It’s nearly 11:30 at night. I’m normally asleep at this time but, until I hear the reassuring beep of the back door alerting me that my teenage daughter is home safe, I won’t be able to fully rest. To pass the time I lie in bed scrolling through Twitter and Instagram. But, what I’m doing is more than killing time – I’m really looking for photos of my daughter to appear, as if that would indicate all is well.
So far there are no posts. She’s been at a party with twenty girls so I know without a doubt pictures were taken (I mean did the night even happen if it isn’t documented for the world to see?). Sure enough, just as the backdoor beeps, photos start streaming in. Beautiful girls, all perfectly posed having fun. At least that is what the pictures beg me to think. And the flattering comments underneath these #besties seem to confirm it’s true.
But do they?
Whether or not it really was a fabulous night, the world won’t know. I can’t help thinking that behind these red-lipped smiles there are hurting girls, lonely girls, insecure girls, trying to fit in girls, afraid to be less than perfect girls: girls who need a true friend and feel lost, even in this group of supposed best friends.
Sure enough, over coffee the next morning my daughter tells me about the drama of the night and how different the real scene was from the perfect pictures posted online.
Scenarios like these are happening in big cities and small towns across our nation: the enormous stress and pressure teenagers feel, directly connected to social media. The effects of this pressure, ranging from (but not limited to) depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse go far deeper than most realize. And “good,” church-going kids are not exempt from these struggles.
But social media is not the real problem!
Mark 7:15 reads, “Nothing outside a person can defile them…Rather it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
In other words, sin comes from inside us, not from the bad influences outside of us. So we can point our fingers at social media all we want, but the heart of the problem is not social media. The problematic behaviors associated with social media are the by-product of what is going on in our teenagers’ sinful, idolatrous hearts. Therefore, it is the idolatry we need to address.
Anything we desire more than God leads us to exchange the truth of God for a lie. It’s the same lie humanity has bought into ever since Satan convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding good by not allowing them to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. Since that terrible day, we continue to buy into the lie that God is not enough and that true life and peace is found somewhere other than him.
For our teenagers, these whispering lies of Satan surface in the form of perfect pictures and countless “likes.” All it takes is one quick scroll through a social media feed and the comparisons begin leaving our students vulnerable to lies such as these…
“You’re not good enough.”
“You’re not popular enough”
“You need to be skinnier.”
“You aren’t strong enough.”
“You’re not rich enough.”
“No girl will want to date you.”
“Your life is boring.”
“You are worthless.”
“You don’t measure up.”
“You aren’t the star.”
The longer they look, scroll, and compare, the more these lies become “truth” – what God says is true is forgotten.
So how do we reorient our teens back to the truth that social media distorts?
Step 1: We must uncover the lies by exposing the heart, so they see their idols.
This can be done through probing questions and identifying the false gods in which they seek to find their satisfaction and identity.
By identity I mean worth – what or where they seek to find their value. It could be based on how many “likes” they get on their posts, how many followers they have, or what kind of comments they receive.
If you are a parent, you likely know each of your kids’ tendencies toward false sources for identity. If not, a great place to start is paying attention to their posts and comments. But we should also be evaluating our own hearts. Seeing how we do the same thing – where we find our worth and identity – is an important factor in our ability to show compassion and help our teens deal honestly with sin.
Step 2: We must help our kids, in their sin, to be anchored in Christ.
This comes through understanding and constant teaching of the doctrine of justification. If we are going to help our teens get their story (their real story) straight, justification is the most important truth we can speak into them. It is the basis of their secure identity, and the anchoring truth that holds against the lies social media and everything else in this world seems to distort.
Therefore, regular conversations should be taking place on what it means practically to have been declared right at the time of salvation. Remind them that everything good about Jesus is now good about them, that God views them as perfect because Jesus was perfect and they stand not only without accusation or condemnation, but as righteous. If our students know this, then when they inevitably feel insecure, less than perfect compared to their friends, or have fallen into sin, we give them Christ to fix their eyes on, to see again how He was everything for them.
When our teenagers look at social media and think God isn’t enough – or God isn’t good – or God has forgotten them or doesn’t love them because He isn’t blessing them the way they want – or because things are hard – what they need is to be anchored to the truths of Gods word: who He is and who they are in Him. It is here they find their secure, unchanging identity. The fruit they bear (good or bad) will be dependent on this as their foundational root!
Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.