Last summer I visited my childhood best friend who had recently moved into a new home. As she was unpacking she found a box filled with notes from High School. The notes were written on notebook paper and folded with the name written on the front of most. As we unfolded the thin paper with permanent creases we opened a window into our past. We sat on the floor of her laundry room and laughed and cried as we read the secrets of our teenage hearts.
It was so good for me to read what I was thinking and writing as a teenager, and to feel the struggles that my friends and I were dealing with at the time. Not only do I work with kids this age daily, my youngest child, and first daughter is entering 8th grade (or grade 8 for my Canadian friends).
The age of passing notes is gone. The time it takes to write a message, re-read the message, fold the message, write the name of your friend on the front of the message, and slip it to your friend while the teacher’s back was turned has now been replaced. Mistakes and missteps happened all of the time back then, and it usually meant that someone was hurt or mad at you because of an impulsive comment.
Today I have students each week dealing with results of sending a photo, a message or sharing a video that should have never been sent. Recently a 14-year-old told me she deleted her Instagram account because it made her feel bad about herself after using it.
I watch my students spend huge amounts of time scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat, FB, Twitter, and texts. Where does all of that information go? What is the result of that information on our teenage friends? How do we, as leaders and parents, guide our students in this constantly changing world of social media?
Several weeks ago, we invited an organization called Protect Young Eyes to present to our Middle and High School parents about social media from a Christian perspective. It provided a way for parents to learn from an expert, get pertinent questions answered, and be reminded that they are not alone on their parenting journey. The feedback we received from the parents was positive, so much so that they wanted more information and advice! It was a definite connecting point.
The truth is, students in our programs and the kids in our homes are likely more savvy and informed then we are. We need to make efforts to stay on top of whatever is coming next.
The years of passing notes to a friend in class may be long gone, but the social media platforms that our students use are a mirror to how they feel about themselves and their peers. While it provides an opportunity to stay connected, it can also cause a feeling of isolation.
As a youth leader, we teach students that they were bought with a price and that they’re to honor God with their bodies and mind. If social media is being used to honor God, it can be a useful tool. If it is being used to dishonor God or others, it has become a problem.
Any other youth leaders have ideas for helping students and parents navigate social media?