Please let me start by saying, I’m not a parent and there isn’t a one size fits all recipe for how to navigate technology use within your family. With that being said, here are some thoughts from your local youth minister.
One parent said to me, “If I’d known how bad social media was going to be for my kids, I would never have given them a phone. They’re older now –– in their late teens and early 20s –– and wrestling with issues like eating disorders, addiction, and sexuality. I feel like I totally messed up. What can I do?”
Maybe you feel this way now… maybe you’re trying to avoid feeling this way in the future; either way, if you feel burdened for your kid, that means you care. If I could give one encouragement, I’d remind you that even when you make mistakes as a parent, you can take comfort knowing God is still sovereign over the lives of your children. Can you make decisions that influence your teen? Totally! Can you put boundaries and rules in place to protect them? You can certainly try! But you cannot control them, nor can you prevent them from ever making mistakes.
The reality is, it’s better for teens to learn to make their own decisions and mistakes within the confines and safety of their own home, before they grow up and are on their own. Social media affects young people in serious ways; however, as with anything else, we mustn’t treat the symptoms. The root of the problem isn’t giving your kid access to social media as much as it is giving your kid access to social media without education, discipleship, or accountability.
Be humble and honest. Parents tend to want to hide their weakness and uncertainty, but no one can spot a fake better than a teenager. Don’t assume that if your son or daughter realizes you don’t know what you’re doing, they won’t listen to you. The truth is, humility is attractive. In the arena of social media, you will make mistakes as a parent – and that’s okay. God will not run out of grace for you.
In our rapidly changing culture, no one is perfectly equipped to respond. Be honest with your child and be willing to admit when you don’t have all the answers about smartphones. Own and confess any poor decisions in your own media use, acknowledge any regret, and open up to your kid. A willingness to admit your weakness in front of your teenager invites them to see that you also don’t have life figured out. God will use your humility to create a safe environment for your child to be known and loved by you. Then, trust that if God is able to save you from the pit of your own depravity, he can also lead you in caring for your child in theirs.
Your child isn’t you. If you believe Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised to life three days later so that you might have a relationship with your Father in heaven, then be free of your past sin and shame (Rom. 8:1, Gal. 5:1). Your kid is not you. They may or may not make the same mistakes you did. If they don’t make the same mistakes, then praise God! If they do make the same mistakes, praise God that he is forgiving, kind, compassionate, and restorative in nature. It is wise to put boundaries in place to protect your kid from potential hurt, but don’t let fear drive your decisions. Let love lead you.
Help your children develop critical thinking. Rather than being a source of wisdom, social media breeds a value system that promotes worldly wisdom and identity. So, let’s help our kids find wisdom. Instead of simply confronting them on all the negative influences, ask what they think about things people are posting –– let them tell you how they’re experiencing life online. Find thoughtful ways to process alongside them. Fight the temptation to lecture, and instead invite conversation, even disagreement. We want to help our children learn to discern good from evil, to debate and dialogue in ways that spur them towards truth. Most importantly, we want them to learn how to love amidst disagreement.
Patiently camp on his or her doorstep. When we can’t protect our child or control everything that happens around her, the best thing to do is be the person she comes to when she feels lost, burdened, or defeated. Pursue her always. Engage with her. Sometimes you have to wait until she lets you in.
I am a FIXER; just ask my wife. It’s easy for me to bulldoze my way into a situation or problem with my wife, rather than approach her with a compassionate, listening ear. Like most people, my wife prefers not to be bulldozed. So, engage with your son relationally, even when he resists. Find ways to connect to his world, his interests –– show you value him. The more your son feels known and understood by you, the more likely you are to gain his trust.
If nothing else, remember that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-24). Do not grow weary in doing good, trusting that you will “reap a harvest” (Gal. 6:7-10). Remind yourself that we sit underneath the watchful eye of a loving Shepherd who delights in caring for us. We can never mess up so badly that we are out of reach of his grace. If God provided for our biggest need in sending his only Son, Jesus, to redeem us from our sins, he will surely keep us in his care now that we are his adopted children, (Rom. 5:8-10; 8:32).
Do not give up. Persevere in pursuing. Isaiah 55:10-11 promises us that God’s Word will not return void. Continue to seek what is good, right, and holy before God –– then do your best to teach the same to your kid –– and trust God to move. He is faithful.
More Resources to Consider
- The Wisdom Pyramid by Brett McCracken
- Should Christians be on Social Media? by Paul David Tripp
- Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp
- Parenting in the Age of the iPhone by Rooted
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Parents: interested in learning more about wise social media use? Check out the course “Navigating Technology” on Rooted Reservoir.