Putting social media in perspective

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like social media. I live far from many of my friends and family, and I use Facebook to stay connected with them. I use Instagram and Pinterest to explore things I’m interested in like cooking and crafts, and I follow book blogs and news outlets on Twitter. I’ve embraced the social media revolution.

Most of you who will read our Preschool blog have children much younger than mine, but for those of us with teens and tweens, being reminded of the difference between how adults see social media and how kids see social media may be useful. This week, an article on Medium was shared several times that reminds us that to really understand how kids use social media, we have to look at social media like a kid.

For our kids, social media is immersive and emotionally impactful, and it offers a wider variety of content choices than we are likely to know or respond to. Not only is the validation of social media often shallow, the opportunities for kids to be terrible to one another increase exponentially in an always-on, always-connected digital culture:

 “If your child does not maintain an online self, chances are her social circle is small — friends from school, neighbors, family. If she has a rough day at school, a bell sets her free each afternoon. The jerks who taunted her at lunch aren’t coming home with her for the night. She has space to think, to be with you, to read, to hug her dog, to recover, to get brave. Online, there is no school bell, there is no escape; she exists globally, and so do her mistakes.”

(You can read the article here: “Porn is not the worst thing on musical.ly” – content warning for some description of self-harm images.)

It is astonishing to me how fast our babies become tweens who are suddenly hungry for the instant validation that our culture is ready to provide, whether through social media or other means. My ten-year-old is already aware of the pressure of “followers” and the excitement of social media engagement. I have watched her skirt the experiences of online bullying and seen a bit of her trust eroded by it.

Friends, I reject that aspect of our culture. Despite my enjoyment of social media I am often disheartened by the readiness of our culture to devour drama and take entertainment from the embarrassment of others.

I don’t yet know the real antidote to the social media pressures our children will face. I have restricted (for now) my child’s access to almost all social media platforms, but I don’t feel like that’s enough.

I am instead trying to teach her the character traits and the behaviors that I hope will buffer her against this aspect of our culture and help her contribute positively to her world. Things like…

  • Integrity. Knowing and doing the right thing in the face of peer pressure.
  • Empathy. Being able to anticipate the feelings of others in order to guide her decision-making.
  • Self-value. Finding pleasure in her innate gifts and talents, and in her fundamental worth as a beloved child of God.
  • Contentment. Looking for satisfaction in what she has, rather than comparing herself to others.
  • Reality check. No one’s life is perfect, but social media usually shows only the parts that people want others to see.
  • Love for others. I define this as wanting the best for the people around us and taking action for the good of others – or at least not taking action that will harm others.

I hope I’m raising a child who knows that being a good friend is better than having social media followers, and why the difference matters. Like most parents, I’m not always sure I’m doing the right things. But I feel like the effort matters.

I have sought out spaces for our family where my daughter can connect with other girls without the pressure of social media, and where children are valued as individuals. An art club at school, a youth Bible study, Girl Scouts. My hope is that I can create connections with real people to counteract the false values of social-media culture – probably a good thing for kids and adult social-media devotees alike.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”- Jeremiah 29:11

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