Faith in the Age of Social Media: 3 Tips for Parents

Youth Specialties
June 20th, 2016

We live in an age of unprecedented exposure and access to technology. For instance, smartphones didn’t exist twenty years ago. Yet we now have at our fingertips access to an array of resources and distractions. With technology advancing so quickly, parents often must scramble to catch up. Questions such as “How can I utilize the newest technology to support my child’s education?” are mixed in with “What are the dangers of the newest app my child is downloading?”

Faith in an age of social media. What’s the best way to shepherd your youth through it all? Here are a few tips:

Tip #1: If you want your teenagers to stay connected with their faith, then make faith a household priority.

Let’s face it, parents can’t create faith in their teenagers—only God can do that. But parents can create a family environment where faith can thrive. Parents have the most influence over the faith development of their teenagers. Not friends and not youth pastors—parents. Parents must take the lead and set the example for what faith looks like.

This can look a bit countercultural at times. It might look like attending church as a family even when it means missing a soccer game. It might mean going on a family mission trip instead of a vacation at the beach. It could look like prioritizing a family meal in the midst of a busy work schedule.

What does this have to do with technology? Simple.

The pursuit of faith as a family priority means that everything else—including technology and social media—comes second (or third or fourth). When your family pursues the common goal of faith, then the demands of social media can be discussed in light of your family’s number one priority: Are these things growing our faith?

Parents need to take the lead on this, because if you don’t, no one will. Be the example you want for your family by pursuing God in every avenue of your life and encouraging your family members to do the same.

Tip #2: Buy your youth pastor a coffee.

Then, as he or she is about to take the first sip, ask about the latest apps and social media platforms students are exploring. 

Most youth pastors will have a good sense for what students are into (Snapchat and Instagram, for example) and what students no longer really care about. (Facebook is still a thing?)

A little story for you: Facebook came out when I was in college. At that time, you had to be in college to get an account. If your e-mail address didn’t end with .edu, you were out of luck. Facebook became an insanely successful way for students to connect, and it very quickly grew out from its college-students-only roots.

Teenagers and young adults were the next to jump on the Facebook train. They created profiles and shared pictures. Then, after a couple of years, something unexpected happened.

I got a friend request from my mom.

I love my mom, and I actually enjoy being Facebook friends with her. Where else can she “like” all of the photos of her grandkids? (And I mean all.) But for teenagers, Facebook became a place for parents—it was no longer a place just for them and their friends. And so they fled.

At a recent youth group gathering, we asked our high schoolers to raise their hands if they had a Facebook profile. Not a single hand went up.

This speaks to a general truth about teenagers and social media: teenagers want a place where they can connect with their friend—a place without parental oversight. And they’ll keep looking for it in the newest apps and social media inventions.

As a parent, your job is to know which of these platforms provide a healthy environment for independence and which should be avoided. 

For instance, Instagram is a photo-sharing site that allows comments and “likes.” Snapchat, on the other hand, allows users to send videos that automatically delete after they’re viewed. Which of these apps provides a better environment for healthy independence? And which may encourage youth to engage in damaging behavior? It’s the parents’ responsibility to provide social media boundaries for their teenagers.

Tip #3: Parents must establish time limits for social media.  

How much time per day do you allow your teenager to engage with social media?

If your teenager has a smartphone, time limits on social media will be hard to regulate. However, there are some practical questions to ask that will help this conversation:

  • Are phones allowed at the dinner table?
  • At what point does the laptop get turned off for the night?
  • Are phones allowed before homework is done?
  • What oversight will you as a parent have over what’s actually on the phone?

The answers to these questions will be different for every family. But it’s imperative that parents at least have these conversations with one another. Be a team. Set family limits.

I know some parents who do random checks on their teenagers’ phones. I know other parents who have a hands-off policy when it comes to teenagers and their technology. Every family is different.

In the midst of setting limits, you should also celebrate the good uses of technology!

If your student has a smartphone, does he or she have a daily devotional app downloaded? What about the Bible app? Your teenagers want to use technology. Parents can use this to their advantage by encouraging applications that will help students grow in their faith. There are tons of wonderful faith-based applications to choose from. 

In the end, your child’s faith is out of your control—it’s between your child and God. You cannot create faith in your child—that’s not your job. But you can create an environment in your family where faith can thrive. Even in the midst of all of the distractions that this generation must deal with, your family can put the pursuit of God first. 

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

—Matthew 6:33

davidDavid Bonnema is the Associate Pastor at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church in Tampa, FL. He received his Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and his Bachelors from Whitworth University. More writings can be found at www.beyondthesermon.com.

Youth Specialties

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