Whether we like it or not, social media is part of the very fabric of our culture now. It seems like it’s gotten to the point where it’s almost unavoidable. We use it for personal reasons, business, advertising, entertainment, and even the news. Social media can be a great thing! It allows us to connect and interact in ways that we couldn’t even dream of a few decades ago. But if we’re not careful, it can take over our lives and affect our relationships. I don’t consider myself an expert on this subject, but I wanted to provide 3 thoughts for you parents that hopefully spark some healthy conversations within your household about social media.

Set an Example

As much as parents complain about social media and its effects on their children, they aren’t immune to it either. When I’m out at a restaurant or a coffee shop and I see parents with their kids, the parents are often on their phones as much as their children! This may seem obvious, but your children will watch you and mirror your behavior. If you’re on your phones during family time, your children will see that as acceptable and copy your behavior. So, I’d encourage you to examine your own behaviors before you even talk to your kids about social media. Consider making a commitment yourself to set the phone down and be an example.

Set Boundaries

Odds are that if your middle school/high school student has a smartphone, you are the one who bought it. Since you technically own the device, it’s totally appropriate for you to set some boundaries with your student. This could look different in every family but here’s some ideas I plan on implementing with my son when he grows up:

Having a parental lock on the app store – I’ll be honest, it’s really hard to keep up with apps in this day and age. If your student has free range downloading apps, they could have access to some apps that aren’t appropriate for them. If you have a parental lock on the app store, they have to ask you before they download an app giving you the opportunity to adequately research it. Then you can make an informed decision if you think it’s acceptable or appropriate for your child.

Phones/devices turned in before bed – This may sound extreme, but there are studies that show that your teens will sleep less the more exposure they have to their smartphones, especially near bedtime. Think about it, you’re leaving your students in their rooms with a device that fits in their hands that has unfettered access to the internet/texting/social media. There’s plenty of negatives that can come with that… but a big one is losing sleep!

An article published a couple of years ago through PBS said this:
“Why might smartphones cause teens to sleep less? Unlike other electronic devices such as TVs and desktop computers, smartphones (and tablets) are easily carried into the bedroom and held by hand in bed. Most of the students I interviewed for my book “iGen” told me they kept their phones within reach as they slept, in part, because they all used it as their alarm clock. Many also told me that their smartphones were the last thing they looked at before they went to sleep at night. That’s a problem, because answering texts and scrolling through social media is mentally and emotionally stimulating, which leads to disturbed sleep. Others told me that they also regularly reached for their phones, often just out of habit, when they woke up in the middle of the night.”

If your student relies on their phone for an alarm clock, just buy them a cheap alarm clock. Otherwise, after a certain time, there’s not much of a reason they would need their phone in their bedroom at night.

Make an informed decision on WHEN to give your student a smartphone – Again, this will probably differ family to family, but you need to make a decision when it’s appropriate to give your child a smartphone. Maybe you decide your 6th grader doesn’t need a smartphone or maybe you decide it’s fine for them to have one that has restricted privileges. I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I will say if you just give your child a device like that without talking through it, it could have unintended consequences

Be Intentional

This may seem simple and a bit repetitive but try to be intentional when it comes to social media! Maybe develop a “no phones during dinner” policy or take a “no phones” vacation just to help your family connect and unplug. There’s plenty of ways to creatively connect with your family, but it’s not going to happen if you don’t take action!

Andy Hoffman is the Student Ministry Creative Director for our Student Ministry.

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