Navigating Teens on Social Media!  Social media is here to stay so it is something that we as parents have to get our head around.  To be honest, regardless of what you think about social media, there is every likelihood that your teen will think something different.  How are you going to prepare them to walk wisely?  This whole topic is huge, and can be daunting.  In this epiosode I’m talking about ways that help you navigate from a heart-focus perspective.  Regardless of how old your kids are – social media is something you are going to have to think about so I hope you find this episode helpful as you establish your family guidelines for online interactions – and in particular social media.  

The Best Thing for Parents to Do About Their Teens on Social Media

When talking about social media and our teens – there is a huge list of concerns parents have:

  • Privacy concerns
  • Addictions and bad habits
  • Cyberbullying
  • Inappropriate images
  • Other influences on their faith and values

All of these are valid – social media is a concerning place for all of us.  We have to watch what we consume and what we invest in.  If we struggle, then how are our teens going to do well?  

I hear too often that parents are deciding that my teenager is never going to have social media.  I don’t know if they mean never ever – but they certainly want to delay it for as long as possible and wish that it could be ignored. 

 Social media is not going to go away.  It is constantly changing – and yet ever present!  So we can’t hide from it.  But we can be intentional, relational and heart-focused.

Whenever you let your teens have a phone, or be on any of the social media platforms is up to you. Research has shown that spending too much time on social media can affect our emotional well-being (mental health), our sleep patterns and our social skills.  So there certainly needs to be caution.  And my perspective might be slightly controversial but I think your teens need to be on social media, before they reach 18, so that you have time to be an influence on their heart and their skills.  

Just like we teach our kids to drive a car and be safe on the roads, we need to teach our kids to use social media, and be safe online.

 

Parenting in the Digital Age

If we were talking about this over coffee I’d say two things to guide your thinking.  

  1. I believe teens should have a phone and social media a few years before they leave home or become a young adult.
  2. I strongly believe that parents should be on social media with their kids.  

Some parents do open an account so they can see what it is all about but are hesitant to actually use it, or connect with their teens online.  In fact, the general feeling seems to be, that it is an invasion of our teen’s privacy if we ‘friend’ them and talk to them publically, online.  I feel very differently.

If we are only friending our kids so we can check up on them then, yes, something isn’t right in that.  That looks like popping up unexpectedly when our kids are out with their friends – just to check on them.  Unless our kids were prone to very unwise behaviour, I doubt we would do that. Generally speaking, checking on our teens seems to be the only reason parents have as to why they would join their kids online.   

Like everything – if we know our why, then our how makes more sense.  Why would you join your teens on social media?  And I think you can probably pick up that checking on your teen isn’t the best why.

There are two reasons I joined my teens on their social media accounts:

  1. Training
  2. Relationship

This is completely consistent with how I dealt with every other aspect of family life in the teen years.  I am not checking up on my kids but I am involved in their life.  The difference is our heart attitude.  And to be fair, the heart attitude of our teen plays into this as well.

  

 

 

Social Media Challenges for Parents of Teenagers

Since social media is here to stay we must teach our kids how to do it well.  We must teach them the necessary skills – in a sense (because it is not going away) using it wisely becomes a life skill:

  • How to use it and not be controlled by it
  • How to be involved online and be true to your beliefs and values 
  • How to relate to people and maintain your integrity
  • How to be safe – spiritually, morally, emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically

Though we can teach our teens the principles of these things without actually being online ourselves, we cannot help them as they practice unless we are there with them.  Just like any other life skill we teach our kids, they practice as we walk along side of them so that we can both encourage and redirect as they grow stronger in their abilities.  

When my kids opened their Facebook account (back in the day, that was the first they joined) they knew that not only would I friend them, so would their siblings (if they had older siblings), and we would engage together.  This wasn’t a threat – it was an outworking of our parent-child relationship and our family culture.

If you come at social media without relationship and trust and character with your teen – then handling the issue of social media is going to be fraught with tension and frustration and fear.  This is why we put in the work when they are younger, because as we move into the teen years any influence, any instruction or training, is dependent on what is in your teenager’s heart, and how they want to relate to God and how they want to relate to you – or the values they want to live their life by.  I’m not saying its ever too late, I’m saying it is hard work if your teen is pulling against you and then social media is included in that conflict.

 

Building Healthy Online Habits for Teens

{Okay, so remember I was saying, I got involved in my teens social media experiences because my job was to train them to use it wisely}

Training covers two things – the heart and the skills.

 The heart:  The heart is synonymous with our beliefs, values, and character.  What do our teens believe and value when it comes to interacting online?  It is important that our kids see any online interaction (and to be honest, the whole virtual reality stuff that is just around the corner – is probably even scarier than social media – but this still holds true. Any interaction, any choice any of us make comes from the beliefs, and values that we hold in our heart.  For our teenagers to use social media well they need to see it as a part of their life – not a separate entity.   It is still dictated to by their beliefs, values, and faith and character-based choices. We need to help them see this as true.

 The skills:  Whatever social sphere our kids move into their behaviour is  dictated by their values – honouring God, respecting others, and being truthful to themselves.   Being online is just another space to be social and interact with people.  And it gives us, the parents, another context to teach our teenagers to live in a way that reflects their beliefs, values, faith, and character.  The people online are real people and function the same as face-to-face interactions – it’s just online, the boundaries and social constructs that hold us to relating to others with respect in a face-to-face world,  appear to be removed – but they are not.  This is such an important lesson – these are real people that need to be treated with the same level of respect.  So all their interactions  online with respect – respect for God, themselves and others. 

Being online also requires some critical thinking skills – this is where we learn to assess what we are reading or sharing as true or wise.  An acronym that helped us with this

THINK:  Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind

And a Bible verse that in a sense says the same thing:  Phil 4:8 – Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

When this Bible verse defines our values for being online – then we have some clarity on how we are going to act  and how we are going to use social media.

The best things we can do for our teens on social media

The best things we can do for our teens on social media is – teach them how to use it wisely, and maintain relationship with them.  

Remember whenever we teach anything there are these 5 steps 

  1. Know your why
  2. Be a role model
  3. Teach the ‘what/how’- the skills and the ‘why’- the heart 
  4. Walk alongside as they practice and gain competence
  5. Give them responsibility but hold them accountable

 Learning new skills – and in this case – learning to use social media and manage our mobile devices is never something that is dealt with in just one talking to – we have to engage constantly with our kids about their skills, their attitude, and their choices.  It is certainly not a one and done (not much of parenting is!)

Parenting Tips for Teenagers on Social Media

An extra parenting tip for you – When my kids were in social media training I had notifications turned on, and I took my phone with me wherever I went.

 By being my teen’s friend online and by engaging with them in that space meant that when I saw something inappropriate or unwise then I was able to go to them privately (not online, not publically – but privately) and talk them through it.  Just as I would never address them, or correct my teenager in public face to face, neither would I make my training public by taking my concerns into the comment section on their post.  

When there was a concern (and yes, there were many) I mentioned I had a concern, I explained my thoughts, and gave them time to think about it so they could make a choice.  Remember we are talking about teenagers here – and our corrections need to be about them learning to take responsibility not about us punishing them and forcing them to do things our way.  To be honest, they didn’t always make the right or wise choice even after I talked to them. They often saw things differently than I did.  And depending on their age, would depend on if we took further action or let them walk in the consequences of their choices.  

By having the standard that they needed to accept friendship requests from other family and friend adults, and in particular the parents of their friends – meant they had an online community that reflected their face-to-face community.  This also meant that I occassionally had a phone call from someone asking if I had seen what so-and-so had posted.  Of course, everyone’s standards are different, but I appreciated the community who had my kids’ best interests at heart.

And can I just address the idea that we are invading our teen’s private space.  It isn’t private – it is on the internet!  They choose to put it out there – it’s public in as much as their privacy settings make it public – and they know that I’m there as one of their followers or contacts. Social media is not about being private. 

 As with all parenting in the teen years it all depends on our relationship with them.  What is your face to face relationship like with your teen?  Social media will enhance whatever status you have: if you have a healthy, engaged relationship, social media can strengthen that.  If you have a shakey and troubled relationship, social media will not only mirror that, but probably deepen the difficulties.

If you want to help your teen online then you must be intentional, and heart-focused (that is addressing beliefs, values and choices) and come at it from a relational place – a place where you are teaching and supporting not where you are critical, and fear driven.

 

So the best thing we can do for our teens on social media is to be on there with them: to be friends, to follow them, to like them, and to engage with the things they engage with. To be ready to talk about the stuff you know they see, to challenge what they share, to listen to their perspective, to set them up for success!  Don’t just set your kids up on  social media and let them at it.  Ther eis so much that needs to be taught if they are going to do it well!

 

Heart-focused Parenting Action Step

The action step that you need to take this week, is to think about where your family is at with social media and consider 

  • do you have healthy habits and boundaries, 
  • do you need to change something in either your thinking or in the practices already happening, and 
  • do you need to think about how you are preparing your older teen for their future as an adult.

 

I think some big issues to consider in preparing your teen to do socials well – from a heart level are

  • Self-worth and identity
  • Resistance to peer pressure (which includes an ability to recognise groupthink)
  • Time management skills
  • Diverse interests and hobbies offline
  • Ability to communicate respectfully
  • Discernment and understanding of what is good and pure
  • Self-reflection and ability to listen to advice and correction
  • Digital Literacy which includes knowing about privacy and safety online 
  • Honesty & Integrity (to self, others, and God)

 

We are not able to protect our teenagers 100% from making mistakes – and the social media context is no different.  They will make mistakes, and no matter what you do you cannot protect them from that.  But you can prepare them well, you can help them develop the internal muscle so they can make wise choices, and recover from when they make poor choices.  

 

This is a huge topic, and of course all the issues aren’t covered today – but if I was to leave you with one thought that would be – how are you preparing your teenager to engage online when they leave your home?  That preparation can start today.

 

If you have any questions for me on this topic – please drop them in the comment section and I will get back to you.

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Don’t be Anxious

Teens and Social Media is a topic that tends to make parents anxious. Can we believe this scripture – in the promise of this Scripture – when we think about our kids online?

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7

🤔Something to think about…

🙏🏼Our thanksgiving isn’t for social media, or even our kids – but that God is God, He loves our kids, He loves us, He is true to His word.

🕊️The peace of God will guard our hearts from the anxiety that makes us controlling, demanding, fearful when we think about social media.

📱We can have the peace of God, as we deal with social media. Doesn’t mean we can ignore the issue and just trust God and hope our kids do the right thing – but God’s grace adjusts our heart so that we can teach and help our older teens and young adults do this aspect of life well.

It’s a challenge for sure – but lets keep God’s word in the front of our mind and hearts as we pray for ourselves, each other and our kids!

Boundaries and Rules

What rules or guidelines do you have for your teens on social media? Or are you not there yet? Leave a comment and let me know.

Setting rules for teenagers and social media is a tricky thing because by the time your teens have the privilege of a mobile phone and access to a personal social media accounts they should have a degree of self-governing and self-control.

But of course we all need help sometimes – so we do need rules, or boundaries so that each person in the family can enjoy the benefits of social media but done in a healthy way.

Boundaries help us function well. So what boundaries do you set in your home when it comes to teens on social media?

Don’t Parent from Fear

Does having your teen on social media scare you silly? Let me know in the comments. Just comment – scared!

Here’s a few things for you to do when you start feeling anxious about your kids and social media…

-1- Pray. Ask God for wisdom and discernment.

-2-Listen to episode #71 as I talk about a heart-focused approach to helping our kids do social media well.

-3-Come back and let me know what you think, or ask me any questions you might have.

 

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