Tuesday’s Truth for Youth: Social Media Showdown

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Real Life, Part One

Shanice couldn’t wait until she got her new tablet! Today was her birthday and she had outright told her mom, dad and step-dad that she wanted one, down to the color and cover!

The only computer in the house was on a desk in the kitchen nook, and she had to share it with her mom, step-dad and little brother. She had a cell phone that her biological father had gotten her in order to be able to stay in touch with him, but dad was crystal-clear with his expectations and rules:

“Shanni, this is only to call or text me, or your mother, or step-dad. It’s not for getting online or hanging out with your friends. This already costs me money and it costs me a lot more money if you’re online and playing on it!”

As Shanice got home from school, she burst in the door, almost knocking it off it’s hinges.

“It’s my birthday!” she shouted. “When can I open my presents?” Her mother, step-dad, and dad all came around the corner each holding small packages. She rudely snatched all three and threw herself into the living room couch. She ripped open all three packages, and there before her was a white iPad, an iTunes gift card for $50 and a cover! She let out a scream that made her entire family cover their ears and the dogs howled in the other room, and immediately ran upstairs to “explore” her iPad.

Three hours later, her mom called her for dinner, but Shanice said that she wasn’t hungry. At bedtime, her mother came into her room, checked her temperature and asked if she was feeling OK—just to be sure. Shanice said that she was fine. As her mother left her room, she noticed that Shanice’s iPad’s eerie glow under her blanket. She told Shanice to turn it off in ten minutes and go to bed. As her mother left, she noticed that Shanice closed, and locked the door behind her. Her mother thought “Hmmm. That’s odd. She’s never done that before.”

Shanice agreed, but in fact didn’t turn it off…in fact, she stayed up all night on her iPad and when morning came, her mother knocked on the door to get Shanice up for school, the door was unlocked and swung open. What her mother saw, made her mouth drop open: there lay Shanice—in the same clothes she’d had on the day before. Her eyes were bloodshot and she had huge bags under her eyes. She could barely stay awake and kept falling asleep to the point that several times the tablet almost hit her in the face!

Shocked and angry, her mother ordered Shanice to turn it off. Shanice refused.

And when her mother asked Shanice if she had gotten any sleep or been up all night on her tablet, Shanice screamed “it’s none of your business! This is my tablet. I’ve waited long enough to have something of my own and you can’t take it away from me!” Shanice tried to jump up from her bed and slam her door in her mother’s face, but was so tired she stumbled and dropped her tablet on the floor.

Shanice’s mom picked it up and told Shanice to get ready for school. Shanice screamed back at her, “I’m not going to school. I’m too tired! Give me back my tablet!” When her mother just stood there and didn’t respond, Shanice let out a scream of frustration so loud that she woke everybody up. She turned on her heels and as she got in her bed, throwing the covers over her head, she screamed “I hate you!”

What’s the Problem?

Today, millions of teens are spending hours every day hanging out online. Call it cyberspace, call it the Web, call it your virtual life–whatever you call it, it’s an incredible marvel of technology. And like most marvels of technology, it has incredible potential for good, and for evil.

In fact, in 2023 the United States Surgeon General published an advisory, ominously titled: “Social Media and Youth Mental Health”, in which he noted the following:

  • Up to 95% of young people aged 13-17 report using a social media platform.
  • Nearly two thirds of teenagers report using social media every day and one third report using social media “almost constantly.”
  • The types of use and content children and adolescents are exposed to pose mental health concerns. Children and adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of mental health problems including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • This is concerning as a recent survey showed that teenagers spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media.
  • When asked about the impact of social media on their body image, 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse.

According to the Surgeon General, the full mental health impact of social media is not yet fully understood, but at this point, social media is considered sufficiently safe for children and adolescents.

As a Christian young person, how do you relate to the web?

Warnings 

You Are at Your Own Risk

Nobody is in charge of the web. Nobody is policing what’s allowed on there, or whether it’s accurate. Virtually anybody who can get at a computer can put up a website, so it’s your responsibility to make sure that the information you’re getting is coming from a reliable source. Do some checking around rather than believing all that you see. Check different sources to help determine what’s accurate. Find out whether what you’re reading is actual fact or just someone’s opinion.

It’s Like a Drug

Going online or using social media are great ways to access information, entertainment and stay connected with friends and family. However, for some—a surprisingly large number—the internet can actually become an addiction.
In China, on February 2015, a teen known only as “Little Wang,” who, in an effort to end his online addiction, cut his left hand off. The 19-year-old called a taxi to take him to the hospital, leaving a note telling his mother he’d be back soon. He left the hand behind on the nearby bench where he cut it off, but the hospital was able to reattach it. Still, he may not regain full control of it, surgeons say. A teacher says the boy’s online habits made him “impetuous.” This is, of course, an extreme case, but the fact is that the Internet can be extremely addictive.

As with Shanice, one common sign in teens who spend too much time on the Internet is difficulty waking up for school. It’s likely that the teen is spending time on the computer at night instead of sleeping.
Other warning signs of addictive behavior include:

• diminished interest in activities teen once enjoyed
• feelings of distress or anxiousness when teen cannot go online
• secretive Internet usage
• withdrawal from activities with family and friends

What the Bible Says

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (Philippians 4:8, NIV).

A lot of content out here simply isn’t pure, noble, true, or appropriate for a Christian. For whatever the reason, some people feel that the usual rules don’t apply to them online, or on social media, or on an app. They’ll click onto pornographic websites even though they would never buy a Playboy magazine or rent an X-rated movie. Let’s face it, pornography is pornography, wherever you find it. And it’s never appropriate for a Christian. Neither is violence, hatred, racism or spiritualism (witchcraft, wicca, ghosts, demons, etc.).

Yes, there are websites that advocate all those things. Yes, you can find them if you look for them. Yes, you can occasionally stumble across them when you’re looking for something else (although the chances of that are fewer if you use some of the software available to screen out such sites—for more information, check out the “Additional Resources” section). Your response should be exactly the same as it would be if you came across the same thing on TV, in a book, or in real life:  “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22, NIV).

Further, it’s possible that you may only be visiting wholesome, positive sites, maybe even Christian ones; yet your online usage y still be hurting your spiritual life. Because what we see and do online can be really addictive, as we have said, some people spend hours and hours each day at it. They neglect family and friends, exercise, sleep, work, school, and time with God. Get your priorities straight. Sitting in front of your computer twelve hours a day is no more healthy than lying in front of the TV for the same length of time.

If you think you may be overdoing it, be honest with yourself. Examine how much time you’re spending online and whether it’s getting in the way of other activities. You may need to give yourself an internet/social media vacation until you feel you can get your priorities straightened out. Moses, in Psalm 90:12 wisely writes: “Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NIV). A lot of teens fall prey into the devil’s trap when it comes to the choices they make online, but God says: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NLT).

Lastly, God wants you to never forget that your mind and body:
• belong to Him, and…
• are a holy place where He lives (1 Cor. 6:19, 20)

What the World Says

The world says that you can do whatever you want to do, as long as “you’re not hurting anybody else.”
The world tends to view truth as relative and open to interpretation. It’s hard to hear someone tell them “no,” or try to “judge” them by telling them that what they’re doing is “wrong” or sinful.” That includes what they look at and do online. However, attitudes about online usage are changing. People of many backgrounds and faiths recognize the dangers of the internet and social media. They care about ways in which we can all help each other with respect to lifestyle habits that are healthier, safer, happier, and more productive.

What Can I Do?

Exercise These Rules for Social Media Safety
1. Be careful with your actual information. For example, never give out your real name (most chatrooms and other websites allow you to use a nickname). Never give your address or phone number. Keep your online friendships online don’t plan to meet in real life. Be careful about giving any information your hometown, the name of your school, the name of a team you play on that might allow a stalker to identify you. You can share what’s going on in your life with online friends without having to give a lot of details.
2. Never abuse; make fun of or bully someone online! Not only is this behavior inappropriate in all social media environments, but it is also against the law and downright un-Christian! Jesus made it clear that we should always seek to treat others the way that we would want to be treated ourselves (Matthew 7:12).
3. Set reasonable personal time limits. The Apostle Paul had this to say about doing things—even good things—too much: “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’ but not everything is good for you. You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23 NLT). The reality is that most teens’ online time will be spent on social media; so limit yourself.
4. Walk with the wise. Solomon in Proverbs 13:20 (wisely) writes: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (NIV). Beware of friends whose online usage is excessive or unwise. Don’t fall prey to the negative peer pressure. Choose your friends wisely. They will either help you or hurt you.
5. Make yourself accountable to a caring adult. Talk to a parent, teacher, youth pastor—any adult who cares about you will be more than happy to help you find a balance in your life when it comes to social media.

It’s My Problem!

After learning about all this, if you are starting to recognize—or even think—you might have a problem, what should you do?
If you’re not sure, ask a trusted adult for their opinion, and really listen to what they have to say; remember, you asked.

1. Confess your dependence/addiction to God and ask for His forgiveness and for strength to stop it.
2. Immediately ask a parent/guardian for help.
3. Get treatment at a hospital if you need to (check out the info. in the “Additional Resources” section below). Totally follow-through with the help.
4. Once you’re better, purposely ask a trusted adult for accountability.
5. Check in regularly with your accountability partner to keep you safe and free from getting addicted again.

Real Life, Part Two

Shanice’s mom (shaken up from the interaction with her) went to her bedroom and—not surprisingly—her husband was awake. She told him what happened and they agreed that it was best to immediately call Shanice’s biological father. He took a personal day from work and said he’d be right over.

As they were awaiting, mom called Shanice’s school and informed both the principal and school counselor what had happened. They talked to her shortly and gave her some more information about what they thought she should do. After dad got there, they all prayed and talked about it shortly, then they called Shanice’s youth pastor. He came around 10 in the morning and they got his ideas about what they should do.

After talking, praying and researching some more information, they all waited until 1 in the afternoon and then mom woke up Shanice. She grumpily agreed to come downstairs. Shanice told her side of the story for a full half an hour. Ultimately her parents—with the help of her youth pastor and educational staff, agreed that Shanice needed to have some clear rules and boundaries related to the use of her tablet.Her parents told her that she would have one more chance to make a change and if they caught her staying up all night—on any device—on the Internet/social media, her media would be taken away for a long time and she would be immediately checked into a treatment center for internet addiction. They also told her that she would have a week to turn in to them a ten page paper on the benefits and dangers of the internet and come up with her own plan to keep herself safe. Her parents would then consider her ideas and make changes to their existing rules for media safety.

Shanice apologized for her sneaky behavior and admitted that she got carried away and apologized to her mother for shouting at her. That day Shanice learned a valuable lesson about the incredible power and danger of the Internet and social media. She prayed to God and confessed her sin of treating the Internet and her tablet like a god and asked God to forgive her. She even stopped hanging around two friends who had clear problems with the amount of time they spent on the Internet and social media.

As the months went by, she realized that her parents’ “strict” rules regarding internet usage were not that bad and allowed her both the freedom to use the internet and the structure she needed to help stay healthy. She was glad her parents bought her an iPad, but she was more glad they cared enough about her to confront her about her problem.

 

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