It’s been a while since I talked about Social Media. I’ve been enmeshed in it for the last couple of months dealing with the logistics of running a church’s accounts. There are a lot of rules, and very few reliable sources to learn those rules before the rules change entirely. At the same time I’m diving in head first, I also find myself avoiding social media like the plague on a personal level. Why? Because it makes me angry. I don’t really enjoy being angry… but it’s a little addictive. There’s a kind of rush, a dopamine hit every time we find ourselves outraged and indignant. We get to feel holier than thou for a few moments as we mentally crush the argument or other comment… some of us do a little more than just mentally engaging.
There are a lot of pros and cons for young people and social media. On one hand, kids can begin to learn internet citizenship and responsibility in engaging in polite, respectful dialogue with perspectives from all walks of life. They can also learn reactionary anger and impulsiveness as they try to engage with the greatest single collection of hatred, anger, vitriol and filth ever created by human hands. They can learn how to impress the importance of an idea while receiving instant feedback for their creativity and artwork. They can also find themselves on the receiving end of instant mockery and name-calling simply for sharing their love of something dear. Kids can drink deeply from the well of knowledge and experience that lives on the Web, or they can find themselves sucked into a well of lies, deceit, and smut that lurks in plain sight.
A point was made recently that regardless of how private the settings on a child’s account are, that child can still access the wide range of offerings on social media sites. Sites like Tumblr, Twitter, and Reddit don’t often do enough to gate off more lewd or dark content. Other sites are very similar in that the user has nearly all the responsibility for what they see, even if they cannot themselves be seen.
I don’t want to fear monger – so I tend to advocate for parental presence. Parental Controls can be a nice tool, but it’s not the all-powerful genie that solves all of the potential risks. Instead, parental presence, while taking a lot of work, can often head off problems otherwise ignored for ease of use.
Presence creates a sense of comfort, safety, and security. A child can explore knowing that their parent is nearby and that they can ask questions and seek understanding. However, the ability to ask questions is entirely based on how safe a child feels asking that question without fear of being mocked or judged harshly. Can your child ask you anything and receive a clear, effective answer without mockery or overreaction? No, really, anything? Ok, imagine your child (regardless of age) asking the following questions:
“Mom, somebody asked me to send naked pictures… what do I do?”
“Dad, what does the word $#@* mean?”
“What is [insert sex topic here]?”
“Someone said I was fat and ugly. Am I?”
Do you have an answer? How do you feel right now?
God is present with us. It’s one of His greatest gifts to His people. He was present with Abraham, in the Tent of Meeting, in the Temple, in Jesus, in the Church. We are the recipients of “God with Us.” God doesn’t balk at our questions, our doubts, our angry shouting. God’s presence is constant, even when we cannot feel it. God suffers alongside us, he hurts with us. And, as parents, we get to do the same. We ache with our sick children, our heart is broken when theirs is. We take the pain as well as the joy of parenting.
Put in the effort. Be present with your kids. Trust and communication are based on relationship. The more time you invest early, the stronger your relationship will be.