Video Games & Teens: Understanding Digital Natives, Pt. 2

Editor’s note: Click here to check out the first part of the “digital natives” series!

Statistics tell us that the most common forms of media/entertainment among teenagers are: social media and video games. Statistically speaking, girls dominate social media and boys dominate video games. These are not exclusive categories as many guys engage on social media and many girls play video games.

A pressing question for Christians today is, “Does the Christian faith have something to say about how we engage on social media, play video games, and use technology?” Does the Bible gives us direction on these issues? I believe the answer is “Yes!” God’s Word gives us wisdom for all of life and calls us to submit the details of our daily life as an act of worship. In fact, I want us to look at Romans 12:1-2 to see how it applies to our use of media and video games.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a [living] sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2

Romans 12:1-2 calls us to submit our daily life to God as an act of worship. Our worship is in response to his grace and mercy demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Incentives and punishments may cause a teenager to adjust their use of social media and video games to conform to please their parents, but only knowing and enjoying the grace of God will lead them to submit these things to God and seek to please him. Perhaps most importantly for this topic, we are called to submit our everyday, ordinary life to God as act of worship. There is no compartmentalizing some areas from other areas of our life. Romans 12:2 further explains what submitting our daily lives as an act of worship looks like. It involves resisting the sinful patterns of this world. Social media and video games have a way of conforming us to the patterns of this world. Instead, God calls us to be transformed in our thinking so that we may be able to discern God’s will in the details of our lives. A better way of saying this is: We worship God when we apply His wisdom to real life.

How does this help us think through social media and video games?

1. God cares about our use of social media and video games

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we dismiss God from key area of our lives. For many teenagers, those areas include social media and video games. A more subtle but equally damaging practice is comparing ourselves to others. We look at how we use social media or video games in comparison to our peers. Many teens feel justified that they are not sexting, using a fake Instagram account, or totally obsessed with a particular game like their friends. However, this puts our eyes on the wrong standard. In response to God’s mercy, we are called to fix our eyes on Him and submit our daily lives to him as a living sacrifice.

Ask yourself: How am I doing at submitting my use of social media and video games to God?

Make this your prayer: God show me areas of my life, especially when it comes to social media or video games that are not honoring to you. Give me discernment about how to use these things.

2. God calls us to resist the sinful patterns of this world as they express themselves in social media and video games

Before going any further, I think it is important to think rightly about social media and video games. In and of themselves, they reflect humanity’s God-given task of shaping creation for practical purposes. They can and often do serve good, God-honoring purposes. However, like all creation, they are subject to the fall. Though they may have God-honoring intentions, they can easily become idols and magnify our rebellion against God. It is how we use social media and video games that determines if they are being used to honor God or enable sin. This requires discernment in how we use social media and video games, which involves examining our own use of them and how they affect our hearts.

In this light, by their very nature social media and video games have a way of conforming us to the pattern of the world around us. Sometimes this isn’t a bad thing. Social media has brought about new ways to stay connected and communicate. Video games not only foster creative-thinking but also provide a way for people to connect around similar interests. While we should appreciate these things, we also need to address the negative effects they can have. More often than not, social media and video games enable our idols or provide a context for already-present sin struggles to be manifested. Consider the following:

  • Escapism & Comfort: Video games and social media can become the place we retreat to escape our present surroundings. Over time, our default is to scroll through our feed or get online to play rather than embrace hard things or appreciate being still before the Lord.
  • Identity & Significance: Social media gives us the ability to tangibly measure our influence and significance. The more likes we get the more power we believe we have and more significant we see ourselves. The commercial side of social media even makes it desirable to pursue this power. The community aspect of video games creates an environment where we can easily seek to find our identity through our performance and the recognition of others.
  • Lust & Sexual immorality: The grip of pornography on the hearts of teenagers has only been made more accessible through social media. It is not only available but it also sets expectations for how guys and girls interact online. Guys objectify girls and girls are pressed to conform to the sexualized expectations of our culture. Video games have not only been sexualized in their content but also provide pathways to accessing this type of content online.
  • Isolation & Insecurity: In different ways, social media and video games contribute to and enable isolation and insecurity. We retreat to play games and distance ourselves from others. We bury ourselves in social media and distance ourselves from people in real life. Social media can feed our insecurity or lead us to express it in sinful ways. Likewise, video games allow us from facing our insecurities.

In both social media and video games, we must resist the conformity to passively view and actively participate in these things. The people you follow matters. What you post matters. The games you play matter. The reasons you follow certain people matter. The reasons you play certain games matter. Are they motivated by sinful desires? Are they enabling sinful desires or leading to particular temptations?

In the end, rather than using social media and video games as a good gift, we can easily become controlled by them if we do not resist the sinful patterns present in them.

3. God calls us to apply His wisdom as we interact on social media and play video games

We often do not apply God’s wisdom to these areas because we are not spending time being renewed in our thinking through God’s Word. Failure to be transformed by the regular renewing of our mind through God’s Word will mean failure to steward our relationship with social media and video games in a way that honors God.

Tony Reinke has produced some excellent resources regarding the impact of technology and social media on our lives. Recently, he wrote:

Abiding with Christ is essential to thriving online. Our union with Christ, by faith and through the Holy Spirit, feeds us with the life and vibrancy we need to succeed even inside the digital worlds that can so easily feed our personal insecurities.

The renewal of our minds comes from abiding in Christ. Yet, if abiding in Christ is the place we start, we must also take it a step further and ask specific questions about our use of social media and video games. Consider asking yourself the following questions or use them to engage those you are serving:

Social Media

  • How would you evaluate who you are following and interacting with on social media?
  • How would you evaluate the time you are spending on social media?
  • What insecurities or sin struggles do you struggle with on social media? Are you following people who enable or magnify these struggles?
  • Is there a difference between what you post publicly and privately (DMs/Snaps)? Are you honoring Christ in both cases?
  • Do you express your faith on social media? What would it look like to do this in a genuine way?
  • Are you getting distracted from meaningful conversation or other responsibilities because of being on social media?

Video Games

  • How would you evaluate the content of the games you play?
  • How would you evaluate the time you spend playing video games?
  • How does playing video games affect your heart and attitude toward others?
  • Are you honoring Christ in the way you interact with others online or in your gaming community?
  • Are your thoughts being consumed by a particular game throughout the day?
  • Are you avoiding facing certain problems, responsibilities or people by playing video games?

Additional Resources

So Your Kid Is a Gamer (Game Church) – This is a ministry that aims to bridge the gap between the gospel and gamers. They have good articles about various games and other resources like this downloadable PDF for parents that provides some helpful information about gaming and violence in gaming.

The Secret to Digital Health & Six Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Tony Reinke) – Both of these articles get at how technology (especially the smartphone) is changing us. There are great benefits to using them, but there are also implications for how they shape us and the way we interact with others in the world.

Teenagers and Technology: 3 Things You Might Be Missing (ERLC) – This provides some helpful thoughts on engaging your teen’s use of technology and seeing the opportunity for reaching teenagers through this medium. I love this line: “So, instead of bemoaning them, let’s engage them. Instead of dismissing them, let’s disciple them.”

4 Principles for Parenting in a World of Video Games (Trevin Wax) – Wax provides good counsel for parents about helping children practice discernment and self-control in their use of technology.

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Michael Guyer
Michael is the Minister to Students at Open Door Church where he has served for the last five years. He gets most excited about good coffee, enjoying friends and family, making disciples, engaging culture, and planting churches. He writes to help others delight in, declare, and display the gospel in all of life.