Jon Acuff, a popular Christian author and speaker, recently circulated a motivational text message outlining a strategy for using social media. “There are only three roles you can play in social media,” said Acuff, “creator, critic, or fan.” This parsing and simple classification of all social media behavior is compelling. “You can create. You can cheer. You can criticize.” Acuff ended his 75 word text message with a reminder: your online behavior is a personal choice. You, and you alone, choose which role you play.
Immediately I wanted to look back and consider my personal social media interactions. How many of my posts involved a creative emphasis? How often was I cheering for others or offering words of hope? To what degree was I guilty of criticizing others online? I didn’t actually take a tally of my past posts. Instead, I decided to move my sights forward.
In the future, I will adopt Acuff’s social media strategy. If I choose to be active on a social media platform, then I would like for my online presence to celebrate and cheer on creative pursuits of truth and beauty in the real world. And even though there is a Godly way to offer helpful criticism, I don’t want criticism, especially of a negative or political flavor, to be my modus operandi.
Because I am a parent, Acuff’s message hit another layer inside my heart. How will my children use social media? What will be their strategy with online posts? After all, it is my responsibility to show my children how to interact with, care for, and cultivate the world around them, including the digital world.
As parents and Christ followers, so much of our parenting role centers around nurturing virtue in the hearts of our children. Let’s indeed pray for the Lord to give our children wisdom and courage. At the same time, the Lord is asking us to give our best efforts in modeling wisdom and courage to our children.
As parents we have been selected by the Lord to teach and model how to forgive, how to dignify others, and how to depend on Jesus for strength in the midst of great personal struggle. We are also responsible for teaching children the mundane (some might say common sense) and menial tasks of life. These tasks include but are not limited to how to mow the lawn, clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, make the bed, drive a car, order food at a restaurant, and balance the bank account. As of 2007, when the first iPhone was released, handling the mighty, powerful, and internet-connected mobile phone joined this list.
I haven’t yet seen a perfect model for raising children to handle the challenges of possessing and using a mobile phone. It’s tough sledding no matter which path you choose. And even though the perfect model can’t be found, we are not excused from the responsibility of teaching our children how to use phones and how to navigate the tricky, fickle, and perilous world of social media.
Through some personal experience as a student pastor, through many conversations with other parents, and through some reading, I do have a suggested model for children and mobile phone use. Please note this model will not be popular. It especially won’t be popular among students under age 15.
You already guessed it. My recommendation is for children from ages 0 – 14 to be free from the pressures of social media and free from the entanglements of mobile phones. Let’s let them just be kids. Of course we should continue teaching them discipline and responsibility. However, instead of spending time on Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat, I hope our children can read books, play games, ride bikes, draw and paint pictures, run through the woods, climb trees, build forts, make music, bake cookies, explore parks and playgrounds, and have fun.
They may deal with some broken bones and scraped knees as a result of playing in the woods. For the most part however, these injuries are much less invasive than those injuries accompanying phones and social media. My father-in-law used to say to my wife, when she was a little child with a scraped knee, “It will be all well before you get married.” Unfortunately, our children are experiencing mishaps and evils through early exposure to mobile phones that might not be all well before they get married.
Our culture peddles fear to parents who question the growing norm of arming our children with cell phones. What if we don’t know exactly where our children are located? What if we mess up the logistical details from school to sports practice? We are to believe that our children absolutely must have a phone to arrange pick up and drop off from school to travel sports to birthday parties to sleep overs. It’s much safer for my ten and eleven-year-old to have a mobile phone.
It no doubt does make life easier in the short term. But what is the cost of that short term benefit and who will pay it? Exactly how? And for how long? Do we know?
When all is said and done, is life with a phone really safer for children? What are the genuine threats a child faces? What is the best way to protect them as children, and when is the right time to arm them and send them into the fight? I hope you will grant these questions permission to linger in your mind for a while. Let’s wrestle with them.
My daughter turns 15 this fall. We will “gift” her with a mobile phone. Actually, it’s not a birthday present. She will be allowed to start using a mobile phone when she has earned her learner’s driving permit. Just like the machine power of our car, hopefully we can teach her to use a mobile phone as a tool and not let it become an obstacle, an entertainment, a novelty or a distraction. We will mess up. Grace, as always, will be necessary in parenting. But because she won’t always have us looking over her shoulder, it is time for her to begin practicing good discipline on how to best utilize the power of a mobile device. From 15 to 18 we have the opportunity to train our children how to handle their digital passport. In these last years of childhood, we need to prepare our children to be on their own.
There are many lessons to teach. Acuff has provided a nice, simple overview for social media. With my phone I can create. With my phone I can cheer people on towards something. With my phone I can criticize and complain.
I pray for every parent, and I ask for you to pray for me, as we coach up and train our children on how to be good citizens of the digital world. Please pray for all parents as we teach and model to our children how to best use mobile phones. May the result of our children’s online presence be more goodness and beauty in the world, along with more truth and justice. May we handle their failures and our failures with grace and support. And may we learn, step by step, how to follow and walk in the steps of the One whose image we bear.
Praying for you,
For more on technology and families please read The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch and please visit https://www.barna.com/techwisefamily/
For more thoughts on raising kids to be good digital citizens please visit https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/technology
For a short video on technology as a tool please consider this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yS4NyvwFOA&list=PLkd3uC72pTY1fkK8kRa7UcOB4w9nvhlYr&index=5
For a mobile device contract between parents and teenagers please check out https://joshshipp.com/book/
For more on Jon Acuff please visit https://acuff.me/