Parents in today’s technological age are dealing with issues that their parents never had to face. Social media is a cultural change that did not enter our world until the end of the last century—and it’s not a passing fad. Instead, it’s become the fabric of our American culture.

As with many things, technology has proved to be both a blessing and a curse. We’ve witnessed ruling parties of nations overturned, in part, because of the influence social media had upon its citizens. If it can impact a nation, it surely has an impact upon our individual families.

A recent study conducted by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture1 revealed some startling information. Parents shared a view indicating that the family is in decline. This decline was attributed, to a large degree, to social media. Parents expressed a sense of danger to their child that was linked directly to the use of technology. Here are some of the findings the study revealed:

Eighty-four percent of teenagers carry a cell phone.
Ninety-three percent of teenagers are connected to their peers via cell phone or online social networking.
Seven out of 10 teenagers are texting at least once a day, and 64 percent are texting multiple times daily.
Four out of five teenagers have a Twitter, Facebook, or other social networking account with which they follow and “friend” people whom their parents don’t know.
Two thirds of teenagers connect to their online social networks at least several times a week.
Sixty-two percent of all parents of teenagers say their children “are constantly connected electronically with their friends.”

Another study indicates that the situation is actually worse than parents report. It shows a disconnect between parents’ perceptions and reality. “The Online Generation Gap: Contrasting Attitudes and Behaviors of Parents and Teens,” conducted by Hart Research Associates for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI),2 found a “generation gap” between what parents think they know about their kids’ online behavior and what the teens say they actually do know.  In short, this study revealed that parents think they have a better handle on their kids’ online behavior than they actually do. This means that the problem may be worse than parents think it is. In fact, 71 percent of teens say they hide their online activity from their parents.3

Our children’s lives are infused with contacts, conversations, and information that many parents feel are out of their control. Parents readily admit that their child sees things in media that they should not be seeing. Parents have a sense that they should, in fact, be doing more; however, they’re uncertain as to how to get a handle on social media and the digital world that has invaded their child’s life. Many parents feel as if their attempts to control the use of media are futile.

If parents try to envelop their child in a safety net against the influences of social media, they are left with nowhere for their child to go. After all, social media is all around us. There’s no escaping it. So should parents just admit defeat? Do we throw up our hands and give up?

A key role of parenting is teaching our children to become responsible adults. This is not a matter of control; it’s a matter of living up to our God-given responsibility as parents. In so doing, we’ll help to ensure their safety amid social media frenzy.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Install parental control software.
Teens should never have accounts that don’t allow parents complete access. Nothing should be secret to you regarding your children’s online activities. Software is available that can be installed on all household computers that allows you to retrieve a report of your child’s online activity, including gaming and pornography. You may want to consider Net Nanny, a top-rated parental control software, which sells at a very affordable price.

Set boundaries and monitor use of technology.
Limit your child’s time on the computer, and be sure the computer is located in the main part of the house. Allowing your children to have computers in their rooms may limit your ability to monitor their activity and screen habits. This may not be a popular move, but that is OK. Remember, you have a responsibility as a parent to protect your children, as well as to teach them responsibility and time management.

Spend time considering what you value as a family. Some families have decided to ban the television from their homes completely, finding the merits of television to be minimal. Other families have chosen to control television usage and programming, again reflecting family values. Internet access can also be gained directly from your television, so setting boundaries and monitoring its use is vital for this purpose as well.

Many teenagers can’t seem to put down their cell phone. They walk with it, eat with it, and lie in bed at night talking on it. At times they seem more interested in talking or texting on their phones than in interacting with family and friends in person. Texting has gotten out of control at every age, and it seems as if families can no longer enjoy a meal together without texting or talking on the phone. Establish ground rules for your family—adults included—so that time to talk, share, and listen are a normal part of your family’s interactions. Set up “no-texting” times and zones, and be firm on this matter. Many have established rules about putting cell phones away when they come into the home at night; others have limited the amount of time spent on them. Otherwise, if we don’t take such measures, technology will control our families instead of our controlling it.

Review all social media accounts.
If you as a parent chose to allow your teenagers to have a Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account, sit down with your teens at unannounced times on a regular basis and review entries on their accounts. This will help you to become familiar with sites on which your teens are spending their time and with whom they’re communicating. You’ll learn a lot when you see photos, read stories, and ask questions. Many parents would be shocked if they knew what their teens knew, saw, wrote, and read from their friends.

Supervise access to social media at friends’ homes.
Many parents say that even if they control social media in their own homes, their children are exposed to it at the homes of their friends. Perhaps this is the easiest issue of all to solve: don’t allow your child to stay overnight or visit that friend’s home unless you are along. This is not harsh; remember, you’re the parent.

Model responsible behavior.
Perhaps the most important element of parenting in this digital world is being a positive role model in the way that you yourself use technology. Many teens are simply mimicking what has been modeled by their parents. Too many parents operate their lives by the premise “Do as I say; not as I do.” This is no way to effectively teach your children appropriate ways to utilize social media.

Parents must model moderation in their own use of the television, computer, and cell phone. Model the observance of laws, including laws about the use of cell phones while driving. When your teens get their driver’s license, they will imitate the model that you have set. If you don’t want your child doing it, writing it, or watching it, then neither should you. We are counseled, “The words and acts of the parents are the most potent of educating influences, for they will surely be reflected in the character and conduct of the children.”4

Many of the arguments as to how to handle social media place too much responsibility on the child for their own well-being, and this is simply unfair and unhealthy. Children need to grow up with parents doing their job so they don’t have to grow up too quickly. A clear distinction must be made as to who the parent is and who the child is. What is the role of each? In essence, the question for many families is: Who is in charge?

Technology has the potential to be a valuable contribution to our children’s lives if parents allow it to be a tool instead of a substitute for real relationships. Parents must set boundaries, create balance, and teach responsibility. By being intentional in our ever-changing digital world, parents may greatly reduce the likelihood of having regrets. After all, every parent wants to know they have done all they can do to raise healthy, well-adjusted children—not just for life here, but more important, for eternity.

We have a God-given responsibility to introduce our children to Jesus. There is no work more crucial. Everything our children are exposed to should bring them closer to their Savior. Perhaps we should let Scripture be our filter as we navigate through our digital world:

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8, NKJV).5 

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1 Carl D. Bowman et al., Culture of American Families: Executive Report (Charlottesville, Va.: Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, 2012), p. 8.
2 Family Online Safety Institute, “The Online Generation Gap: Contrasting Attitudes and Behaviors of Parents and Teens” (Hart Research Associates, 2012).
3 Erik Sass,  “Teens Running Circles Around Parents on Social Media,” www.mediapost.com/publications/article/177499/teens-running-circles-around-parents-on-social-med.html#axzz2b7ubQBJa.
4 Ellen G. White, “Education,” Health Reformer, May 1, 1889.
5 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Pamela Consuegra is associate director of family ministries for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. This article was published September 19, 2013.



 

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