We live in world that is shaped by our social media sharing and consuming. This isn’t necessarily a good thing – neither is it a bad thing. It goes both ways. Our family has enjoyed the benefits of social media and yet, we constantly talk about the negative issues that it brings into our lives.
How much to share on Social Media
The first thing we need to recognise is that social media is a social thing and as such the principles that direct our face to face interactions apply. Being on social media is a different social context than what we grew up with as kids – but the guidelines and wisdom of how to be social remain the same. It is like we’ve suddenly been allowed to go to a different type of party. How we conduct ourselves remains the same – we are just in a new place. In fact this analogy of social media being like a party is a good one to talk about with your teens.
One of the issues that needs to be discussed is how much to share.
I remember my parents talking to me about the circles of friendships. I am sure you have seen this type of illustration; we have our self in the middle and from there we have varying degrees of relationship and closeness: close family and friends, friends and acquaintances, the general public and/or strangers.
Guard your Circle of Intimacy
I remember a situation (as a teenager) where I told a friend something close to my heart and she told others. I remember the feelings of betrayal. In talking about it with my dad, he reminded me of these circles, and how I had probably shared my heart outside of my close family and friends. Maybe – maybe not. I did think she was my close friend. So it doesn’t mean you won’t be let down by your friends – it is just a guideline to help you pause and reflect before you go ahead and share.
On the technical side – when it comes to social media sharing it depends on your settings. So if you are helping your teens set up social media help them see their settings in keeping with the circles of friendships. Help them see that what they are sharing needs to be in keeping with what they would share with those people face to face.
Building your Child’s Heart First
Though parenting and navigating online is relatively new in terms of parents with experience – we certainly have no heritage or traditions. We are all learning together. I was in the middle of directive parenting when the internet became an everyday household thing, and my oldest were in their middle to late teens when social media became a big thing.
So I am very thankful that we had some things in place already that helped my oldest two navigate an online presence. But when it came to my youngest we had to hold in balance the establishing of family life and their engagement online. This is what parents are dealing with today.
Three principles that will help you build your teens heart before they go on social media:
- Family life comes first – before anything. This is true for face to face life and online life.
- What we do affects other people – we are not islands. Our filter always needs to be – how does this affect others.
- God’s word has something to say – God is creator God over all the world and He has something to say about everything. We need to learn to check what we are doing with God’s word.
When we teach our kids – even from a young age – from these three principles: family first, what we do affects others, and God has something to say about everything – then we prepare our children for any social situation – be that face to face in their community or online, be that with you or when they are on their own.
If you have young children – start thinking today about the skills your children need to do online life well.
If you have tweens, then start talking to them so you can know what is in their hearts when it comes to these three principles – what do they understand? What do they believe?
If you have teens then talk them about their commitment to living by these three principles as they go online.
Listen don’t React
Our teens see social media differently than we do. We see the dangers, they see the connections. There is probably safety somewhere in the middle.
So if you are setting your young teens up on social media listen to them and their heart, don’t squash them with your ‘wisdom’ but instead investigate and learn together about this new social world they are stepping into. Share your heart with them, your perspectives, your fears, your understanding – and let them share with you what is on their heart.
And one other tip as you have these conversations with your kids – don’t infer that social media sharing isn’t ‘real life’. Don’t say your ‘real life friends’ – social media is real life, people on there are real life friends – it is the wrong phrase to use, and it will immediately drive a wedge between you and your teen. Face to face friends, friends you see, kids around town, people you’ve met – use these phrases instead as you help your kids learn how to share and what to share online. (Once again, refer to the Circle of Friendships)
Don’t be fearful of the internet – or social media, but be intentional. Know that the things that you teach your children today will prepare them for their tomorrow.
The passage from Phil 4:8 that tells us to dwell on, to fill our mind on good things. This is always a good guide for when talking about all things media (be that internet, books, or movies.)
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.
Phil 4:8 (NIV)
Finally, my Top Tips for Helping your Teens on Social Media
In summary here are my top tips for helping your kids learn to share wisely on social media:
- At some point let your teenagers be on social media. It is better for them to have access to these platforms when you are still an influence in their lives rather than them being exposed to all the issues when they are older and on their own (or doing it behind your back).
- Be involved with them on social – if you are involved in their face-to-face life you need to be involved with their online presence. This not only keeps them accountable but it involves you in their world. This is so important for parenting through the teen years.
- Teach your teen social skills and then translate them to the online context. Always respect yourself and others.
- Teach your teens the impact of their words on others and that every time they speak (in words, text, or images) their words are going to affect someone.
Do Your Teens do the Right Thing on Social Media? When we teach our teens to use social media we need to address heart issues not just right behaviour.
The Best Thing for Parents to do for their Kids on Social Media: Social media is here to stay and parents need to find a way to help their teens do well online.