Social Media continues to hold the attention of today's youth and provide unique challenges for parents and as well as youth leaders. In this article, taken from a YS Idea Lab Video, I'd like to outline some of the key things that influence how tweens and teens use social media and a few practical tips that you can share with parents. First I'll go into three things that influence how kids use social media today then I'll follow up with three things that parents can do to help.
3 Things That Influence How Teens Use Social Media Today
1. We live in a world with no technological boundaries.
In my generation, we grew up with some really firm boundaries on our technology. Phones had cords that plugged into walls. The internet was only available through dial-up. Big box televisions were the only way to watch TV shows. Those literal boundaries around our technology helped us come to understand who we were outside of it. Today, there are zero boundaries to our technology. This constant, 24/7 access to technology leaves a huge impact on our kids, inviting things like social media to become an important part of their personal, mental, and sociological development.
2. Social media becomes a window through which we see and experience the world around us.
This means that apps like Instagram aren’t merely used to post pictures. Instagram becomes a window through which we answer important questions like: Who am I? Where do I fit in? Does my life matter?
We aren’t just consuming answers to those questions through the images we see on Instagram, we’re actually creating our responses. We create images to tell stories of our daily life and then compare it to what everyone else is creating. This is a significant thing for kids who are just starting to figure out who there are and where/if they fit in.
3. The fallacy that everything online is temporary.
Darrel Girardier shared a great post that touched on this. Apps like Snapchat tap into this idea that content on the internet can be easily deleted. But we know from experience (Snapchap leads 100,000 photos) that it’s not always the case. Once we post something, we have very little control over what happens to it.
3 Things That Parents Can Do to Help:
1. Recognize that the issue isn’t the technology, but how that technology is used.
Most of the technology available to our kids today, and specifically things like social media, aren’t necessarily evil. It’s all in how the technology is used. When we give our kids a smart phone, we’re giving them technology that comes with a ton of responsibility. We can’t protect our kids from all the bad ways that this technology can be used, but we can help them live into the incredible amount of responsibility that they’ve been given. To borrow from Walt Mueller, it’s all a part of helping students think critically and Christianly about what they post before they post it.
2. Create boundaries around technology.
Sit down as a family to create blackout times and locations in your house where every screen is turned off, and the phones and tablets are put away. Have family game nights, or dinner times when you intentionally connect with one another. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock to have in your room so that you don’t need your phone at night.
3. Be the example.
Ideally, parents would be modeling healthy uses of technology for their kids. So set boundaries that your entire family can agree on. That way, as a parent, you can be the first one to step away from your phone or tablet. By being the example, you can show what a healthy relationship with technology looks like.
To learn more about the National Youth Workers Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio November 17-20, visit the YS National Convention site here.
[Editor's Note: While some children are allowed to have social media accounts, many of the social networks have set age restrictions. We've written about how to keep your kids safe on a smartphone and included an infographic that lists each social network's age requirement.]