It)

“Give me your phone,” I said as I held out my hand to one of my kids. “You’re not in trouble, but I think you need a break from social media for awhile.”

I was half expecting a war.

Instead, my child looked absolutely relieved and said, “You’re right. Thank you, Mom.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks that this was why my child was struggling with feelings of inadequacy. Because when kids are too plugged into other people’s worlds through social media, they have a more difficult time being thankful for their own.

Technology has been changing culture for years. A long look into the daily lives of our peers is always a click away. We scroll and sigh. We want things we didn’t even know we missed. And we miss things we really don’t even want.

Our culture loves social media, but social media doesn’t always “like” us back.

Social Media and Kids
For generations, kids have compared themselves to others and wanted to fit in with peers. I have several junior high memories that center around finding out on a Monday what I wasn’t invited to over the weekend and feeling left out always hurts.

Even though children today struggle with the same feelings, the world has changed since I was a kid. And social media is doing something to our kids that we didn’t have to face:

It’s offering them a live, all-access feed into the intimate and personal stories of their peers while it’s happening. Kids are invited to watch it unfold, but not always invited to participate. And worse, with likes and comments and hashtags, we’re given the power to rate and score other people’s lives.

And it’s changing how kids feel about themselves.

We decided a long time ago not to allow our children social media access until they became teenagers. It wasn’t a popular decision in our house (or with some of our adult friends). But I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve wished we waited longer.

But at the same time, sheltering our kids from the evil world isn’t a cure-all. “The problem for Christian parents isn’t in the desire to shelter children; it’s in the warped perspective that such sheltering can foster. We start thinking our kids are basically good and in need of moral direction, rather than recognizing our kids are basically bad and in need of heart transformation,” Trevin Wax said in this important Gospel Coalition article.

So, I’m not advocating we strip our kids of all social media access or ban it until college, I’m suggesting we first, understand how it’s affecting them and second, navigate it with them.

If I’m transparent with them (and you), I have to admit that sometimes when I’m scrolling through Facebook statuses or Instagram pictures, I feel jealous of what others have and discouraged about what I don’t have. When I realize what’s happening, I try to shut it down because within minutes of looking into other people’s lives, I feel worse about my own. And if I feel this way as a mature adult, it is multiplied for my children.

The average teen logs into social media at least 10 times a day and if we’re going to let them, we need to equip them. Everyone has different house rules. In our house, we monitor and limit technology and Internet usage, we filter and reserve the right to read texts, turn off data, hand in phones, and remind our kids that it’s a privilege that can be taken away. (And yes, my kids sometimes resist and rebel against these rules (and I’m not just saying that to make you feel better).

Social Media and Kids

Here are a few conversations that might be a good place to start:

  1. Talk with your kids about the term “friend.” Social media has us friending people we’ve never met. That’s not to say they won’t become a friend, but defining what true friendship is will help our kids realize what it’s not.
  2. Discuss what it means to “like” something and how it feels to be “liked” on social media. It’s a temporary high that can have a long-lasting impact on the way we feel about ourselves.
  3. Ask your kids: How do you respond when someone is bullied online?
  4. Discuss what kind of things should be said in person and not online or not at all? (Like confrontations and negative opinions).
  5. Talk to your children about when they might feel left out (because of what they’ve seen online). Suggest taking a break and spending time with people in person.
  6. Discuss oversharing.

So, yes, please let’s limit and monitor social media, but also let’s talk to our kids about it. They might resist, okay, they probably will resist, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

It’s irresponsible to give our kids access to a virtual world where “friends” have more say than we do. But that’s exactly what will happen if we choose to say nothing at all.

[Talking about] Sex Begins in the Kitchen

parenting upstream in a go with the flow world

I’m so excited about this important post that my friend Janel is bringing to the virtual table today. Please take time to read it. Leading our family upstream is difficult-that’s why we need to give each other a pat or a push every once in awhile.

by Janel

It was on my back porch, our fingers curled around steaming mugs of African tea exhaling their ribbons of steam, that she told me. She didn’t know if it was called rape if a boyfriend forced you. But I never talked to my parents about it, she smiled sadly. They left Sex Ed to my fifth grade teacher, and my boyfriend was the one who showed me the rest. My family doesn’t talk about that kind of stuff.


Talking about sex begins in the kitchen

There in my grief for my friend, I started wondering. Is there anything on my parental “off-limits conversations” list?

I’ll admit—that stunning discussion played into another I had a few weeks later. My blonde-headed ten-year-old wondered into the kitchen while I was de-crud-ifying the counters and scooping leftovers into the waiting Rubbermaid mouths.

“Mom, what’s pornography?”

An avid reader, he’d come upon the word on the back of a non-fiction work for Christian adults. …This time.

My eyebrows may have lifted a centimeter or so as I wrung out the dishrag. I swallowed. Sealed a lid, wiped the same spot I’d already wiped. Reviewed my mental list of How to Deal: What I Believe About Awkward, Hairy Topics with Children.

  • I want to be the go-to gal (and my hubby the go-to guy) for this stuff with my kids. How I deal now affects whether they ask later. It will only get funkier as they get older.
  • Kids pick up on my “subtle” (ahem) signals. They’re looking at my body language, my terminology, my reactions. My embarrassment, shame, condemnation—or joy and grace and honesty—can show up when they confront this stuff elsewhere. Even in their marriages.
  • I want to help them construct their own biblical worldview. I want Scripture to anchor them, rather than the blanks in their minds being auto-filled by Google or the kids on the back of the bus.
  • Worldviews aren’t built once. Worldviews are assembled piece by piece as we apply them to real life.
  • I’m building a trestle between my kids and I that will need to be rock-solid in their teenage years—and for whatever can happen to them, whatever insecurity develops. Honesty and openness starts now.

So—deep breath, Mama. Maintain eye contact.

“Great question. Glad you asked. Know how we’ve talked about sex, how welds people together, and feels good and really intimate to them?…”

After I stumbled all over those first sentences, somehow I clabbered together a kid-level definition of porn—and an open warning of its power, which snares so many Christians we know; so many marriages. I’m also trying to speak gently and practically about that billboard, or the bodice-busting women on the romance novels on the library website: I want him to know he has the power and loving obligation to “bounce” his eyes from them. And I recommended he talk to his dad.

See, I loved what Kristen had to say about the power of our dinner tablesThe dinner table? You’re probably thinking. That takes it a step further.

And yeah, I think we should keep an eye out for privacy on these topics, so our kids aren’t perpetually uncomfortable and, uh, mortified. (This post on Teaching our Kids the “Raw” Parts of Scripture has some excellent thoughts.)

But one memory seared in my mind is when my then-boyfriend-now-husband first came home with me.

talking about sex begins in the kitchen 1

“You talk about that kind of stuff at dinner?” His eyes were wide. Maybe in a little stupefaction. Maybe a little awe.

See, my folks, too, decided they’d answer whatever sincere, loving questions we asked as clearly and biblically as they were able. (Trust me, one of my sisters—who eventually became a nurse—gave them a real run for their money.) They saw questions as an open door, to the highest extent age permitted, to talk about Scripture as we “walked by the way”.

It wasn’t just about sex, which wasn’t all that common. We discussed stuff my folks were walking through, at work or in life, and their thought processes. We learned alongside them; an abbreviated version, I’d guess, and not in a gossipy or insensitive way, but in a way that showed this is what discernment and wisdom looks like. The rest of us even volleyed some suggestions. Our conversation was intimate and specific—forget chatting about the weather!

Some of the best parents I know aren’t necessarily those who withhold and protect from their kids from information. They take their child’s hand and show them how to navigate difficulty—like training wheels for life circumstances.

These conversations secure trust and honesty. They communicate, I will always tell you the truth. We’ve got a good thing going here. So come to me with anything. Talking to our kids protects them. It gives them vocabulary to maturely talk about emotions, sticky situations, money, sex, and real life.

So talk with (not at) your kids about Obergefell. About Planned Parenthood. About the transsexual on the Amazon home page. About the mean girls thing your daughter’s encountering at school. About what life is like for kids in poverty. Ask good questions that help your kids take ownership of their own convictions. Teach them how to discern and love well.

Our kids will learn somewhere—whether we’re there when they need the 411 or not. Typically, when kids find themselves in unfamiliar territory, they’re looking for similar indications where they should turn: “I remember watching/listening to something like this.” “I don’t remember my folks dealing with this.” So they’re left to their own kid-sized toolbox: their best guess, the advice of friends, or other information.

Maybe they’ll wing it.

Speaking candidly hands our kids responsibility while we’re there to help them deal—and thus, builds confidence. They’re less likely to be swayed by peers or lies in the midst of their decisions, and more likely to know how the Word applies to every situation—and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

And that’s true no matter what our kids face…or what they ask.