4 Ways Churches Can Encourage the Connected Teen
By Aaron Earls
Going online is second nature to American teenagers, so it’s no surprise their relationships often stretch beyond school halls and telephone conversations.
According to new research from Pew, these digital natives see the Internet as a place to make new friends, keep up with old ones, and start drama with former ones.
A national survey of 13- to 17-year-olds finds 57 percent have met a new friend online, with 29 percent saying they have made more than five that way. However, most of these relationships never cross over into the real world. Only 1 in 5 say they have met an online friend in person.
In terms of spending time with their friends every day, teenagers are more likely to text and instant message their friends than spend time with them in person.
More than half (55 percent) of teens say they text friends every day. Just over a quarter (27 percent) instant message. Talking in person (25 percent), on social media sites (23 percent), and on the phone (19 percent) were the most popular ways of keeping in touch.
Video games also allow teens to develop friendships with those they already know and others they only know online.
Two-thirds (66 percent) of teenage boys play video games with friends in the same room at least once a month. Only 34 percent of girls did the same. Almost 8 in 10 (77 percent) of teen guys play at least monthly with friends online, with 34 percent who do so every day.
Of the teenage boys who have met an online friend in real life, over half (57 percent) met the person playing a video game together online.
Seventy-eight percent of teenagers who play video games online with others say it makes them more connected to current friends, and 53 percent say it connects them with people who aren’t friends yet.
Teens say social media makes them feel more connected to information about their friends (83 percent) and their friends’ feelings (70 percent). Almost 7 in 10 (68 percent) teen social media users experience support during challenging times from people on the platforms.
But teenagers also acknowledge negatives to social media. Sixty-eight percent of teen social media users say they experience people “stirring up drama” on social media, with 23 percent saying it happens frequently. Almost 9 in 10 (88 percent) believe people share too much information on the platforms.
A teen’s self-image can take a hit on social media, as 21 percent report feeling worse about their life because of what they see from their friends. Close to half (42 percent) have had someone post things about them they cannot change or control.
Forty percent say they feel pressure to post only content that makes them look good, and 39 percent feel pressure to post content that will be popular and get likes and comments.
Knowing this, Ben Trueblood, director of Student Ministries at LifeWay, says churches and student ministries should work to help teenagers navigate the difficult waters of online interaction.
“The Internet has brought some unique challenges as well as some incredible opportunities to teenagers in our culture today,” he says. “As the church, we have the responsibility to adjust disciple-making practices to include these areas of life that are only going to increase in the coming years.”
Trueblood says the foundation teenagers establish is vital. “As teenagers leave our churches and our homes, it is more important than ever that their identity is firmly planted in the gospel of Christ,” he says, “and that they see their ability to have the world at their fingertips as an extension of God’s call for them to make disciples of all nations.”
Here are four ways churches can help students better understand and use social media and other online platforms.
- Reaffirm that their identity is found in Christ. If teenagers at your church understand who they are—made in God’s image and coheirs with Christ—they won’t turn to social media to give them a sense of self-worth.
- Help them develop friendships at church. Students who have deep relationships with others who are following Christ will be able to handle the additional pressures that come from the digital world.
- Encourage them to take online breaks. Everyone needs to step away from the unending Twitter stream and Facebook feed. Teens are no different.
- Invite them be kingdom-minded with their online platform. Help students recognize their social media use is an extension of their faith. They should treat it responsibly and use it to point others to Christ.
How have you encouraged your teenager in their social media use?
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- Social Media and the Fruit of the Spirit
- 6 Ways to Help Your Kids Survive Social Media
- Does Social Media Lead to Social Stress?
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.