Every kid does it. No matter how straight the A’s, smart the brain, talented the athlete or pious the altar server—at some point in life, your child is going to lie to you.
A few weeks ago our 11-year-old did just that. He opened an Instagram account even though we expressly told him not to do it. Thankfully, providentially, I am in the thick of a parenting series, Love & Logic. In one of our most recent classes the facilitators taught us this very important lesson of parenthood: “When you don’t know what to do, delay the consequence.”
My husband and I did just that and we have totally seen the Holy Spirit at work.
You see, we’re new to this parenting a middle-schooler gig and we are most definitely new to parenting one who has social media access at the tap of a screen. While we sorted out what to do, we turned to prayer, late night talks with one another and, you guessed it, social media.
I reached out to a friend on Facebook who is a social media guru and Catholic new evangelist, Brandon Vogt. He shared this gold mine of a resource. Not all of us are social media experts. Heck, I’m not even sure the social media experts are experts because the landscape changes so frequently. I do know this. I am not afraid of social media. My only fear is that I will do my children a disservice by not showing them how to use it properly.
Our reality is that social media is here to stay. We can either fear it or embrace it. I say, stretch those arms out. Even the Holy Father agrees with me here. Below are a few things we’ve learned the hard way, as well as some sage advice from parents who have already “been there, done that.”
A Few Social Media Tips for Teens
- Social media isn’t going away. Dive in and figure it out. There are great online resources to get you started in the vast world we call social media. And, speaking from experience here, it’s never too early to start diving in, preferably long before your children do. If, however, they have a leg up, don’t let that discourage you.
- Assess your child’s age to see if now is the time. Some social media sites, like Facebook, require that users are a certain age. Every kid is different, every family’s value set is different. Discuss what makes sense for your family and your child.
- Get involved with your kids. Guarding their heart is your number one priority. Show them how to write a safe user profile. Set expectations about the kinds of photographs and verbiage you want them to develop. When something comes through that doesn’t meet those expectations, talk with your children about how to change it
- Realize the social implications of not having a social media account. We can hide our children under the proverbial bushel basket, but at some point they’re going to leave the house. Having a social media presence will be important to their future career. You can guide them now or let them go it solo without your counsel and advice.
- Be careful what you forbade. We learned kids will just go deeper underground. Parents of teenagers know just how creative they can be!
- See social media as an opportunity to share the Word of God. Yes, there is potential for danger, grave danger, if not guided correctly. There is also the potential for real, meaningful relationships via social media. In fact, it was through Twitter that I’ve discovered many kindred spirits on the path of motherhood. I count these women as some of my finest confidantes.
- Model good social media behavior. I fear this is where my husband and I failed to realize just how powerful our interactions on social media were to our children. We are both active in social media and that has not been lost on our children. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. They see our joy in connecting with others and they, obviously, want to see what the joy is about. Conversely, what an opportunity! Lent has been a great time for us to reassess how we use social media in the presence of our children.
- At home, be the parent. But in cyperspace, be your kids’ friend. You should be their friend in every social media platform: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, FourSquare, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. Every password should be shared and frequent checks of their account (both scheduled and unannounced) should be the standard, not the exception.
- Pray for guidance. As in everything we do as parents, pray. And then pray some more. Our responsibility to guide our children can be a heavy cross. In case you’re wondering, the patron saint of the internet is St. Isidore.
- Enlist support among your parenting peers. Align yourself with other families with children that are experiencing the same social media anxiety attack you might be feeling. Use these trusted parents as your sounding board. For us, that has been the game changer. We really are all in this together. The bigger the community, the better off our children
Great reads on social media (my thanks to Brandon for sharing these gems):
- Screen Saved: Peril and Promise of Media in Ministry (Dan Andriacco)
- The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr)
- The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion (Tim Challies)
- Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media (Eugene Gan)
- The Word Made Fresh (Meredith Gould)
- Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith (Shane Hipps)
- The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture (Shane Hipps)
- Prayer in the Digital Age (Matt Swaim)
- The Church and New Media (Brandon Vogt)
- The Connected Church (Brad West)