“My 16-year-old wants Instagram and I won’t let her have it. Is that bad?”
It was an honest question from a mom after one of my recent parent workshops.
“Why don’t you let her have Instagram?” I asked.
“Well…it’s social media, and that’s bad…right?” She replied indecisively.
“When she’s 18 and she goes off to college, do you think she’ll get it?”
I decided to respond with a rhetorical question: “And then she’ll have to navigate the world of social media on her own?”
This mom isn’t alone. Parenting the smartphone generation isn’t easy. We want to protect them from many of the potential dangers that truly exist, but the question we need to ask is, “Will they ever learn if I keep making all the decisions for them?”
Where will your kids adopt their values from, our bonding time with them, or our boundaries we impose?
Think about it. It’s probably the biggest question Christian parents struggle with today—raising kids in the truth when they’re surrounded by lies. And the go-to response for many panic-stricken parents is to “tighten the grip” to protect their kids. Tighten up on the boundaries.
One problem: It doesn’t work.
No, I’m not telling you to let your kids do whatever they want. Far from it. I’m just emphasizing two truths:
1. We can’t protect our kids from everything!
We can buy every porn filter, phone monitoring software, router based filtering systems…or even ban our kids from all entertainment media! But if they have friends, play sports or go to school (yes, even Christian schools)…they will be exposed to enticing imagery and ideas. All the parental controls in the world aren’t substitutes for conversations about truth.
2. Our kids glean more from our conversations than they do from our rules.
Which do you think has a bigger impact on our kids’ lives? Our banning them from using Instagram, or our conversation where we asked them:
“When it comes to posting pics, what kind of pics do you think come back to harm young people today?”
Here’s the scary truth about the boundaries many of today’s parents impose on their kids. They think rules and restrictions allow them to parent in autopilot mode. Newsflash. There is no autopilot in parenting. Parenting takes a lot of work.
It’s waaaaaaaay easier to just tell our kids “no R-rated movies, but PG-13 is OK,” than to have a conversation where we ask, “Do you think you should watch this?”
Conversations are where our kids glean wisdom and values.
And here’s the kicker. When I surveyed hundreds of parents for my new book, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, asking them about their biggest parenting regret…the overwhelming majority said it was in the area of bonding. Less than 2 percent of parents said they wished they had imposed more boundaries.
Don’t underestimate the impact of bonding.
Jonathan McKee is the president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over 20 books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller – The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife, Lori, and their three kids live in California.
This article originally appeared here.