I remember when Facebook was brand new and the world was so excited about finally having a good social network. MySpace had become obsolete, except for those few Indie Musicians that kept it alive, and Xanga was not heard from again. Mark Zuckerberg became a household name, and boasted a digital conquest that rivaled Alexander the Great. Facebook became the third most populated country in the world.[1]

Social networking continues to expand, from business promotional sites like Twitter to photo sharing apps like Instagram. We live in a world where social connections are built on social networks and where a virtual Mars Hill has been established on the World Wide Web.

What does this effectively mean for parents and for children? How are we to maintain physical social connections even in the midst of the building of more electronic relationships?

Some questions come to mind at the very thought of relating the use of social media to the home, especially the: should parents allow their children to use social networks? Parents and children alike should be wise while using social media no matter the answer.

Negative effects of social networking on children and teens

Though this portion is geared toward the effects of social networks on children and teens, it seems that adults are just as susceptible. The Child Mind Institute reports the following (italics mine):[2]

  1. People are highly attuned to reading social cues. Social networks disable these social cues, creating a barrier for clear communication.
  2. Social networks discourage healthy self-esteem because they discourage honest discussion between friends. People forget how to speak their mind in an open, honest and friendly environment.
  3. People do not see or hear the effects of their words. This makes bullying and pointless argumentation more prevalent.
  4. Direct communication grows obsolete to the social networking addict. This creates within some people a certain anxiety when they actually must speak with others; creating more practical introverts.
  5. Peer acceptance is important and social networking causes a certain naivety as to one’s level of acceptance among his or her peers.
    1. Hours are spent pruning one’s own online identity
    2. Worth is measured in “likes”, “favorites” or “followers” rather than in the context of relationships.

It is important to realize, even after noting these dangers, that these have always been dangers for children and teens (and others of us), but the advent of social networking has increased these dangers exponentially. According to Child Mind, other dangers include both feelings of being stalked and feelings of being ignored. When social networking becomes any person’s avenue by which he or she is involved in community, these feelings may be experienced intensely even if not valid. Coincidently, too, stalking becomes easier for pedophiles and perverts.

Positive effects of social networking

Dave Parrack on makeuseof.com, mentions several advantages he sees to the use of social networking (italics mine):[3]

  1. As shallow as these friendships might be, social networking makes it easier to make friends and encourages more friends to be made.
  2. Social networking has the capacity to increase empathy for others.
  3. Increases both the capacity and speed for communication.
  4. Makes it easier for people to know what is happening worldwide.
  5. Helps people to build relationships even when they are not together.
  6. Social networking helps individuals to find communities of like-minded people.

As for me

Social networking has become an integral part of my life. It is by social networking that those who stumble upon this article are able to read it. It is by social networking that I can, much of the time, converse with others and even people I do not know; even helping me to share what I have written. This being stated, we must be wise in our use of social media.

Parents must practice wisdom in either allowing their children to use social media or not. Children must be good stewards of the freedom that comes with social networking. Children should remember to “obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise.”[4] Parents must remember not to “stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”[5]

How to behave on social networks

Since interaction on social networks is so different from face-to-face interaction, there are some behavioral habits that probably need to be developed. These are certainly things that parents should teach their children about interacting on social networks.

  1. Pay attention to others. Just as we should have a heart of service as we relate to others face-to-face, we should also maintain a heart of service to others.
    1. When someone posts a picture or an article, we actually prove our friendship to that person when we take the time to read, comment on or like what they have shared.
  2. We must be honest and respectful as we interact with others.
    1. Public Facebook arguments should not exist. If someone else is ugly, they can be blocked or ignored. Their comments on your profile can be deleted and reported. Most social sites have a policy against bullying or harassment. Take advantage of these policies.
  3. Parents should be socially involved, especially if their children are socially involved.
    1. Children may be annoyed but remember: parents are to guide their children into adulthood. The grave reality is that there are so many children who escape parental instruction because their parents are not socially involved.
    2. Parents teach their children how to act in public. They should also teach their children how to act in the digital public.
  4. We all should represent ourselves truthfully on social networks, remembering that our worth is not measured in “likes” but according to our value in Christ.
  5. There is a realness to the saying, “We cannot be in two places at once.” When we are in the midst of a face-to-face community, we should set aside social media so that we can be present both in body and in mind.
    1. Snapping a quick picture for Instagram is probably okay, but we subtract from one form of social engagement when we are overtly involved in another.

If you do choose to use social networks, I want to take this time and invite you to connect with me on them all! Refer to the links on the right side of my blog at christoa.com

[1] http://www.omgfacts.com/lists/4205/If-Facebook-were-a-country-it-would-be-the-THIRD-LARGEST-country-in-the-world-BIGGER-than-the-U-S-and-Indonesia

[2] http://www.childmind.org/en/posts/articles/2013-11-26-self-esteem-and-anxiety-digital-age

[3] http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/positive-impact-social-networking-sites-society-opinion/

[4] Ephesians 6:1-2 (HCSB)

[5] v. 4

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