Teenagers toady are the most marketing-savvy and advertising critical generation ever. For this generation, social media has become indispensible. They consider social media as their most important channel because these channels are the most up-to-date and also most tailored and targeted. As a parent, having a knowledge of social media is important simply because of the sheer numbers involved. Over 90% of teenagers will log in to at lease one social network every day! Whether you have a teenager who is on social media or not, be assured that your teen is being impacted by social media.
Teenagers use facebook, instagram, twitter, and snap chat more than any other social media networks. What many parents don't understand is that there teenagers may have a facebook account but they probably aren't really using it. The median age of facebook users if 40 while the median age of instagram and snap chat users is 18. There really are some serious concerns with online social networks. While I'm all for redeeming technology and leveraging its potential to deliver the good news of the Gospel, there are still dangers that need to be addressed.
Danger #1: The Creation of a Pseudo Community
Social media presents us with a new way to connect. It has redefined the ways in which we connect. It has replaced phone calls and emails (even facebook messenger is almost a thing of the past). Today you could divide people in your life into two categories:
Those first Christians in Acts 2 were not devoting themselves to social activities but to a relationship. It is this organic relationship that forms the basis of true Christian community. Social media promises community but the community it ends up giving looks nothing like true community. It is not the fact that we are united in common goals or purposes that makes us a community. Rather, it is the fact that we share a common life in Christ.
Danger #2: Self Promotion and Narcissism
A Western Illinois University study discovered that people who score higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory questionnaire tend to have more friends on Facebook, tag themselves more often in photos and update their statuses more frequently and take more selfies! The study neatly summed up their findings this way:
For the average narcissist, Facebook "offers a gateway for hundreds of shallow relationships and emotionally detached communication," one expert says. More importantly, for this study, social networking in general allows the user a great deal of control over how he or she is presented to and perceived by peers and other users, he added. (Western Illinois University. "Facebook's dark side." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120319194046.htm>.)
In general, social media websites encourage self-promotion since users generate all of the content. Just as people select the most attractive photo of themselves for their profiles they tend to fill up their feed with things that they deem most attractive. Social media tempts users to count friends, likes, and followers. It’s an arrogance that comes across in statements or thoughts that sound like, “I have more friends than you!” “My pictures regularly get 50 likes! How many do your pictures get?”
The Bible is very clear about its view of pride - God hates it! (James 4:6). Check out your social media page. If you spend more time discussing politics, talking about sports, or posting selfies then you do promoting Jesus you probably have your priorities misplaced.
Danger #3: The Promise of Anonymity
Social media sites such as snap chat, Yik Yak (location based anonymous chat rooms), Fess (anonymous app for high schoolers to post “confessions”), omegle (randomly pairs users in one-on-one chat sessions where they chat anonymously using the handles “You” and “Stranger), and other sites all promise secrecy for their users. There are several major down sides to using these kind of sites.
In late 2007, a social network called Juicy Campus started going viral at a handful of colleges. But unlike Facebook, which saw a similar buzz three years earlier as a fast-spreading social network conquering one university after another, Juicy Campus encouraged its users to talk about each other, not themselves. Instead of posting party photos and calls for homework help, Juicy Campus was a social network designed to spread gossip about your peers. And to get the best gossip, Juicy Campus let its users post anonymously.
You can imagine where that went. After posts of students' sexual exploits and even personal threats began to spread across Juicy Campus, some colleges attempted to block their servers from accessing the site. Fortunately, Juicy Campus didn't last long and was dead by early 2009 because it couldn't generate enough advertising revenue to stay afloat.
Fast forward to 2015 and we see a resurgence of anonymous social networks. One example is the website Reddit. This sprawling online community is fiercely defensive of its loose identity policy. They argue that it is essential to free speech that their users remain anonymous. Reddit CEO Yishan Wong repeatedly states that “We stand for freedom of speech.” Many researches who study social media trends point out that these anonymous sties may keep rising to popularity but as they do so they risk building a network full of lies and hate.
There are several things that are necessary to keep in mind:
Danger #4: Wasting Time
Did you know that the total amount of time spent on Facebook last month was 700 billion minutes. That 700 billion with a "B"! Every month we spend the equivalent of 1.3 million years on Facebook. That's the equivalent of 18,000 lifetimes! More than half of US adults above the age of 12 login to Facebook every single day.
Did you know that the average person will spend 15 hours and 13 minutes frittering away their time on social media this month? That statistic is straight up and mind blowing!
Let’s get real honest. Revival will not come from vanity. Vain hours logged into your favorite social media network will never bring revival to America. Don’t tell me your concerned for souls when you are spending hours locked onto a screen. The Bible is pretty clear about what it wants us to do with the limited time we have on this earth (Ephesians 5:16 – “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”)
The Benefits of Social Media
While the dangers in social media are very real they should not completely scare us away from it altogether. To be clear, there certainly are benefits to social media. Our youth group utilizes this facebook and instagram every week to help us stay connected. At its core the church is one giant social network. It exists as an intricate and interconnected community. God designed the church knowing that we are social beings. As social beings we should take courage and not be afraid of modern social media.
In truth social media can help deepen our relationships. It transcends geography. Social media can help extend fellowship beyond the four wall of our church building. It helps us fulfill Jesus' command to Peter, which still echoes for us: "Put out into deep water" (Luke 5:4). Furthermore, it transcends time. Fellowship in the past was limited to when we gathered together with people face to face. While face to face interaction is still the best way to get to know someone social media allows us to stay connected even when we are not face to face. Now conversations about Sunday’s sermon can linger throughout the week.
Social media can also provide easier accountability. Having an online profile pushes us towards leading transparent honest lives. Furthermore, there are numerous apps you can get now that actually encourage accountability.
The benefits of social media are many but like any other thing they require judicious and responsible use to be enjoyed. When done well, social media an enhance the fellowship of the church and even be a tool to share the Gospel. When done wrongly, it can destroy a life!
My prayer is that the parents and teens reading this will be aware of both the dangers and the benefits so that they may effectively use social media in the right ways.