This is the third and last post in a series on parents, teens, and Facebook.
By Toni Birdsong
It takes courage to be a parent in this digital age. However, we often forget it takes more courage to be a teen.
Think back to junior high and high school. Think about the peer pressure, the competition, the cliques, and the conflicts. Now, magnify that. Imagine carrying that weight of the hallways home with you every single day.
That’s what kids today have to do. As digital natives who have grown up with mobile devices and social networks, teens must communicate and “get through” social jungles we never dreamed of.
Studies show a digital life can cause emotional and physical ailments in teens. They can experience anxiety, depression, and have even been known to have asthma and panic attacks over public breakups and bullying online.
On the flip side, studies also reveal increasingly that one in five people who meet online marry, that more and more people are finding employment online, and that our professional lives intrinsically are tied to our digital footprints.
Deleting the digital aspect of everyday life isn’t a practical option for our kids just as commuting to the city on a bike everyday for work isn’t a practical option for most of us.
As Christian parents our job to bring up our kids “in the way they should go,” has expanded to include digital instruction. Is this difficult? Sure it is! We’ve just got to remain agile and committed to personal learning and equally committed to leading our kids.
7 ways to help your teen navigate his or her digital life:
- Get honest about inclusiveness. Remember not getting that invitation to the party? Now imagine having to see those invitations broadcast online and then rolled out real time in photos right before your eyes. Just as cliques form at school, they are amplified online. Help your teen be inclusive. Keep invitations off the main stage of their Facebook page and confined to direct messages. Talk to your teen about being thoughtful in tagging friends in posts and broadcasting events or parties only open to a few. If they are the one who is excluded, be sensitive to their pain. Listen to their feelings and remember it’s a big deal in their world—and no—it won’t just blow over.
- Put limits on mobile. Most teens won’t voluntarily forfeit their phone in an attempt to seek a greater balance in their lives. Parent: you’ve got to do it for them. A cool rule: put all cell phones in a community basket when your teen comes home. Keep them there until chores, homework, and family time is over. This will improve overall communication and help homework and chores get done. And, it will “shut off” the noise of their social circles giving them a much-needed break (whether they agree or not).
- Get mobile passwords. Just as we suggested having passwords to Facebook and other social networks as part of the privilege of being online, mobile phones can’t be excluded. Remember: Facebook is a phone app. And, while you can’t imagine your teen texting inappropriately, stirring up drama or being the target of drama—it happens. Checking their mobile interactions is no different than deciding what friends they can and can’t “hang out” with. Parenting is not a spectator sport.
- Discourage the “relationship status” button. It was bad enough in front of the lockers or at the homecoming dance but can you imagine being broken up with on a digital stage in front of all of your peers? How about being asked about it on your Facebook wall seconds after the axe falls? How about watching the every move—and see the photos—of someone you care about as they date another person? For a teen, this can be horror flick that never ends. Parent: Discuss this critical topic with your teen—if they are doing to others or if it’s being done to them. Listen to their hearts. Encourage them to be private about their changing relationships.
- Define and neutralize the “like” button. It’s amazing what power the “Like” button has gained in our lives—so much so it’s become a measurement of success and public opinion for big brands. Can you imagine the power it has in the context of your teen’s life? As they post their ideas, opinions, art or music, and pictures of themselves—all of a sudden it’s put up to a public vote. This can impact their self-esteem in unthinkable—even irreversible—ways. Square your kids up. Inject much-needed wisdom and perspective into the digital space. Remind them that Facebook is a man-made arena; that God sees their hearts and created them uniquely—for things that can’t be captured on a Facebook wall; holy things not up for “crowd” approval.
- Encourage amends. Timing is everything in talking to teens about their online circles. Infuse biblical principles (without over amping the scripture) at every turn. Encourage your teens to make amends first and keep the digital peace. Praise the things you admire about your teens’ behavior online and find ways to encourage them to standup for good, defend others, reflect Jesus’ heart, and be a “safe” person others can turn to for advice and trust online and off.
- Pray. A dozen other “tips” on Facebook could be included in this list but the most powerful one to close with is this: Pray your guts out for your kids. Don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated with technology. It’s a snare the enemy has set just for parents—hoping to convince you that your kids can do this on their own or that things will magically take care of themselves. Lead your kids in this arena parents and do it with the power and in the promises of God. Jesus Christ is with you, living in you, and He is FOR your family.
So pray and power up in and under the authority given to you by Jesus Christ who has armed you with everything you need for life and godliness in this digital place.
What will you do today to help your teen live well in this digital space?
Post/tweet this today:
Parents: God loves you and is FOR your family. You can do this and you can do it well. #LiveSticky
This has been a great tool for families in addition to the book @stickyJesus: how to live out your faith online. Keep this covenant mousepad at the family computer, read it with your kids and sign it together! To order this mousepad, $10 + S&H, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Limited supply available.