It’s a tough question: “When do I know if my child is ready to navigate the fun but also the dangers that accompany social media?”
As our kids engage further and further into our culture the older they get, the question naturally surfaces: “Mom, Dad, can I join ________________?” (and you can fill in the blank with Facebook, SnapChat, or whatever the new flavor of the month is). And, it’s a fair, legitimate question. It’s an electronic age and kids are more electronically engaged like never before.
But – there are kids that are participating in social media today that have no right to be – and probably shouldn’t be anywhere near the internet unaccompanied. Kids that simply aren’t ready for the social onslaught of comments, likes, jabs and inappropriate pictures. Kids that are not armed with understanding as to what’s out there and how to respond. Kids that are probably more vulnerable and susceptible than you realize. Some of these kids live under your roof.
And like most questions in this genre – there are no set answers or solutions, because every person is different and every person matures at a different pace. That’s why some kids are probably ready to begin dating at 17 and some adults aren’t ready to be dating at 27.
It truly saddens me when I see kids that probably barely know the difference between a twerk and and tweet participating in social media. It’s no different from leaving your child home alone with an open gas container and a box of matches sitting beside it: Sure, everything may be ok, but why take the chance? If I wouldn’t willingly put my ignorant, uninformed, unprotected child in a dangerous situation in life – why would I willingly do it electronically?
Here are some things to think about when considering if your child is ready for electronic social engagement:
- How does my child respond to me? In general does your child respond well to your direction – or do you feel like you’re constantly pulling teeth to get them to respond? This is vitally important not just for life, but for important decisions relating to social media. You need to know that if you need to hit the brakes that your child is going to respond obediently.
- What do my child’s friendships look like? Do your kids have healthy friendships? Are they able to stand their ground when it comes to peer pressure? Do they generally use words that build up or do you consistently hear unhealthy put downs? Has your child demonstrated wisdom in the friends they have chosen? Immaturity in this area should be considered a major red flag.
- Does my child talk to me when they’ve made a mistake? Kids are going to make mistakes in life and also on social media. They’re going to say things, like things and look at things that they would probably regret. But after these mistakes the steps they take speaks volumes as to their overall maturity. Do they willingly come to you? When confronted are they truthful?
- Does my child even know what is considered “appropriate” and “inappropriate”? For your child, where is the line? Would they look at things apathetically that you would consider repulsive? Have you witnessed any evidences of this?
- What is my child’s worldview? “Worldview” isn’t simply for a college students consideration: how someone sees the world and interprets the world is their worldview regardless of their age. Do they share your worldview? How would you know? Do they see things the way that you do? Do they understand that there’s a God who is a good and there’s a Devil who is evil, and the ramifications of this seen in media?
Can I make a recommendation? Talk to your child about their social media principles. Ask them questions about what integrity, purity and accountability look like online. Ask them how they would handle certain situations. Talk bluntly about the potential moral dangers that can accompany media. This is what I have done with my oldest son and I’m about to start this process with my next son. I want my sons to get to the point where they are thinking through their media principles and are holding themselves to the standards they have written. I see this as being strategic to their overall development and our eventual launch of them outside of our home and into the world.
The guide that I have written and am using can be found right here. I encourage you to download it and use it, and let me know if it has helped you. This guide covers the areas I just mentioned of integrity, purity and accountability. Ideally, the sections of this guide should be worked on individually your child (or young person you’re mentoring) and then you go over the section together and discuss it. That’s what I did last winter with my oldest and I believe it was highly effective.
God bless you on your journey to help kids thrive in our increasingly pagan culture.
Scott Foreman is the Associate Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Mullica Hill, NJ. You can read more about Fellowship Bible Church at http://www.aboutfbc.org.