How about instead of protecting our children from social media by not allowing it, we teach them how to use it?
And, this is radical, how about we do it when they are young, real young.
I remember giving a presentation a few years back. I suggested I might give my child access to ‘facebook’ as young as five years old. Honestly, I thought people were going to fall off their chairs. Later that night, I was hanging out with some friends and we had a heated exchange. How could you do that? They asked. Five is so young.
Here’s how I could do that friends.
Facebook, twitter, Instagram and the like…these are only tools. Nothing more, nothing less.
There are few things that make me cringe more than when people get all philosophical about the demise of humanity due to social media or technology.
‘facebook is ruining communication because…’
‘twitter has reduced the human language to nothing more than sensationalism…’
‘social media is dangerous for the following reasons…’
Because it is just not true.
These tools CANNOT be dangerous in themselves. They are NOT harmful. Any more than a pencil would be the perpetrator of harm if I wrote a threatening note to someone. The pencil’s not the problem, the person behind the pencil is.
I do concede the way people are using these tools is incredibly dangerous both to souls and to emotional well being. The irresponsibility I see on the regular in the social media world overwhelms me. Heck, sometimes it makes me want to stop engaging in this human experience, but then I remember, if I don’t…who will? So, every day I engage in the world of social media. Sometimes I have good days, when respect is shown and messages are pushed further along. Sometimes I have bad social media days…when insults are thrown and mistakes are made. But in all those things- I try not to blame the tool.
I gave a talk a couple weeks ago and asked young people to show me, with their arms as a scale, how much parents understand the social media world. Teens always answer ‘very, very little’. But this one girl rocked my world; she took her arms and folded them behind her back, indicating parents are so clueless they shouldn't even be on the scale. And you know what? I don’t want that type of relationship with my children when it comes to social media.
Obviously there is a crisis with social media usage in that many people, adults and children alike make mistakes and don’t think through the things they are posting, or ‘saying’. They are not concerning themselves with written ‘tone’ and are not cautious of things being taken out of context. The crisis leads many to retreat from the ‘digital highways’ (thanks Pope Francis for that one), or, at the very least, shelter their kids from every aspect of it.
And I kind of get it.
I liken it to a table saw. A table saw is an incredibly powerful tool. So powerful most would not let children near it. Many would even hold their breath watching a young teenager using one. BUT, under the supervision of a caring, loving adult, an adult who knows where the safeties are, an adult who strives to teach…even young children can create something beautiful with a table saw.
Social media is a tool, and, it has the potential to be a dangerous tool, if not cared for and used properly. We see the danger because we see people REGULARLY using it poorly. But when used correctly, say, by our Holy Father…how beautiful can it be! So, my friends, why would I let my five year old use facebook? Because my plan is to teach them how to make beautiful things with it.
I want to set up a facebook profile and have my child choose proper pictures to put up as their profile. I want to give them quizzes. Showing them three pictures of themselves and having them pick the right one.
The one with our address in the background? Nope, that wouldn’t’ be a good choice. The one that shows your brother in his diaper? No that would be a silly choice. The one with you smiling, happy because God made you special? Yes, let’s use that one!
I want to set up a facebook with my child where only I have the password.
Would you like to look at your cousin’s pictures? Great, let’s sign in together. Oh, you want to again look again? I’m sorry, we already checked it once this week, and we don’t need to check it again. You see, sometimes people use this tool too much sweetheart, and we want to make sure we use God’s gift just enough to help us stay connected, but not so much it takes away from playing with each other.
I want to set up a twitter for my 8 year old. You know what we’ll do with that twitter? As a weekly assignment I will have him listen to the readings at Mass and pick out one line that sticks out. We will ‘tweet’ that out once a week. Do you want to know who will be ‘following’ us on twitter? Only people we trust. Family members, close friends…we will talk about how important it is that our privacy settings are set high, but also acknowledge we only want to write things that we’d be proud of, because on the internet, nothing can stay too private.
Instagram…should we start one of those? How awesome for my child at ten to take my smart phone (with the wifi turned off) and go through the neighborhood for a religion assignment, taking pictures of things that show him God’s great glory. How cool for him to watch me sign in and post them with the hashtag #isawGod #truestory #heexists
Do you see where I am going here friends? Social media can be used as an awesome POWERFUL tool and we can teach our children, from a very young age, to maneuver it correctly, so that by the time they are teaching us how to use the tools (because the younger generation will ALWAYS be more media savvy than us) they will already know how to USE it prudently.
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I do not plan on being an especially permissive parent. My children will not have smart phones (or probably any cell phone for that matter) until they are working teenagers above the age of 16 (we will have a family cell phone). They will not have computers in their rooms (ever), or un-monitored screen time until it is developmentally appropriate. My husband and I will be the only keepers of the wifi password in my household and we will be strict about how/when we are using this tool.
But, I’m hoping by the time they are ready to use social media on their own, they will be comfortable using it correctly, for evangelization and communication…it won’t be a special treat to them, it will be nothing more than a communication tool. And like other communication tools (language, pen/paper, books, etc…) they will know the proper way to use it.
|Papal Selfie :)|
"As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. Those “streets” are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively. The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all"
- Pope Francis, World Communication's Day 2014