I’m going to be that person. The one who says social media can be a good thing. Even for my kids.
Wait, wait, don’t throw anything at your screen just yet!
I’m not saying it’s beneficial for everybody. I’m not saying it’s beneficial all around. There are issues. A ton of them. And they’re scary beyond comprehension. The statistics already emerging from this relatively new way of communicating are staggering, enough to cause all decent humans to throw their computers out the window and all parents to lock their kids away until frontal lobe development is complete. I am not unaware of the facts.
But I think, as with with so many things God uses, there is a lot of good to be found there, and more importantly, a lot of good to create there.
Because, I am convinced, that we, as believers in a good God, are never to withhold any good from any bad. We are supposed to shine our light everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. There will be a time when the darkness won’t have access to the light any more. When it is completely segregated.
Now is not the time to be tightfisted.
If we don’t contribute good to all aspects of life, and yes, to social media too, we have squandered our light. We might as well sequester ourselves away in a commune, live in a place of like minds, pray and worship our own way to our contented hearts and never have to deal with any unpleasantries or ideological clashes. We’d never have to interact with those beneath us, or, heaven help us, those we might envy.
So when I hear people say they’ve left FaceBook or Instagram or You-Name-It because they no longer care to subject themselves to it, they no longer want to participate in a world gone socially mad, I get it! I want out too sometimes! But then I want to ask, “If not you, then who?”
I’ve wrestled a lot with this and prayed even more. I have kids with an online presence. Naturally, I'm concerned about what they might come in contact with. When I was a Kansas City reporter doing online research back in the early days of the net, I stumbled upon a site with content that I will never be able to erase from my mind. I don’t think any adult, let alone any child, should come in contact with such depravity and I worry about what all of the exposure, all of the interactions with the darkness are doing to our world, to our children.
But the biggest question I keep asking myself, the one I keep coming back around to, is this:
What exactly am I doing about it?
I led a young adult’s group at my church for a few years and during that time I encouraged our participants to get online and regularly post something positive, whether an uplifting message or a Bible verse. How powerful is that? I don’t think we can even imagine. I encourage my kids to do the same, and to reach out to those in need. To always be a force for good. (Do they get sidetracked with selfies sometimes? You bet they do! We are all working on that.)
I believe there is a lot to be disheartened about online and on social networks, but I also believe there is even more to be encouraged by, because there really is more good than evil, no matter how things may look.
At the dinner table recently, my family discussed our social media usage. We each took turns evaluating the negative and positive results of social media but it was the overwhelming beneficial majority that surprised us. Here’s what we came up with:
1.) It allows many people to earn an income from home. (Social media platforms are now an author’s lifeblood!)
2.) It encourages interaction between people groups separated from one another geographically. (This was especially true for my daughters, they say, because they lived out in the country and found it more difficult to meet physically with their friends.)
3.) It unites people around the globe with news that affects us all. (One of my daughters says she feels she knows more about the world and is more confident in weighing in on important social and political issues because of social media.)
4.) It fosters friendship between people who have never met. (I have a terrific friend I met on FaceBook, a relative of a friend, years ago!)
5.) It calls people to action, to get involved, to pray for various causes. While not all may be beneficial, the majority are! (My kids and I have been motivated to donate, speak up, and plead to God in support of a variety of worthwhile causes.)
6.) It allows people a voice who might not otherwise have one: the shy, the insecure, the bullied, the hurt…and the list goes on. We are all equal on social media. We all have a voice. We all have a golden opportunity to shine a little light! (I am committed to this!)
I could elaborate with even more reasons social media can be a good thing but I want to underscore all of the aforementioned with this:
My husband and I are connected with our children. We have always been intimately involved in their lives.
On FaceBook and Instagram, we stay in touch with family members we haven’t seen in years and the brother and sister that now live away from home. Our regular posts and pictures comfort them, provide them a sense of belonging and participation. We feel connected despite the miles between us. In this way I also stay in touch with former colleagues and classmates—some in other countries—whose hearts I’m still invested in.
I also get my news from social media—the news that matters, like my friend Jen’s rush to the ER with a daughter, my friend Polly’s heart attack, and my former Pastor’s cancer. One solitary request for prayer online is efficient, cohesive support immediately unavailable anywhere else!
And so my husband and I made the decision to allow our kids access to social media too. We didn’t do this lightly, and we didn’t do this until we felt we had trained and readied them for the responsibility that came with it. We knew that they would be exposed to adult concepts and images that would be difficult at times, but we have stayed with them, right by their sides physically and technologically. At all times.
It hasn’t always been easy. Early on, one of our kids was bullied on FaceBook by a school classmate. But if I am being honest, it was the mistreatment by not just one, but several members of a church youth group that really concerned me.
One of our kids envied the smart phones she saw her friends had, one of them the phone accessories, and another almost lost her jealous mind over what she saw her friends at church wearing. Parents will always have these sorts of childhood issues to deal with, on or off social media. We must act vigilantly in all venues! We have to set the limits!
But we can’t blame the phones, the platforms, the internet, or the government. We have to blame ourselves.
What are we doing about it?
There is a lot of light to shine in the world! We'd best start doing it in places that make us feel uncomfortable.
That’s where it’s really needed. And when properly trained, our kids can carry the torch.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." - John 1:5