June 9, 2016

When should teens start tweeting?

by Jim Stitzinger

“Everyone has it, why can’t I have it!” “They’re leaving me out of everything!”… cue the tears, bring up the music, and now the dramatic finish…”you’re ruining my life, I’ll never make real friends!”

This year’s winner of best actress in a pho-drama goes to a middle schooler for her role in Deprived: the tragedy of a young lady traumatized by social media prohibition.

Sound familiar? This discussion is ricocheting around our home right now. Apparently “every kid” at school has (1) an iPhone, (2) unlimited texting and (3) every social media stream possible. Oh, and did I mention “those” kids also watch all the latest movies, have pet unicorns and probably have a new car waiting in the garage, just in case they turn 16 before the end of 7th grade.

Like it or not, our kids live in a world of increasing digital communication. Social media streams, texting, email, and chat features in video games are only a few ways they may engage others. Ignoring the subject is dereliction of duty and unfiltered access to digital content is insanity.

We are stewards of the next generation, entrusted to bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). That responsibility compels us to preemptively and proactively lead this conversation. They must learn and implement Scripture so that by the Holy Spirit’s power they may harness social media for good (Psalm 119:9-11).

At this point, our 12 year old twins have no access to social media. They want it in the same way they want to drive the car. It looks like fun but are clueless about what is involved. If you’re in our category, here are our current talking points. I hope it helps:

1 Not everyone has it. I called your friends’ parents. Guess what, your friends are either lying to you, to their parents or lied about their age on the sign up page (if under 13). Some use the account of a family member and yes, some are of legal age and have their own digital life. That’s their decision. For our home at this point, no.

2 It’s not real. People are addicted to social media for the same reason they are addicted to pornography. It’s not real. The virtual world posted online doesn’t include the mundane, humiliating, and often heartbreaking realities of everyone’s life. All we see are the finest moments, the clearest thoughts, the things we want to celebrate or project. Discontentment and discouragement are the lions that are crouched, ready to pounce on your mind as you compare your life to what you perceive others are experiencing.

3 The world is a dangerous place. We, your loving parents, can’t stop everything from assaulting you. I will fight tenaciously to protect you from every threat that seeks to exploit or objectify you, both foreign and domestic. Trolling perverts, incendiary critics and reckless commentators are part of life. We will teach you the tactics and tools to combat them both physically and electronically. When you master those tactics and tools, you can then get in the arena. By the way, we’ll be in the arena with you. So will the Holy Spirt, along with every single Bible verse you have committed to memory.

4 You can’t handle it, now. This is a wisdom call for our home, at this point in time. We live in a brutal world. Thank God we can’t audibly hear all the slander, gossip, boasting and complaining going on around us all day. There is only so much information your heart and mind can handle right now. You battle enough to get your homework finished, read your Bible, read other books, serve others, play outside, exercise, make things, talk with your family and friends…the last you need is vapid blather from insipid sources.

5 Digital content is eternal. Process that. The adult version of you will one day grieve over the embarrassing, irrational, prideful things the middle school version of you is currently doing. Don’t immortalize those bad memories by creating a digital record. You are young, growing in the most amazing ways. We are not keeping a record of your wrongdoing, don’t create an electronic one for this unforgiving world to discover.

6 Discipline produces freedom. A professor at Southern Seminary said this to me years ago as we discussed parenting. It’s true, your freedom in our home is directly connected to your discipline. The greater self-control and responsibility you exhibit, the greater freedom you will enjoy not only in social media circles, but with many of life’s tools such as computers, cell phones, and of course, the car…when and if we get there.

7 Live Smart. Yes, that is the title of an excellent book written by one of my best friends. Yes, we’re challenging you to read it this summer. You need Jesus and an ever deepening understanding of the Bible. Only then will you be equipped to discern the digital world. Your heart is the soil in which the gospel must be planted, cultivated and protected. As you grow in Christ, you will have the discernment and discipline to live smart.

So, for the time being, digital networks are off limits. This season will not last forever. Your middle school years are challenging enough without tyrannical digital feeds. Use your endless energy to grow strong in biblical knowledge, develop discernment and pour your creative talents into serving others.

Two words will open the door to your social media access: necessity and maturity. The need will be obvious as school projects, career aspirations and other opportunities will depend on it. When the need arrises and you have the maturity to handle it, it’s no problem to help you get started. Those same two words are the gatekeepers for other areas of life too. Get ready to hear them as we talk about driving, cooking over a gas range, having a pocket knife, using your rifle, going to your friend’s house and many more.

It may be hard right now to trust us when many good (and bad) people around you have greater freedom. When they ask you, tell them it is a decision your parents made for our family. You don’t need to explain any further, just simply say, “my dad said no, not now.” Don’t try to covertly circumvent this rule. God’s omniscience, your guilty conscience and our parenting strategy will not let you be successful for very long. It’s your job to trust God and obey, it’s that simple.

Jim Stitzinger

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Jim Stitzinger is the Director of the Bevin Center for missions mobilization at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the Associate Vice President for Advancement.
  • Fibber MaGee

    Love how this follows Eric’s post. I’m in this battle now with a 13 yr old and I am pretty sure that God has put these children in our lives to train and strengthen us.

    • Jane Hildebrand

      As Luther once said, “One learns more of Christ in being married and rearing children than in several lifetimes spent in study in a monastery.” Hang in there!

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  • Jason

    I can personally attest to #5. I bumped into a high school classmate who asked if I’d ever gotten their request for our address to send me an invite to the reunion coming up. I dusted off and fired up my old account of Facebook and sent the address.

    Then I read through some of my old messages… Younger me was an idiot!

    I think #6 is important for parents to understand as well as kids. Everyone knows that sheltered kid who goes off to college/gets their own place and goes crazy. Our job is to prepare them to make decisions, not just prevent them from making them for as long as they’re under our roof.

  • Great article Jim. I am the editor of our school’s publication, freely accessible at http://www.gbs.edu/revivalist. Mind if I republish this some time, giving proper attribution of course? You can contact me from that page as well. Thanks.

  • Many Sons

    Jim,

    This will probably be a surprise to the conversation, but we are a family that has intentionally chosen not to use social media at all – not as adults with adult children (and I am not yet a dinosaur age wise). Frankly, in the end ( years from now), I believe the proof of the wisdom of that decision will be “in the pudding” so to speak, meaning in the evident fruit. From all the cautions and concerns that you list in your article, why in the world does being an adult or an older teen make such a pursuit of any real, lasting worth? People, even Christians, pursue social media simply because the culture does it. A few brethren will say they use it to spread the gospel, but in reality few are likely to have that as a real motive and fewer still would actually do it, if this method is even actually worthy to pursue. If social media can be compared to porn, then that is good enough comparison to say that our children who are now largely grown have a valid biblical basis to stay completely disengaged. Email is enough for serious conversations, in addition to pen and face to face. That said, I agree with your comments about how it out to be limited for teens, for the family that uses it at all. However, Psalms 101:3 is good counsel on social media for those who name Christ. Read the old poem “The Church Walking With The World” by Matilda C. Edwards. Social media is of little, if any, eternal value!

    The Lord bless you, Gary

    • Susannah

      Great article Jim, and really thoughtful comments Gary. I only have small ones at the moment but my husband and I have decided to delete all social media accounts. We were challenged by this: ‘aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you’ (I Thess: 4:11). I found that I was unable to ‘mind my own affairs’ using social media – and to deal with the resulting jealousy, envy, resentment etc etc. I think also that time is short. We don’t need to catalogue our life. Our heavenly Father knows all the days of our life; we don’t need a e-record as a back up 🙂

      Oh, and I am SO glad that social media was non existent during my own teen years!

  • 4Commencefiring4

    It’s a bit ironic: Teens all say they want to “fit in” with their crowd, but they also want to be noticed, to be kind of a rebel, to be their own person who thinks for himself, to gather admiring friends who want to be around someone different and interesting…not be just another carbon copy of everyone else who is just as boring as the next one. Who can pick out one fish from a net full of similar fish?

    But instead of actually being interesting and different and daring and unique by dispensing with the constant digital life that’s expected of teens–and everyone else–they give in and go–willingly–with the crowd and become electronic addicts, texting/sexting every two seconds like everyone else. Because…that’s just what you do, right?

    I wonder when–or if–that special teen is going to come on the scene one of these days who says, “Not me. I’m not going to live enslaved to a device, to be unable to drive, walk, or eat without a screen in front of me. If you want to reach me, I’m in the hallways each day–or here’s my home number. Don’t call after 9.”

    One thing’s for sure: they couldn’t be cyber-bullied by anyone because they wouldn’t see any of it. And if their friends tell them about it, they should just smile and keep walking. Pretty soon, the bullies give up because they aren’t having the desired effect. No fun in that.

    OK, I’m probably dreaming. But how do any new trends start? With one person willing to be first.

    • Jason

      Maybe *I’m* the one dreaming, but I’d like to think there are kids out there doing this (to some degree or another) already.