What Your Teens Should Know About Social Media

Teens & Social Media

"I like made this google document on all my rules and requirements on how to take a selfie. I take a lot of pictures, but don't judge, I take like 100 usually, or like 150, maybe 200 sometimes if I really can't get a right one."

That quote comes from a student in a documentary called #Being13 in the social media age. Here's another one from a different student:

"I definitely feel pressure to look perfect on Instagram. What goes through my mind as I'm posting a picture about myself is - I'm thinking, ˜What will people think of this? Are they going to approve? Are they going to think I'm ugly, are they going to think I'm pretty? I'm thinking all these things and I'm comparing myself to others."

Social media use is at an all time high and as a result more and more researchers are paying attention and so should youth, youth pastors, parents, coaches, teachers, and you. 

It's Complicated

Apparently teenagers have an enlarged nucleus accumbens - the "reward" part of the brain. We're not making this stuff up. You can research it yourself pal. Basically, you'll never enjoy chocolate (or any other pleasure) as much as an adult than you did as a teenager. 

This also makes them a tad more impulsive and a little less predictable. I have a good friend named Sean who was giving his son a bath one day and all of the sudden the kid started yelling and flailing his arms and slapping the water as much as possible. Sean said, "Why are you doing that buddy?" and the kid yelled "IIIIIIII DOOOOOON'T KNOOOOOOOOW!" and continued to slap the water. Sean thought to himself, "This reminds me of middle school ministry." Maybe you can relate. 

Get this: social media approval - likes, shares, comments, etc. Light up the "reward" part of the brain. Isn't that crazy? It's a quantifiable high. 50 likes is better than 25. IT FEELS GOOD to get more likes, shares, follows, whatever. 

It starts out harmless for all of us. Sharing experiences, adventures, likes and dislikes, can and usually does slowly morph into a manicured self image, approval seeking, semi-compulsive machine where students (and many adults) check social media to find out how people are reacting to the content they're posting. 

#Being13 Found that the more teens engaged in social media, the more distressed they became. 8th grade students were sending nude photos, bullying, being bullied and saying things no grandma would ever bear to hear.

Faith's Response

It was C.S. Lewis, I believe, who first told me that In God, I would find any and every desire of my heart perfectly fulfilled. Perhaps that is why Paul tells us that the secret to being content in every situation is Christ and He gives us the strength to find our contentment in Him - whether we have a lot or a little.

Paul, in a letter written to the Galatians says,

"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."

In other words, Christians are freed from finding their approval in others. Not only that but often times following Christ may mean that you'll earn the disapproval of others:

John 15:18-21
18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. 21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.

In other words, Christians should expect to be unpopular but it won't matter because our approval comes from God and God alone. Obsessively honing our social media image in an effort to garner likes is probably a symptom of a sin-sick soul and students need to be made aware of that. 

What You Can Do About It

Encourage Parental Involvement

#Being13 also studied parents of the participating teens. Almost all parents -- 94% -- underestimated the amount of fighting happening over social media. Despite that finding, parents that tried to keep a close eye on their child's social media accounts had a profound effect on their child's psychological well-being.

"Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts," Faris said.

Teach your students to be self-aware 

Ask your students to take an honest look at what their social media behavior says about themselves. Where are their priorities? Where are they seeking approval? How much does their social media life actually reflect their true personality? 

Keep teaching God's Word. 

Honestly, thank you for your labor. Keep laboring. You, your youth ministry, your lessons are a means of grace. Students most likely won't hear this stuff unless they hear it from you. 

More resources (Which were heavily used in this article):

Teenagers & Popularity: Life Can Be Hard At The Top

Why some 13-year-olds check social media 100 times a day

The Teenage Brain on Social Media