I’m a ’90s kid. That means I have fond memories of gathering around the TV watching T.G.I.F. with my family, I could slay Bop-It like my life depended on it, and I owned several “Now That’s What I Call Music…” err, I mean, “WOW Hits.” It also means I lived in the era when the Internet boomed in the homes of everyday people.
I remember the first time I was granted access to the Internet in my own home. I had heard the rumors of this mystical land that lived inside Internet Explorer. It was the world where you could ask a butler named Jeeves any question, where the evilest thing you could find was pop-up ads, and receive the rush of chemicals to your head as you typed your heart out in AOL Instant Messaging (AIM).
This was my version of Social Media. Two hours a day, with only a handful of friends who also had Internet access, and an insufficient number of web pages. It was an experience.
This is not your child’s version of social media.
Your child’s social media isn’t an experience. It’s a lifestyle.
With the development of the cell phone and the plethora of other Internet connected devices, social media has become so integral in the lives our children (and us) that it’s reshaping the culture of childhood.
Let’s get one thing straight: Your children are not growing up like you or me.
Now, before you channel Ron Swanson and run to your child’s room to destroy every piece of technology they own, we have to understand HOW social media is shaping them.
Social media is shaping the way your children are reacting, responding and reminiscing. They not only see the way you handle circumstances, they have access to entirely different worldviews and experiences. They are arriving at their conclusions on how the world operates by more than just your voice.
Social media is a measure of their worth. How many likes did they receive on that Instagram post? Did they get over 200 views on their Snapchat story? How many retweets did they get? Their validation is now a numerical number instead of the truth of who God has made them to be.
Social media is THE place where they connect with others. Forget about grabbing someone’s digits, what’s their handle? This is where they meet strangers and friends. This is the environment where they experience bullying, criticize others and/or affirm each other.
This is also the place where they gather news and get passionate about causes they believe in. It’s also the place where they will find romantic partners.
This is the world we live in now.
I know as a parent this can feel a little overwhelming. What are you supposed to do? You can’t stop the way the world is evolving with technology. The only real thing that YOU can do as a parent is to set the example. Show your children what a healthy balance of consumption looks like. When your kids remember their childhood, make sure they remember your face not the back of your phone. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D., advises, “ Don’t walk in the door after work, say ‘hi’ quickly, and then ‘just check your email.’ In the morning, get up a half hour earlier than your kids and check your email then. Give them your full attention until they’re out the door. And neither of you should be using phones in the car to or from school because that’s an important time to talk.”
- If your child is on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., be their friend and monitor their activity.
- Establish “no tech zones.” Make sure everyone (EVEN YOU) understands the rule and has no technology around the No Tech Zone.
- Find other interests other than the digital world. Do they like sports? Get them on a team. Do they like music? Get lessons going.
- Schedule times of adventure that require everyone to unplug. Go on hikes, canoe the lake, run the trail.
- Gather as a family and read the promises of who God created us to be. Teach where real value comes from with verses like Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 41:10, Deuteronomy 3:18, John 8:36, Psalm 34:17.
Navigating parenting in our world is like the wild west. We don’t have all the perfect answers and how-to’s, and that’s OK. When your child puts up a fight with these rules, because they will, rest in the knowledge that you’re preparing them for success in their future. Your children are regularly receiving both affirmation and criticism from the outside world, be intentional on affirming and loving your children in a more personal and meaningful way on a daily basis. Hug them. Love them. Listen to them.
This article originally appeared here.