By Rachel Sinclair
A recent study from Pew Research found that over two-thirds of teenagers ages 13-17 feel like they experience positive benefits from using social media, while less than half say they experience negative effects.
Facts & Trends spoke with Brian Housman, national speaker and author of Tech Savvy Parenting, about how parents and church leaders can use these statistics to help teens navigate the complicated and ever-prominent world of social media.
Eighty-one percent of teenagers say social media makes them feel more connected to friends, and 68 percent say social media makes them feel as if they have people who will support them through tough times. Do you think there is validity in this belief? In what ways does social media provide teens with a genuine support system?
I think it’s their reality. Social media is one of the ways they connect in community with one another. Just as when I was younger, we’d go to the bowling alley or skating rink, now teens jump on Instagram or Facebook. Within seconds, they’re going to have people interacting with them.
My concern is not that there’s not a connection, but how deep that connection goes. Does the surface interaction that we get from comments or likes really penetrate our soul, or is it just a salve that temporarily makes us feel connected to someone?
At our core, we as people are made to be know. We’re made by our Creator to be known by Him and known by others. Yes, I do believe teenagers’ reality is that social media makes them feel connected. But how much can we trust that feeling of connectedness, and how deep does it really go?
Do you think social media serves as a legitimate beginning to developing deeper connectedness and real relationships?
I do. Every relationship, including adult relationships, starts off on a surface level. Two people may meet at a work party and talk about their careers, and it could develop into a real relationship. Likewise, people can connect via common interests on social media, and those connections can lead to real relationships offline.
At the same time, when you’re scrolling through your feed and watching people, you’re seeing photos that aren’t reality, which can lead to negative body image, depression and anxiety. Somehow we’ve got to find a balance.
I told my children, who are now adults, that you have to find a rhythm in all areas of life––work, home, spiritual, and the same is true for social media. Use it without it using you. Own it without you using you.
Close to half of teens say they feel overwhelmed by all the drama on social media. How can parents and church leaders help teens identify at what point social media is unhealthy?
I think we have to ask, “Is there a definitive point? And if so, is it different for different people?” Like many addictive behaviors, the point at which you start questioning your self worth and identity is when you’ve crossed the line.
We’ve created a narcissistic culture, and we worship the self. Anything we worship besides our Creator becomes even more and more addictive, whether it’s drugs, sex, or social media. When you’re in it, you don’t recognize the danger.
The book of Ecclesiastes says there is a time for peace, and a time for war, a time to mourn and a time to celebrate… meaning there is a rhythm, a time and place, for everything. In the same way, there’s a time and a place for technology.
When you’re using technology and your blood pressure is rising, or you’re feeling stressed, depressed, angry or sad, the technology is controlling your feelings, and it’s time to unplug. It doesn’t mean you can’t use it again, but you need to unplug.
How can church leaders instruct teens in a way that isn’t condemning, but also demonstrates the need for self-discipline and boundaries?
One of the comments I regularly receive after public speaking is, “I really appreciate your transparency.” I don’t stand in front of an audience and tell parents what to do without relating it to my own faults, failures and struggles.
I think as church leaders, too often we stand on stages or behind lecterns and pulpits, and we proclaim truth, but we proclaim it void of any relationship with the audience.
If you haven’t connected with any teenager as a person, you don’t have a right to stand up and tell them what they can and can’t do. In their mind, you’re an empty authority figure who cares nothing about them, and you’re just of trying to correct them.
In those situations, we have to relate through our own struggles. We all have struggles when it comes to technology. Share some of your own addictiveness, or times when you feel out of control with this stuff. One of the biggest things I learned with my own kids is not always to say the right thing, but to ask the right thing.
The more I ask the right questions, the more I’m putting it back into the Holy Spirit’s hands to bring conviction and truth to their heart.
RACHEL SINCLAIR (@1rachelsinclair) is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tennessee