On Teens and Social Media…. What I’ve Learned

MBA

When you read an article about teenagers, phones, and social media… the above picture is probably similar to what has accompanied the articles. This is what we see from an adult perspective.  Kids who have their noses deep in their phones, ignoring each other, even when in a group of the peers.

This is what the media tells us is wrong with society today.  But, I wonder… who are these experts and where did they come up with their findings or opinions?  Are we just adults who don’t understand the technology?  We don’t get it, so it is wrong?  Have any of these people spent time talking to teens about WHY their phones are so important?

Somehow, even people in my generation, have this nostalgic idea of what family was like or should be like.  We envision the days of past, where everyone was gathered around the television or radio.  Doing family together.

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The reality is that even back then, people had their noses buried in things.  The people and their tendencies haven’t changed, just the vessels that have their attention.

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Our faces were buried in newspapers and books, jump further in time and we were listening to the news on portable radios with headphones.  Then we were listening to music and reading magazines.  Kids began to have toys that were kept in the car to entertain them while driving on long trips, this eventually evolved in to DVD players built into our vehicles.

Is it really anything new?

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Even the idea that families were totally engaged at home, is a bit of a stretch.  It was common for dad to sit in his chair and read the paper or take a nap on the couch.  Mother would be sitting in her chair knitting or working on cross stitch, repairing buttons and socks, reading magazines that interested her, etc. Kids would play games with each other, play with the dog, color with crayons, build with blocks, or even were sent out side until the street lights came on.

Many of us live the idea of a nostalgia that really didn’t exist.

If you spend a few minutes talking to a teen you learn quite a bit about WHY social media and their phones are so important to their lives.

  1. They are BORED or UNCOMFORTABLE, it’s the thing they do with free time or in situations where they are uncertain how to engage.
  2. This is how they CONNECT.   Even when they can’t be with their friends, they can bond over the experiences of shared photos and excitement.
  3.  This is PARALLEL to the things we did as a kid.  Texts = Passing Notes, Selfies = Exchanging School Photos.  Apps allow them to doodle, write or read stories, or be just as silly as we were when we used 8008 on our calculators to spell out the word BOOB.

You will also learn some other interesting things like…

They grow out of it.   My teen was big into her phone in middle and early years of high school.  Now?  She barely uses it, can leave it behind in her room and not think twice about it.  Why?

She has a boyfriend.  Her school work is harder.  She has a job.  She has money to spend = places to go.   She just doesn’t have time for the nonsense.

We spoke about this last night and my daughter said that she hasn’t used Twitter in well over a year.  She only texts about 3 people (outside of her parents).  She only uses instagram for her hobby (she collects disney pins, and there is a LOT of that happening on instagram).  She only goes on facebook to keep in touch with 2 friends who are long distance, and our long distance family members.

I asked her if this was just a change for her, or if it was common among the kids in her grade, and she emphatically said it was most of the upperclassmen.

So, that posed a few questions.

Q:  When kids are at the table, nose in the phone, what’s the deal?

A:  They are bored.  You are talking about things we either shouldn’t be listening to, or we don’t know anything about.  It’s not interesting or we just don’t know how to participate in the conversation.  So, we read.

Q:  Then how do parents get their kids to engage in the conversation?

A:  Parents need to engage their kids, don’t just demand they put the phone down and talk.  Instead parents need to talk about the things that their kids are interested in.  Talk with them, not at them.

Q:  What about all of these apps and things that kids are using?

A:  Totally be aware of what your kids are doing, keep up on it.  And be apart of that life, text your kids, sit down and share videos and pictures with each other.  Try to understand the appeal for yourself.

Q:  Kids are spending a LOT of time on their phones, parents don’t like this.  What do we do about it?

A:  Most of it is boredom, so don’t freak out about it.  Instead do stuff with them, giving them something to do other than the phone… and that doesn’t mean “clean your room”.    Go places that interest them, encourage hobbies that are off the phone, give them money to go hang out with their friends, be willing to drive them, etc. 

My daughter really believes that as our kids begin to have a more active life, the phones will minimize.  However, that doesn’t mean we let our kids forget how to be present.  We can’t expect it, but we model it and teach it.  When my kids see that when I am with them that I ignore phone calls, texts and notifications… they are learning presence.  When they see me give their father that same attention, they learn how to be present with their future spouse too.

We just can’t forget that social media also allows our kids to have presence in the lives in their friends as they celebrate exciting things with them, or console them when they are down.    Just like anything, social media is just a tool.  We must shape the heart of the user.

 

 

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KEEP IT SHUT – You can’t stick your foot in your mouth, if you keep it shut.

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Confession time: I am a chronic “foot in mouther”.  Sometimes, more than I’d care to admit, I smack myself in the head for the words that seemingly fall out of my mouth.  It’s not that I am saying something offensive or distasteful; I just seem to have a tendency to just let the thoughts swirling in my head fall right out of my mouth.  Occasionally, they are thoughts that would have been better of kept in the vault, or at least said in different circumstances.  I’ve also been known to NOT speak up when I should.

Do you relate?  Do you sound like me, or do you know someone who does?

The struggle is very real, for people like me.  The bible says to speak truth in love, but it also tells us to tame our tongues.  How do we find that balance, of knowing when to speak and when not to?  And, when it is time to speak up… how do we say it in a way that is appropriate?

As a child, I was taught to speak the truth.  When people would ask my opinions of things, I didn’t hold back.

It was in middle school, when my friend asked me if I liked her new hair cut, that I would tell her that it made her look like a stalk of blonde broccoli.

In high school, I told the boy who had just met my mother EXACTLY what she thought of him.

In college, when a friend lamented about people were talking about her behind her back, I politely told her that she was providing them with plenty of ammunition and should rethink her decisions.

Over time, I learned to soften the blow on the superficial things.

“I really like the other shirt better.”

“That is an interesting color, what made you pick it?”

But, I still manage to “insert foot in mouth”.  Some times, I open my mouth on subjects where I have no reason to even be involved.

When serving on a ministry team, we were preparing for an event, and I got caught in a triangle.  One of the Pastors didn’t necessarily agree with how the event was being planned.  He came to me to ask my opinion, which I gave.  Yet, I wasn’t on that committee.  I ended up getting a phone call from the coordinator, totally caught off guard, who was very upset.   This was a situation where I really should have kept my opinions to myself, it wasn’t my job.  I wasn’t on the committee.   At the same time, what I should have done was directed him to share his concerns with her directly.  After all, as the Pastor overseeing the ministry, he certainly had the authority to speak to her on the issue & make changes to the event if he felt it was necessary.  It was his job, just not my place to be involved.  She was very upset with me for getting involved, and rightfully so.  And, to be entirely honest, it has affected our relationship when working together on ministry projects.

Other times, I neglect to speak up when I should.

There was as situation with a close friend, where her behavior was out of line.  Instead of calling her out on it gently, when it started, I stayed quiet.  I knew she was a fragile person, and I thought I could just stuff my feelings.  It was easier to be a peacemaker, right?  WRONG.  Instead, because I didn’t speak up in the beginning… I stuffed… and stuffed…. and stuffed.  Then I blew up.  It was more than I could take, and something had to be said.  Unfortunately, by blowing up like I did, there was more damage done than if I had spoken up from the very beginning.

We need discernment about the things we say:  what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.  We also need discernment to tame our tongues. The only way we get this discernment is by seeking God’s wisdom.  The scriptures tell us exactly how to speak in love, when to tame our tongues, and the scriptures we can use to filter our thoughts through.

I recently received a copy of Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman from Family Christian.  Let’s be real, I needed this book in my life.  And, interestingly enough, I’m not alone.  This is a problem we will all face at one time or another, some of us more frequently than we should.  HA.  Even when we learn to tame our tongue, it can still happen… we say that thing, we simply can’t take back.

Things we say to our kids.   Our husbands.  Our coworkers and friends.  Those we serve with in ministry.  Even complete strangers.

Keep It Shut is a book that focuses on what to say, how to say it and when to say nothing at all.   It is a funny book, that is really open and honest about those things that plague us in our every day lives.  I also appreciate that Karen Ehman doesn’t lump everyone in to a single category, but recognizes that different people will require different approaches.   Keep It Shut also address our digital tongue, which has the potential to do even more damage.

Digital tongue is how we speak through email, text messages, and social media.   These dialogues can be harder to decode emotion and intention because you can’t see the people you are speaking to.  You may not even realize how offensive your statements sound, because in your head they seem innocent enough.  Or, as a reader, you may not realize a person is telling a joke or sincere.

The digital tongue is something still fairly new, but has become a primary way to communicate with people.  We have to learn to use it correctly, and to remember that nothing replaces real life conversations… where sound communicates more than the written word.

Keep It Shut doesn’t neglect to hit the topics that may sting a bit, like gossiping (especially under the guise of a prayer request) or when we speak in hate as a response to being hurt.  There is a biblical approach to the advice and guidance from the book, that helps us not only keep control over our words but understanding why it is important to do so.   Complete with examples from the scriptures of people who were put into positions where their words had great power over the outcome of their life and others.

Just as any good book should, Keep It Shut concludes with a reminder that we can use our words in good, positive, God honoring ways and leaves us with some tips and verses we can reference in the future.  I really like the last pages of the book that have speaking prompts that you can copy or print out & place in visible areas as reminders.  These can be placed next to your computer or home phone, or even create a cute background photo for your phone that you’ll see before answering every call or text.

Here are a few great quotes from the book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“Before I engage my lips, I must know with absolute certainty that what I am saying is true.  If I know for sure that something is not the truth, I need to be quiet.  If I have a strong hunch that something is not the truth, I need to be quiet.  If I have even the slightest doubt that something might not be true, I need to be quiet.  But just because something is true does not mean I always need to say it.  Motives and manners matter.”

“Do your words online add value to the conversation at hand?”

“My daughter simply vocalized a truth she noticed in my life:  I tend to lose my cool with my family, but somehow manage to keep calm when I interact with others.”

“Do I open my mouth with wisdom, or do I just open my mouth, spewing out whatever is bubbling up in my angry heart?”

 

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