I am a mother of three teenage boys and a pink ‘tween’. Raising teenagers in the instruction of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4-7) is a challenge, particularly when it seems the Bible does not address modern-day issues, such as social media. However, God’s word is full of theology, principles and guidelines that can be applied to issues such as this.
My husband and I have perhaps taken a different approach to other parents in the area of social media. We have not banned any online platform for our boys, partly because it is too hard to keep up with everything new, but more importantly, we want to avoid the “don’t touch wet paint” syndrome where banning things makes you want it more (see Romans 7). What we have done is try to help them apply Ephesians 5:1-21, in particular, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (v8b-10). We hope and pray that they learn how to imitate Christ and develop self-discipline and discernment for themselves.
Our family abides by rules set by different platforms (submitting to Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”), so there were no social media accounts until they turned 13 (although previously you could have an Instagram account at 12, which we allowed). Beyond that, we strive to provide an environment that encourages godly behaviour, through conversation and simple rules governing device usage.
Remembering that human beings are sinful and generally speaking do not seek God (see Psalm 14:1-3, and Romans 3:9-12), we stress that stranger danger online is the same as stranger danger on the street: do not connect to anyone online that you have not met in person. We endeavour to model a healthy level of mistrust of the unknown in social media spaces, without being conspiracy theorists! [Interestingly, these messages are repeated at school—without acknowledging original sin.] We point out that God is watching everything we do (see Psalm 139:1-7) so we should let that guide our behaviour when online (what we watch, with whom we interact, how we interact, what information we give out, etc), as we strive to imitate God and walk in love (Ephesians 5:1-2).
To help the kids with transparency, we set up a “devices only in public spaces” policy in our home where phones, tablets and computers remain in shared living spaces. We have asked (not forced) our boys to make at least one of us a contact in any online platform for which they have an account, not because we will monitor, but because it means we might see their activities. This has helped with accountability and their own self-discipline.
I cannot say our kids have not done wrong. However, our decision to not control and censor social media (or friends or books they read) seems to have kept channels of communication open and helped build a trusting relationship between us all, based on a desire to please God. My continued prayer is that their hearts will remain with Christ and God’s Spirit will continually guide them.
One humble and imperfect Mum.