Children grow up fast and social media is changing faster. Helping our children develop wise, safe, and healthy engagement with social media can be a daunting task. But how is God discipling our hearts as we parent children using social media?
Recently we had to make a crucial decision about social media for our children. My tech-savvy teenager wanted to start using an obscure instant messaging platform because her friends wanted to use it to keep in touch. I immediately googled it and felt it had trouble written all over it.
Conversations like this come up every day. Social media constantly offers something new, cool, and potentially dangerous. With each new platform sounding better than the previous “archaic” ones they used just a week ago, we often struggle to cope with such requests from our children. “Let me think about it,” is the typical, passive response to hide behind.
We are aware of the impact of social media on children, but we seldom think about the pressure of parenting on our own hearts.
Sometimes we tend to put off these decisions, hoping our children will eventually get tired of asking or perhaps even forget about it. Children get distracted quickly and we bank on that.
Sometimes we try to outsource such decisions to our spouse, grandparents, their teachers, or even use the pastor as a scapegoat so the kids have someone else to blame.
I began to consider the struggles I faced in dealing with such decisions. We are aware of the impact of social media on children, but we seldom think about the pressure of parenting on our own hearts.
Searching Our Hearts
As I began to think about my teenager’s persistent request for permission to use a new app, I had to pay attention to what I was wrestling with in my heart.
By God’s grace, I realised how I had an idolatrous need for approval that was playing out in my parenting. I did not want my children to feel left out or look uncool to their friends. I wanted them to be accepted by their peers. But going further, I did not want to look outdated to my kids. I would rather be loved by them than truly love them with courage and conviction.
I also saw my love of comfort at work. I did not want to engage in difficult conversations with my children. Perhaps I was slipping into the prevalent pattern of passive, absent fathers. My sinful heart wanted someone else to handle the murky terrain of disciplining my children while I operated in my comfort zone.
Just as children often have their self-worth challenged by lies on social media, we parents face doubts about our self-worth and identity while making difficult decisions for our children.
I suspect the idolatry of power may also be involved. It tells me I should act like the boss, present myself to be “strong,” take command, and use unkind, harsh words of rebuke to make this social media nuisance go away.
Then I was struck by insight. Just as children often have their self-worth challenged by lies on social media, we parents face doubts about our self-worth and identity while making difficult decisions for our children.
We give in to the accusing, condemning voice that says, “You are a terrible parent. You have to be strict or your kids will go astray. What will others think of you if give them what they want? What will others think of you if you don’t give them what they want? Your kids will grow up hating you.”
The lies are endless.
There is intense pressure on our children and there is intense pressure on the hearts of parents. This is why we all need to hear God’s exhortation to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9).
Ordering Our Steps
Firstly, we need to bring our hearts to rest in our identity in Christ and find our worth in him. Neither our children nor our parenting defines our worth. Only the Lord does.
The outcome of your children’s lives does not dent your acceptance before your King. Let your heart’s idols and burdens crumble before the loving and eternal embrace of Christ who died for you and who clothes you with his perfect righteousness.
Secondly, such decisions should quicken our hearts to pray for our children. Our immediate instinct is to look at these things as problems to solve. But what if we took it as an opportunity to serve our children and grow in Christ by praying for them and leaning on the Holy Spirit for his wisdom and guidance.
Thirdly, parenting is a team sport. You and your spouse are a team. You are not alone. God has brought you together in marriage to support and encourage each other precisely in situations like this. Pray together. Talk about it. Listen to others. And when you make a decision, be a team.
I want to acknowledge the struggles of all who are single parents. You do not have to feel alone either. A loving church and caring extended biological family can support you in times of need. Such support cannot replace your spouse but it can ease the burden of being a single parent.
Lastly, trust God with your children. The eyes of the Lord are upon us always. Even when we are absent or ignorant as parents, we can trust God to care for our children. He is ours and their loving heavenly Father.
It does not mean our children will never get hurt or face trials or that we will never make any mistakes. But we know God is more than able to redeem and restore all that is broken—for his glory and our good.
We eventually declined our daughter’s request to use the new app. We tried to convey our decision lovingly and patiently, answering her questions, and listening to her reservations. We reminded her of the pressure she will face from her peers and that it would not be the last time she felt it.
We helped her see how this decision was difficult for us to make and revealed our fears. We affirmed our love for her. She understood. She is thankfully still living with us.
This opportunity opened the door for us to have a larger conversation about protecting our children and using their devices wisely. It also led to some practical steps so our children could be digitally safe and secure.
I imagine such conversations and decisions will only get harder and more complex with time. But as a parent, love involves sacrifice—starting with the courage to slay the idols of our hearts in repentance and trust in Christ’s perfect work as our substitute on the cross.
When we make decisions out of this living hope, we can trust the power of the gospel to work, not only in the hearts and lives of our children, but in our hearts too.