How to Talk to Your Kids about Social Media
- Heidi Vegh Contributing Writer
- 2022 21 Apr
Being a parent of teenagers in this time and culture can be challenging. It can be extra challenging given the array of technology vying for their attention every day. They are inundated with the pressure to be present online; if not, they may feel left out or even scorned.
As a mom of two teenage boys, this has been especially challenging for me. I told them they could get a social media account when they reached high school—hoping and praying that they would never actually desire it. Well, I have arrived. I have one high schooler and another following right behind. When I finally allowed my oldest son to open social media accounts, we had productive talks about what it looks like and what is expected. I was impressed by the number of parental controls available for both TikTok and Snap Chat. I helped them download the apps and set up the appropriate controls so that I could see their activity and limit their use.
As a mom, I want to build a level of trust in my children, and I try to avoid scrolling through their phones at random. Instead, I ask them about their activity and perhaps have them show me what's going on. So far, there have been no red flags, and I am grateful.
Social media is there to stay, and my philosophy is that instead of avoiding it and forbidding it, I allow them to participate within boundaries. I realize that they will be headed off on their own in just a few short years. If I don't teach them the basics and the proper way to be involved in social media while under my care, they won't be jumping headfirst into something they don't understand, which could potentially hurt them.
Here are several key points to remember when discussing social media with your kids:
Lead by Example
They watch everything we do. Children learn by watching more than by what we tell them. If they see us modeling a healthy relationship with social media, they will prayerfully follow suit. If they see us scrolling mindlessly for hours, they will likely do the same. However, if they see us with boundaries in place for ourselves and not allowing social media to soak up precious time in our lives, they will hopefully be able to make the same choices. This is where it gets hard—taking a good, hard look at our own social media habits. Take note of your activity and adjust it accordingly. Remember, our actions speak louder than our words ever will.
Explain the Consequences
Everything we put on the internet is there forever. What our children post today could be found later, perhaps by a future employer performing a background check and taking note of their integrity. Our children need to be mindful of the consequences of posting inappropriate or hurtful things online. Their actions today could easily come back to haunt them in the future. Unfortunately, with Snap Chat, the fact that the stories delete after 24 hours gives our kids the idea that they are gone forever. They are not. If needed, Snap Chat has everything stored, and if required for legal action, they are allowed to release all information they have about their users.
Don't Share Personal Information
The internet is a wild and unsupervised place. There is no need for our children to be sharing personal information about our lives, such as where we are at a given time or where we live. Even though it may seem like only our followers can see our activity, we need to be vigilant in protecting our lives. We need to teach our children that there are perpetrators online seeking to influence our children or perhaps try to find them. This is scary, but letting our children know these things are happening will hopefully make them think twice about their actions.
Just like in real life, the Lord calls us to a life of kindness. Just because we are not interacting face to face doesn't make our words and actions less effective. Cyberbullying is a very common and very real thing. Our children need to be aware that our actions and words could play a huge part in how someone feels about themselves. Unfortunately, many kids find their worth in their presence and interactions online with how many likes and comments they get. Our children don't need to play into this but should know that kindness always needs to get the last word.
We also need to allow our children the space to talk about how they are being treated online. Let them know you are there for them if they ever feel threatened or bullied online. You will help them navigate the situation.
Limit Themselves (Set Up Bundaries)
Social media addiction is a real thing. I know that I have struggled with it as an adult. My generation is the only one left who grew up without it and has only participated as an adult. Our children are being exposed to way too much, way too fast, and at such young ages. There needs to be a limit to the usage, and we need to explain to our children why those limits are there. It is not to be mean parents, but these boundaries are only in place to protect them from living an addictive lifestyle. I can see the addiction rising in my children, not just to social media but to their phones in general. I have parental controls set up for their devices to set time limits for all their apps. They do not have access to apps during sleeping hours. Boundaries and limits are essential when allowing our children to have social media. Learning these healthy boundaries now will give them what they need when they are out in the real world.
It is far too easy to portray yourself as someone different online. It gives people a place to re-create themselves into a seemingly better form of themselves. They are given the opportunity to control how other people view them and how they are perceived. This is dangerous on so many levels. It only confuses their psyche into possibly believing lies about themselves. Not being an authentic person online and in-person will only prove detrimental to their self-worth and relationships. Remind your children who they are for real. Teach them who they are in Christ and why they are unique and special, just as God created them.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:13-16
It is unsettling as a parent to allow our children to have an online presence. It is a vulnerable feeling letting them lose in any sense and trusting that they will make wise choices. As parents, we are the ultimate influence in their lives, and we need to model for them what a healthy online presence looks like.
Talking openly about social media use is more important now than ever. Social media is here to stay, and we need to be vigilant about teaching our children what healthy online activity looks like. We won't ever be perfect; we may not even truly understand it ourselves. Ask the Lord to give you the right words for your child at the right time. And remember to PRAY for your child. Pray they would make wise choices and truly understand the power of their words. This is new for many of us, but with God's help, He will equip us and teach us along the way.
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Heidi Vegh is a writer, speaker, and ministry leader living in Gig Harbor, WA. She is a remarried mother of four, navigating the blended family life after the loss of her first husband to cancer in 2013. She longs to use her writing as a way to encourage others who have experienced loss and guide them on the road to healing. She contributes to her blog found at thebreathingmama.com, sharing stories and devotionals of faith stemming from her loss and healing, mothering, and her blended and complex family. She graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a degree in Creative Writing and English and is working on her first book. Heidi is the Women’s Ministry Director at Gig Harbor Foursquare and has a deep heart for sharing Jesus with women and encouraging them in their faith walk. When she is not writing she loves to travel, read, craft, and experiment in the kitchen. Visit her Facebook and Instagram (@mrsheidivegh) to learn more.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
Are you in the trenches with your toddlers or teens? Read Rhonda's full article here!