The teen youth of St. Luke’s three sites gathered at University Lutheran Chapel on Friday, December 6, for the Socially Acceptable Lock-in, to explore how to follow Jesus while navigating through the minefield of the Internet, and specifically social media.

Today we continue with part two of a three-part series looking at many of the same topics discussed at that lock-in, as well as provide some tips and tools to equip parents and teens with some resources as they follow Jesus in the digital age.

Read Part 1: How Social Media is Helpful by Andrew Osborne
Read Part 3: Why It Matters by Sam Fink

How Social Media is Hurtful

By Paul Easterday

Social media offers us a number of helpful benefits. Along with those benefits, however, come a number of risks. The specific details of those risks often change from year to year and from app to app, however there are a few basic points that carry through them all:

  • Everything we post online is public – anything that promises privacy is deceiving you.
    • Apps and sites that appear free aren’t really free. Their creators don’t make things for the good and welfare of all mankind – they are our to make money.
    • Snapchat is the worst culprit. They appear to offer private picture sharing that “goes away” – it doesn’t. They are keeping and even selling your pictures to make a profit. Read more in this blog post entitled Why You Should Delete Snapchat.
    • Still not convinced? Read Snapchat’s terms and conditions, specifically the “User Content” section.
  •  We feel like a screen offers us protection from consequences.
    • Cyberbullying comes as a result of perceived anonymity or disconnect from confrontation.
    • Without social or facial cues the intent of jokes or comments is lost and what was meant as harmless ends up doing great amounts of damage.
    • The worst offender? – numerous teen suicides have been linked to cyberbullying through this question based media.
  • Media use can change our expectation of interaction.
    • Using social media can absorb vast amounts of time
    • Social media use, specifically through phones, contributes to teen sleep deprivation
    • Connecting with friends online releases dopamine, a pleasure causing neurotransmitter. The longer you use social media the longer it takes to reach the same dopamine level, building addictive behavior.
  • Social media can lead to socially isolating behavior.
    • social media and internet use in general increases access to pornography
    • Internet enabled devices and smartphones offer temptation in less supervised places
    • risqué behavior, posts, and photos can be seen, sent and shared, and are even seen as innocent or are encouraged

Teenage Girl Being Bullied By Text Message On Mobile PhoneIt’s important to keep the risks of social media use in mind. It can be very easy to ignore whats going on in the background and believe that what you are doing is of little consequence. Your family, parents, and trusted friends can and should be a support system to help keep the advantages and risks of media use in check.

Although the consequences of using social media can be challenging, the more critical issue at hand is the way we represent Christ when we make poor decisions online. Since everything we do is public we are constantly witnessing – either for good or for bad. Yet even in those times when we make mistakes we are reminded that Christ has set us free – we are forgiven and are offered new life even when we’ve messed things up in the virtual world.


For Parents

Engaging your teen about social media use can be challenging, especially if you’re not an avid internet junkie! Yet even as forms of media continue to change, your relationship with your teen remains the most important factor in guiding their choices. Remember to maintain open lines of regular communication about what they’re doing in school, online, with friends and anything else they might be involved it. They want and need your help in figuring out how to make wise choices.

For more info on social media, check out this helpful book by Mark Oestreicher and Adam McLane, Parents’ Guide to Understanding Social Media.

As a parting gift, here are some helpful tips that the book discusses in dealing with media in your entire home (that means for your teens and for yourself!):

  • Don’t allow computers in bedrooms (or if you do, restrict it to homework use and under the knowledge of a parent
  • Keep phones in a public place, especially at night. Sleep deprivation is a very serious issue for teens, and having phones in rooms at night can be a major factor in not sleeping!
  • Internet blocking software doesn’t work. If they want to find something, there is always a way around it. Instead, look for patterns and be very engaged in what your kid is doing online.
  • Know all your kids passwords. check in to their phone or Facebook account on occasion. This can be tricky, and the boundaries need to change with age. Weekly checks are good for a 15 or 16 year old, but an 18 year old probably (hopefully) warrants more freedom.
  • Be sensitive about how you engage your teenager online.