Why Teens Compulsively Use Social Media: To Be Known and Loved

Like you, youth want to be known and loved. They want someone—their dad, mom, friend, Facebook acquaintance—to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of their life and be told sincerely, “I see all that…and I love you anyway.” Unfortunately, teens compulsively use social media in a vain attempt to meet this relational need to be both known and loved. Why?

The number-one fear among teenagers today is being alone. The number-two fear is rejection, which leads to being alone. This is why solitary confinement is such a misery for humanity. Being made in God’s image has several implications, but an oftentimes-overlooked implication is our innate desire and need for relationship. The triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has existed as one God in perfect community from all eternity. This community is reflected in the intrinsic relational need and desire of those made in His image.

False Intimacy

While that image of God was shattered by the Fall, it wasn’t lost. That is why we still long for intimate relationships, though now they are twisted by envy, strife, and brokenness. By “intimate,” I’m not talking about Abercrombie & Fitch propaganda or a Miley Cyrus music video, I’m talking about the blessing that comes as the result of being known and loved at the same time. Indeed, intimacy is the reward of committed love.

When teens are “accepted” as a (virtual) friend on social media, when they publicize their day-to-day thoughts and feelings—and receive the responses and comments of others—many experience a false sense of being in intimate community. Subconsciously, they are looking for that which will fulfill and satisfy their intrinsic desire to be known and loved, but are only let down. 

True Intimacy

In the gospel, God knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. He says to those who His in Christ, “I love you anyway.” No longer orphans—without hope and without God in this world—those who embrace Jesus by faith become adopted children of the Most High. They are known and loved and thus become recipients of the deepest, truest, and most satisfying intimacy possible. The One who made us, knows us and loves us. And that relationship becomes the foundation on which we can, with gospel-forged security, establish truly intimate relationship with others. How?

When I know that nothing will snatch me out of the hands of Christ (John 10), that nothing with separate me from the love of God (Rom 8), I am given the great security of knowing who and whose I am. Nothing can change or steal that identity. As Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1, asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death.” Answer (in part): “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” That security, in turn, leads to the functional ability to be vulnerable and boast in weakness (2 Cor 12). When you boast in weakness, Christ’s power is made perfect, the walls of unhealthy competition and envy crumble, and intimate relationships can actually be established.

Social media provides the context of a false sense of this intimacy because teens can still hide behind the virtual barrier of their phone or computer screen. They take small risks in publicizing the nitty gritty, in hopes of being accepted and loved without rejection, but they continually fail to find satisfaction and intimate relationship. What many teens seek to find through social media—the desire to be known and loved—is met by the sovereign knowledge and love of God in the gospel.

Brian Cosby is senior pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church (PCA) on Signal Mountain, Tennessee, and adjunct professor of historical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta. He is the author of over a dozen books, including Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture and Rebels Rescued: A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology.

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