I had the experience of serving as a part-time instructor and tutor at the University of South Carolina in Sumter for three years. My greatest joy in that season, besides coming alongside college students in their academic process, was collaboration with colleagues further along in their teaching careers. One faculty member I served shared a love of education, literature, music, and spiritual things, but our approach often came from different angles. Though he subscribed to an eastern worldview, there was much that I could glean from his wisdom and experience. My honoring of him allowed me to speak to him of my own beliefs in turn (more on this in a future post).
A big part of his freshman English course focused on a practice of “reduction and amplification.” He encouraged students to reduce that which did not “serve” them and to amplify that which did. This self-focused framework does not serve our Christian mission: It is all too easy to put the blinders on and only read, watch, or listen to that which makes us feel comfortable, secure, safe. It is even easier to engage only that which entertains. Unfortunately, we tend to tune out and turn off our discernment when pursuing “entertainment” – which is a dangerous posture, particularly as relates to social media.
In sports, we use the term “stance” to describe the athletic posture we use—a posture which allows us to be ready for action, not taken by surprise, not easily knocked over, ready (if need be) to run. As parents of young adults who we will shortly be sending out into the world, we must help them look at the world through a biblical perspective, and to have a practiced “stance” for fielding input from the world. “Reduce and amplify” might become: “What can we affirm and what can we challenge?” This may be as practical as using our “like, share, and subscribe” power to promote that which is true, good, and beautiful, and to block that which could do harm.
In a world where social media seems here to stay, it is not enough to hope our children will automatically “get it.” We must coach them. We must help them make the choices about what to receive, affirm, and amplify—and what to challenge and reduce. Maybe in order to coach them, you (like I) need a crash-course in social media. To navigate these apps and virtual “communities” well, we need to know their design.
In order to grab some thoughts to help your own thinking, I sought out a helpful blog which supplied a summary of Netflix’s The Social Dilemma. My editor and I would like to recommend the film itself, but here are some practical takeaways:
- Since Social Media is designed to actively seek our attention, give it boundaries (i.e. turn off notifications, set specific “social media check in” times and stick to them)
- Since Social Media promotes what grabs your attention, thoughtfully use “likes” to curate content
- Since Social Media pummels users with content, be wary of the purposes behind the posts (don’t just absorb content; analyze it)
- Since Social Media creators have primed it to be addictive in nature (out of an understanding of psychology), consider setting timers and a daily limits and keep to them.
- Since Social Media creators don’t care about your or your children’s emotional health, be aware of their emotional state along with your own and shepherd them with tenderness and healthy boundaries.
- Since Social Media promises (but does not deliver) connectedness, cultivate consistent connection with your teens as parents, between them and their peers, and between them and other mentors.
This is not about legalism, it’s about healthy habits. Since many of us have been living with Social Media for over 15 years now, we need to give ourselves and others lots of grace as we learn to navigate it well. It is a process, and a messy one at that.
I urge you to intentionally sit down and have an honest talk about these topics. Observe content with your children, modeling for them a question-asking process that allows them to practice analysis—to develop discernment. Before we send them out into the world as adults, we must allow cultural content (including all kinds of media) to come near enough to our teens for them to learn to navigate it on their own.
Empower them with the equipment needed to judge the value of what’s before them. Enable them to speak hope and life into their spheres while they are still in yours. Observe with them. Decide what to affirm and what to challenge. Reflect on how to respond. These are tools they can use not only in media but in the classroom and beyond, into their vocational expression.
In an upcoming post, I will dive further into how to ask questions of our content. For now, please like, share, and subscribe…
What challenges you regarding the above? What are your natural instincts or developed methods for engaging social media and cultural narratives with your children? Where are opportunities for increasing the intentionality of your discipleship practices in this area?