Social Media & Teens: Understanding Digital Natives, Pt. 1

Social Media & Teens:

This semester we are doing a sermon series titled: “Can We Talk? Your Questions. Honest Answers. Real Life.” Our desire is to speak to relevant issues facing teenagers today. Some of the topics ahead of us are: social media & video games, homosexuality, gender identity, alcohol/marijuana, friendship & dating, college & career, loneliness & anxiety, science & evolution, racism & racial reconciliation, and Christianity & world religions. These are issues students have raised and issues that we think are pressing against many teenagers in our culture. I will be sharing the content from those sermons and further reflection on the topics each week. I look forward to further interaction and feedback from other student ministry leaders

Parents and Teenagers – Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives

Technology is changing our lives. We now live in a world of digital immigrants and digital natives. A digital immigrant is someone most likely born before 1980 and remembers a time before life “online” was a thing. For the digital immigrant, there is a contrast between life online and offline. Life offline is the day-to-day life we live and life online is a place we go to share something from day-to-day life, email or shop. Tim Challies explains:

You remember what life “used to be like” and how things were different. You remember mailing letters to pen pals instead of emailing them; you remember being “out of touch” with someone because your phone was physically connected to the wall and couldn’t follow you into the car; you remember using an encyclopedia that took up an entire shelf in the local library; you remember card catalogs and cassette tapes and “laptop” computers that were far larger and heavier than any lap could ever hold.

A digital native is someone born after 1980 and hasn’t known life before the digital explosion. This is true of someone like me who was born during the ’80s, but it is even more true of teenagers who were born in the 2000s! Teenagers today have not only never known a world without the Internet, but they were born into a world with smartphones, social media and community gaming, etc… Tim Challies describes it this way:

For you, there may be no great or important distinction between life online and offline. Your identity in the digital realm and your identity in the world of flesh and blood are one in the same. You may have different representations of that identity, but you make little distinction between them. You move seamlessly between face-to-face interaction and digital interaction through messaging or email. In fact, you may prefer digital interaction, finding the face-to-face somehow unnatural or intimidating. Your mobile phone is part of who you are, and without it you feel like the world is moving on without you. You enjoy television and surfing the web, and especially enjoy doing two or three of these things simultaneously. You can switch back and forth between them as easily as you can change your socks.

Digital natives can probably be characterized by some of the following:

  • Begin and end your day on your phone
  • Consume at least five hours (some report up to nine hours) of media daily
  • Checking your feed or others’ “stories” is second nature
  • When you don’t know something, you google it
  • Did you see _____ YouTube video?
  • Video games are for entertainment and community
  • Social media is not so much a thing we do as much as it is ingrained into how you communicate and interact with others

From the above description, many parents fit the digital immigrant category and every teenager is a digital native. Digital immigrants tend to look down on digital natives because they just don’t understand what life used to be like. Digital natives tend to look down on digital immigrants because they just don’t understand what real life is like today. This brings with it a shift in power. Challies states, “Those who were born before the dawn of the digital explosion struggle to adapt to the new realities and are increasingly left behind. In the digital world, power has begun to shift from the old to young. It is shifting from the expert to the amateur, from the printed world to the digital.” Too often parents are defeated by the pace of change in these areas and simply give up or take a more passive role in shepherding their teenagers through the waters of social media and video games.

As Christians, we are called to submit to God’s authority. In turn, this is reflected in the home as children submit to the authority of their parents. For parents, this doesn’t mean that you have to know more than your teenager about social media or video games, but it does mean you help shepherd them to think about them Christianly—shaped by the wisdom of God’s Word. Just like second-generation children help their parents and grandparents adapt to a new culture, so digital natives can help their parents adapt to the new realities of the digital age. Yet, parents are still the most influential voice in the life of their teenager and can have a lasting influence on how they steward their use of social media and video games.

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Michael Guyer
I seek to live with eyes wide open to the culture in which I live. I believe that our lives are meant to be lived in contact with our culture around so that we may declare and display the gospel.