No social media until your 18th birthday.
That was our family rule, and my parents stuck to it. So, guess what I did on my 18th birthday?
Yep, you probably guessed right. I joined social media.
I didn’t have a smartphone yet, so I created a Facebook account on my laptop (seems so old school now, doesn’t it?). I spent time searching my photo library for the perfect profile picture. I scrolled through the “people you may know” list on Facebook, friending anyone that I knew. I was excited to finally be a part of the world that my friends had been talking about for years.
What I didn’t understand, but had been fully warned about by my parents, was the highly addictive pull of social media. Checking Facebook became the first thing I did when I woke up, my boredom breaker during the day, and my “bedtime story.” I didn’t want to miss anything that anyone might be doing online.
So, you can imagine what happened when I purchased my first smartphone less than a year later. Now, instead of needing to open my laptop and load Facebook, the app was just a click away, in my pocket at all times. And, of course, I took this new purchase as the perfect time to download other social media apps: Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
Social media became my main form of entertainment. When I was bored in the past, I would go for a run or play a game with my siblings. Now, I could just plop myself on the couch, unlock my phone with my fingerprint, and I had access to all of the entertainment I would ever need. My phone became my best friend, and I became defensive whenever my parents said that I was spending too much time on it.
I know I’m not the only one.
Unfortunately, I know that others share a story similar to mine. Okay, not just “others,” but probably millions. The development of the smartphone, paired with social media, has changed our culture and swept people of all ages into an addiction.
Yes, I am calling social media an addiction. I was certainly addicted to my phone, and I struggle with this even now, 5 years later. My fear of missing out (FOMO) was both fueled and solved by tweets, snaps, likes, and comments.
When I first started thinking about writing this article, I thought I would write to teens. “5 Tips to Avoid a Social Media Addiction” sounded like a nice title, but I realized that most teens aren’t going to listen to me. I wouldn’t have listened to me when I was a teen.
So, I shifted my focus. Parents, this one is for you. In case you didn’t already know the extent to which your child’s world opens up when they join social media, I’m going to tell you. It is my prayer that my own personal story will be a warning to you, but also an encouragement.
1. Social media is a breeding ground for temptation.
Smartphones are literally mini computers. You can surf the web, download applications, and communicate with anyone through countless channels. When you hand your child or teen a phone, you are giving them the world at their fingertips. And with this fallen world that we live in comes temptation.
Did you know that Snapchat was initially created for the purpose of sexting? You send a picture, it is opened, viewed for 10 seconds, and disappears. Your child can send explicit photos to another person, and you will probably never know. They also have the ability to text someone through Snapchat, and their messages will disappear just as quickly as the pictures do.
How about the ability to delete your search history permanently…did you know that your kids can do this very easily? Both Twitter and Instagram are home to countless porn star and sex accounts, all of which can be easily removed from a search history (Facebook allows this as well).
I think that is what concerns me most about children using social media. On just about every platform, there are easy ways to hide—to make sure that nobody knows what you are seeing. And for kids and teens who don’t want their parents to find out about their temptations or mistakes, social media is their best friend. It is the perfect stepping stone for falling into bullying, sexting, and even pornography addiction.
2. Social media is not private.
Through my teen years, I babysat many young children to earn money to pay for my college. I still to this day cannot believe how many of these kids had their own tablets or phones, where they could access the Internet with no boundaries. I remember one child had an Instagram account at the age of 8, and the account was fully public; anyone could see it, like the posts, and comment on them. They could also message her with no boundaries.
CNN reports that Instagram is the number one platform for grooming by pedophiles. These people actively search Instagram for childrens’ accounts that are not private. For a time, my Instagram account was public. This meant that anyone could search for it and see my profile and posts. I remember the day that I received a message from a random user who was looking for sexual attention; I switched my account immediately to private and kept it that way. I could not believe that there are actually people out there using Instagram in this way. Now, I am fully aware.
Instagram is not the only platform that can pose as a danger to your child. Anything your child shares, texts, or posts to any social media platform is up for grabs. Sexting has turned into an enormous problem because teens are sharing the explicit photos they receive with others, who then share them with their friends…and so on. Do you see the slippery slope here?
3. Social media does not promote real connection.
I spent a lot less time talking to my parents once I bought my first iPhone. I spent a lot less time talking to anyone—in person, that is. Virtually, I was always talking to people. And keep in mind, I was 19. My social media addiction started way later than most kids these days. I should have known better, but that just goes to show how addicting the Internet world can be.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. Phones can be useful, and many times necessary. Social media can be used in positive ways. I am not doubting that, but what I am doubting is the necessity for a 13-year-old to have a Facebook account.
Parents: this—this!!!—is the time in your child’s life when connection and relationships are so incredibly important. Social media will not promote family connection. Following your son or daughter on Instagram isn’t going to nurture your relationship with them. What will foster connection? In-person conversations. Game nights (board games, that is). Family devotions and prayer.
2 Quick Action Steps
When I look back on the last 5 years of my life, my phone has spent the majority of that time by my side. I would be embarrassed to share the number of hours I have spent mindlessly scrolling through social media. The number of hours is probably in the thousands.
If your child will soon be old enough to join social media (or already has), I beg of you to please trust the precautions I have shared above. And whether or not you choose to allow your child to use social media, I want to give you two action steps that will help them use these platforms safely and a lot less frequently than I did.
1. Implement parental controls, filters, or accountability (or, all three!).
Without internet safety nets, what is to stop your child from following temptation and getting swept up in the dangers of the online world? My parents have since loosened up on their smartphone and social media rules with my siblings, but they have increased the invisible fences around these platforms: no phones at night, Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability on all devices, and parent controls for all app downloads.
2. Communicate with your child, even if they don’t want to.
If I had a dollar for every time I chose to interact with my phone instead of my parents, I’d be visiting Target a lot more often. It is quite amazing how addictive a handheld device can be. Our family has a rule that bans phones from the dinner table. We talk about our day while we eat, instead of checking our phones every 3 minutes for the latest notifications and updates. Try this “rule” out at your dinner table!
Always be talking to your kids, even if they’re on their phones. Don’t give up on a strong relationship when they’re teenagers, because this is when they will need you most. Their phones aren’t going to be there for them when they’re being bullied. Their phones won’t encourage them to stay pure when porn pops up on the screen. Their phones won’t be able to have the important conversations with them that you will.
I’ll say what I have said before: social media can be used for good reasons. It can also be used in horrible, harmful ways that endanger your child.
Parents are supposed to protect their kids. Will you?