We live in the time of both social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Whether we see it or not, our teenagers are inundated with news both local and international. At Rooted, we wanted to give youth workers and parents a way to frame the headlines for teenagers within the gospel narrative – that amidst both tragedy and joy, we have an abiding hope in Jesus. It’s important to talk to your teenagers about the news, but even more important to talk about what the Good News says about the news!
What happened: A former Facebook employee leaked an internal study of social media’s effects on mental health among teenage girls, leading to public outcry that the tech giant failed to warn teenagers and their parents of its inherent dangers. As members of the Facebook team have testified before Congress in recent weeks, some lawmakers have compared the harm done to young people to the tobacco industry in past generations. Facebook maintains the study was pursued precisely because the company recognizes potential harm and wants to seek solutions. Meanwhile, company spokespeople also discredited their own researchers, alleging that some of the findings of the study on mental health were sensationalized.
While it’s challenging to get a handle on the back and forth between Facebook and its critics, the general charge that is nothing new (). The premise doesn’t even seem to be especially contested; top tech executives have long stated their own reluctance to allow their children and teenagers access to the devices and social media platforms they themselves create.
Why it matters and how to talk about it: Teenagers are longing for the kind of connected world and that social media platforms promise but can’t actually deliver. Facebook’s corporate mission statement is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” But the findings of the internal Facebook study confirm what other research has increasingly shown: that the adverse affects of social media use often outweigh its connective benefits.
Teenagers (and adults) come to Instagram or TikTok looking for connection, but what they most often find is division. They come hoping for a self-esteem boost, but discover instead the relentless drive for comparison. They scroll their feeds hoping to feel connected, but often end up feeling left out as they learn of parties and gatherings to which they weren’t invited.
As Andy Crouch has said, “an idol is never better than the first day you worship it.” What initially gives us a shot of dopamine ends up stealing our joy. We must teach our teenagers this law of diminishing returns so they can begin to recognize their idols—all those things they look to for power, satisfaction, and peace.
Teenagers who find themselves in the midst of the social media craze need the adults who love them to help them name this desire for human connection. They need us to pursue them in genuine friendship and to model healthy relationships. They need us to remind them, both in what we teach and in how we live, that true community is found not in seeing themselves tagged in a friend’s Instagram story, but in taking part in Christ’s body, the Church.
The connectedness and community our teenagers long for is found only in Jesus, who invites us to stay connected to him. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Through his perfect life and his costly death in our place, Jesus empowers us to love one another as he has loved us (John 15:12). That’s the kind of true community our teenagers—and our world—need to experience.