Social media and middle school
“Everyone has it, why can’t I have it!” “They’re leaving me out of everything!”. . . cue the tears, bring up the music, and now the dramatic finish. . . ”you’re ruining my life, I’ll never make real friends!”
This year’s winner of best actress in a pho-drama goes to a middle schooler for her role in Deprived: The Tragedy of a Young Lady Traumatized By Social Media Prohibition.
Sound familiar? This discussion is ricocheting around our home. Apparently “every kid” at school has (1) an iPhone, (2) unlimited texting, and (3) every social media stream possible. Oh, and did I mention “those” kids also watch all the latest movies, have pet unicorns and vacation in exotic lands on the weekends. They probably have a new car waiting in the garage, just in case they turn 16 before the end of 7th grade.
Like it or not, our kids live in a world of increasing digital communication. Social media streams, texting, email, and chat features in video games are only a few ways they may engage others. Ignoring the subject is dereliction of duty and unfiltered access to digital content is insanity.
We are stewards of the next generation, entrusted to bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). That responsibility compels us to preemptively and proactively lead this conversation. They must learn and implement Scripture so that by the Holy Spirit’s power they may harness social media for good (Ps 119:9-11).
“We are stewards of the next generation, entrusted to bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
At this point, our 12 year old twins have no access to social media. They want it in the same way they want to drive the car. It looks like fun but are clueless about what is involved. If you’re in our category, here are our current talking points. I hope it helps:
Not everyone has it
I called your friends’ parents. Guess what, your friends are either lying to you, lying to their parents, or lied about their age on the sign up page (if under 13). Some use the account of a family member and yes, some are of legal age and have their own digital life. That’s their decision. For our home at this point, no.
It’s not real
People are addicted to social media for the same reason they are addicted to pornography. It’s not real. The virtual world posted online doesn’t include the mundane, humiliating, and often heartbreaking realities of everyone’s life. All we see are the finest moments, the clearest thoughts, the things we want to celebrate or project. Discontentment and discouragement are the lions that are crouched, ready to pounce on your mind as you compare your life to what you perceive others are experiencing.
“People are addicted to social media for the same reason they are addicted to pornography. It’s not real.”
The world is a dangerous place
We, your loving parents, can’t stop everything from assaulting you. I will fight tenaciously to protect you from every threat that seeks to exploit or objectify you, both foreign and domestic. Trolling perverts, incendiary critics and reckless commentators are part of life. We will teach you the tactics and tools to combat them both physically and electronically. When you master those tactics and tools, you can then get in the arena. By the way, we’ll be in the arena with you. So will the Holy Spirt, along with every single Bible verse you have committed to memory.
You can’t handle it now
This is a wisdom call for our home, at this point in time. We live in a brutal world. Thank God we can’t audibly hear all the slander, gossip, boasting and complaining going on around us all day. There is only so much information your heart and mind can handle right now. You battle enough to get your homework finished, read your Bible, read other books, serve others, play outside, exercise, make things, talk with your family and friends…the last you need is vapid blather from insipid sources.
Digital content is eternal
Process that. The adult version of you will one day grieve over the embarrassing, irrational, prideful things the middle school version of you is currently doing. Don’t immortalize those bad memories by creating a digital record. You are young, growing in the most amazing ways. We are not keeping a record of your wrongdoing, don’t create an electronic one for this unforgiving world to discover.
Discipline produces freedom
A professor at Southern Seminary said this to me years ago as we discussed parenting. It’s true, your freedom in our home is directly connected to your discipline. The greater self-control and responsibility you exhibit, the greater freedom you will enjoy not only in social media circles, but with many of life’s tools such as computers, cell phones, and of course, the car…when and if we get there.
Yes, that is the title of an excellent book written by one of my best friends. Yes, we’re challenging you to read it this summer. You need Jesus and an ever deepening understanding of the Bible. Only then will you be equipped to discern the digital world. Your heart is the soil in which the gospel must be planted, cultivated and protected. As you grow in Christ, you will have the discernment and discipline to live smart.
So, for the time being, digital networks are off limits. This season will not last forever. Your middle school years are challenging enough without tyrannical digital feeds. Use your endless energy to grow strong in biblical knowledge, develop discernment, and pour your creative talents into serving others.
“Use your endless energy to grow strong in biblical knowledge, develop discernment, and pour your creative talents into serving others.”
Two words will open the door to your social media access: necessity and maturity. The need will be obvious as school projects, career aspirations, and other opportunities will depend on it. When the need arises and you have the maturity to handle it, it’s no problem to help you get started. Those same two words are the gatekeepers for other areas of life too. Get ready to hear them as we talk about driving, cooking over a gas range, having a pocket knife, using your rifle, going to your friend’s house and many more.
It may be hard right now to trust us when many good (and bad) people around you have greater freedom. When they ask you, tell them it is a decision your parents made for our family. You don’t need to explain any further, just simply say, “my dad said no, not now.” Don’t try to covertly circumvent this rule. God’s omniscience, your guilty conscience, and our parenting strategy will not let you be successful for very long. It’s your job to trust God and obey, it’s that simple.
Jim Stitzinger is the director of the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization at Southern Seminary. Jim has served as a church planter and pastor in southwest Florida and as the pastor of local outreach and evangelism at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California. He completed his M.Div. at The Master’s Seminary in 2002, contributed to Evangelism in the John MacArthur Pastoral Library Series and edited the Grace Evangelism training curriculum. In addition, Jim served as adjunct professor of evangelism for The Master’s Seminary and as chaplain at multiple police departments and hospitals. Jim’s passion is to exalt Christ and equip believers to be relentless in evangelism, engaged in missions and prepared for church planting.