Parenting pre-teens and teenagers who offer endless requests for social media access is not easy, even if the data and wisdom are clear.
By Chris Martin
In May, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General of the United States, issued a 25-page advisory titled, “Social Media and Youth Mental Health,” detailing the dangers of social media use among children and teens and what parents, government agencies, tech companies, and others can do about it.
If you’re a pastor, you’ve likely heard about or seen parents in your church struggle with how to lead their children to use social media wisely or abstain from it entirely. I do not envy those parenting pre-teens and teenage children today who have to endure endless requests for social media access from their desperate, peer-pressured children. It is not an easy position for parents, to be sure, even if the data and wisdom are clear.
How can you as a pastor help parents with the matter of social media and their children? This is a broad topic, and a plethora of perspectives can fall within the scope of wisdom. But here are a few pieces of advice for pastors who want to help parents.
1. Encourage research and thoughtfulness
If you’re a pastor, you would be wise to read widely about social media and its effects on the hearts, souls, and minds of people. Your own church leadership experiences may have made you all too aware of how social media can be divisive or lead people astray. But it can still be helpful to read articles and books about social media and its effects in order to see how common your experiences are.“Parents need to be willing to do some homework about social media if they want to help their kids.” — @ChrisMartin17 Click To Tweet
Likewise, you should encourage parents to read and learn about social media and its effects on their children. Take the time to read the advisory produced by the Surgeon General’s office. Read books about social media and psychology or social media and faith. Read articles about the same. Parents need to be willing to do some homework about this issue if they want to help their kids.
2. Take children’s requests seriously and talk about them
While serving in student ministry, I’ve spoken with scores of parents about when their children should be allowed to have a phone or access to social media. My answer is always the same, and it really isn’t a cop-out no matter how much it sounds like it. There is no “right” answer when it comes to the best time for a child to access social media. I can think of some wrong answers, to be sure. But my general advice is that the longer parents can keep their kids off social media, the better.
However, pastors and parents need to realize that kids who beg to be on social media have a case. And they should take it seriously. In addition to the scores of parents I’ve talked to about this issue, I’ve heard lots of stories from parents and children about how a lack of access to social media resulted in bullying, severe social ostracization, and other negative social effects. These should not be taken lightly. Pastors should advise parents to not wave off their kids’ requests but to have good, fruitful conversations about them.
3. Exemplify wise social media use
Look, this one is pretty simple. Pastors need to advise parents that they cannot lead children where they themselves will not go. Parents are going to have a hard time keeping their kids off their phones at the dinner table if Mom and Dad are scrolling their preferred social media platforms in between bites.
It’s going to be hard for parents to put limits on their son’s YouTube usage if their son has trouble getting his parents’ attention away from their phones anytime he has a question while working on his math homework.“A child is going to have a hard time listening to parenting about wise social media use if the parents can’t do it themselves.” — @ChrisMartin17 Click To Tweet
This doesn’t mean parents need to be perfect social media users to lead their kids well in this space. But they can’t be hypocritical either. A child is going to have a hard time listening to parenting about wise social media use if the parents can’t do it themselves.
4. Establish realistic and enforceable restrictions
Pastors and parents alike probably recognize the importance of this. If you want to take social media seriously, you need to be willing to restrict access to it. This is true for anyone who uses social media, not just children.
Pastors, if the parents in your church have already let their children onto social media, you can’t un-ring that bell. So the next best thing is to limit social media use as effectively as possible.
Realistic restrictions may vary family-to-family. But no one really needs to be on social media for more than an hour per day. Most new phones, tablets, and computers have features that allow for restrictions. Use them.
5. Create and maintain an environment of openness and honesty
Unfortunately, this is probably one of the most overlooked or taken-for-granted aspects of our families’ relationship with social media. In parenting, we simply don’t talk about our social media activity enough. Pastors, parents likely feel a bit intimidated when they think about talking with their children about what they’re doing on social media. Some parents may be afraid to know what their kids are getting into—and with good reason.“If parents have decided to let their children on social media, that privilege must come with openness and honesty about social media use.” — @ChrisMartin17 Click To Tweet
If parents have decided to let their children on social media, that privilege must come with openness and honesty about social media use. Parents cannot rely on surveillance software alone to monitor their children’s online activity. Such software is far too easy to get around. Parents and children alike would be best served by an atmosphere of openness and honesty about social media use. No one is served when parents shame kids for getting into content they shouldn’t. Give grace. Show humility. Love children even when they sin online.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Chris Martin is a content marketing editor at Moody Publishers. He writes regularly for his newsletter Terms of Service, and has published a book by the same name with B&H Publishing. His most recent book is The Wolf in Their Pockets: 13 Ways the Social Internet Threatens the People You Lead.