So then, what are some practices that will help prepare our sons and daughters to be a breath of fresh air in their online spaces?
One way to not be especially helpful is to frequently announce: “I just don’t see the point. Who has the time for social media?!”
It’s difficult to encourage our kids to edify and influence social media if we assume this posture. Because to THEM there clearly is a point!
Our sons and daughters see value in spending time online. The things that happen in that realm matter to them and their people; entertain them; inform, inspire, trouble, and challenge them. Why wouldn’t we try hard to understand those things, also?
Claiming that something is (at best) pointless cuts any meaningful discussion at the knees. While social media may not be essential to us, the parenting point is to try to see what’s increasingly important to them.
We invite ourselves in to their online lives – not bemoaning their curiosity and savvy – but as firm allies and trusted guides.
Here’s a recent and practical example from my own living room in the last lovely days of summer.
The scene: My son and I sat on the sofa, binge-watching ‘Alone‘ on the History channel. I asked to scroll through his Instagram feed ‘super quick’. We do this more often than he would prefer (which would be never) and less often than we probably should.
I asked a few questions like: “How do you know him again? What’s her last name? Do you talk to each other in real life? What do you enjoy about their posts? Tell me about them – what are they like?”
As I write this now, realize this may sound suspiciously like a police interrogation – but out of respect for this son (and his people) his part of our conversation isn’t included here.
But his answers are helpful and insightful. He follows a world-class angler because he shows how to cast in windy conditions and hand-tie elaborate fishing lures. He follows a professional soccer player who can juggle nine balls; blindfolded; while surfing. “Who in their right mind wouldn’t follow him, mom?” Duh.
But there are a few situations that called for deeper discussion and clarification: “OK. I notice this person has 3000 followers. Why is that, do you think? Are you friends in real life? By this I mean: Have you had more than a few face-to-face conversations at school?
Will she greet you by name and ask about your summer when she sees you? If so, great! If not, why would so many people (including you) want to be a part of her online life? Might she happen to fish, juggle, or surf blindfolded, by chance?
I try to smile. He rolls his eyes.
After choosing not to say a thousand other things (progress!), I finally say “I’ve heard that the average person can have meaningful relationships with about two-hundred and fifty people. For now, let’s keep using Instagram to stay connected with our family, the friends we actually talk to in real life, and the people we especially like to learn from.”
The end. Scroll on!
Being an ally and a guide does take time (in this case about 10 minutes). It also takes not panicking wildly and deciding to become Amish.
Our kids are under care for only a few more years, but we really can have hope. It is the right amount of years together for both of us; the very days having been numbered by God himself.
For it is their Heavenly Father that is preparing them to breathe his light, life, truth, and beauty into all the places they will go in his world.
He will not fail them, or leave them to their own devices.
That we get to participate is a wonder and gift.
Peace to you and yours (and also heaps of hope, humor, courage, and infinite grace)