Wednesday, March 5, 2014

You're letting your children do WHAT?!?!

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


  1. One of your best blogs yet...and there's been a lot I have loved! ;)

  2. Okay, so I read the beginning of this and was all, "I have got to school this girl!", but you knocked it out of the park! That said, you might change your mind about all this. I have been saying I was going to get the girls an iPod Touch for years and every year I realize I do not have the resources of time and interest to police it, and they are not yet old enough to be able to handle the mistakes that some of their friends have made. It isn't how they would use it that I am worried about, it's how they can be contacted and assaulted by photos of things they do not want to see. Already my oldest has had that experience at a friends house where the computer is not monitored the way ours is.

    Anyway, all that is to say, be careful about making proclamations about what you will do as a parent. The best thing God gives us is our judgement in regard to the person in front of us, not the person we hope/fear they will become.

    1. Well that's the thing though B- I would NEVER buy my kid an ipod touch (I know, I know, never say never until I am there)...that's like giving a kid a computer. My kids won't have that kind of access. BUT, I plan on and have already started implicating social media into my kid's lives. It is their world, the more I am intentional about a responsible approach to it, hopefully, the easier it will be to get them to use the tool correctly. I am shocked CONSTANTLY at how young people are using social media, but without adults mentoring them into it...should I be surprised? Probably not. And I know, I know, I have to be real careful about bold proclamations of parenthood. as I have said a million times, I am certain for all the soap-boxing I do about teenagers, Lord knows mine will be hot messes, and I will be unable to contain them :)

    2. I hear you, and I think having a clear plan on how you want to handle things is the most important thing. I think you could be a super example on how to open things up for kids on social media. Our two oldest text on the iPad mini, something they are not allowed to have behind closed doors. I get every single text they send or receive. They also are allowed to Facetime with supervision. Kids don't talk on the phone like they used to, so we have to set boundaries with the tools they do use to communicate. I don't love it, but I also don't want to prevent them from exploring something in a healthy way because of my own biases.

    3. I think that's awesome. AND...yeah, that is why I will be very hesitant to even have my kids owning a cell phone. Like, when we were younger, we talked on the family phone, maybe we pulled the cord into the other room, but they were not 'private' conversations. Imma be all in my kid's business (as long as it is age-appropriate) and encourage parents to do the same. Im sure you'll be giving me tips in six or seven years when my ideals go out the window and practicality is necessary.

  3. Definitely food for thought. And definitely much easier to do with only one or two children, like Barbara mentioned. I guess my issue is the value of the soul over the body. A table saw can hurt our bodies but the internet has the capacity to hurt our souls. I agree that if you are there to monitor at every moment what happens while online, it can work (maybe...but it might not and then the loss is huge) but who can do that? I know I'll have to teach them responsible internet usage but I just don't see the benefits of doing it now being worth the hassle and risk and there are SO many better things for them to be doing when they're so little. I rather like that they have no idea yet that there really are people out there that want to take advantage of them. I mean, they get it in theory but I consider that weight mine and not yet theirs. I also really believe all the devices are addictive and I just don't think the benefit to introducing them at such an early age is worth the things that they will miss out on or, more likely, grow jaded toward.

    Also, I don't want to share the computer yet ;)

    1. Right. I mentioned the spiritual challenge because I think it's the biggest danger. However, that is why I plan on really really being intentional, especially when they are young, with showing them how to answer the Church's call to bring Jesus to the digital continent. I think a lot of people, particularly Catholic moms would agree with your method, and do, often write about it. I'll be taking a different approach, but I suppose I plan on taking a different approach with a lot of things. I do STRONGLY believe and hope I made clear, my children will not have non-monitored internet access until they are much, much older (I'm thinking 16 plus right now, but that's just a guess). They will not have their own cell phones, or itouches, or anything like that. My young children would never be accessing social media without me by their side. Actually, without me singing in for them with a password they do not know :) I guess, I am just not afraid of this particular tool. That being said, I have spent a great majority of my ministry spreading social media awareness...so my comfort level is quite high!

    2. I will not be singing in...but rather signing in :)

  4. I would like to see you singing in, please.

    I'm sure my thoughts aren't anything you haven't heard before. Thinking about it more, I think I totally agree with your approach but will just be waiting a bunch more years to do the same thing. I'm also on the fence about the idea of children as evangelizers. I know it CAN happen but I'm not sure Christ or the Church mean to make that the norm especially when they're still in they're formative years? I.E. Jesus didn't commission children, he sent out grown men who could hold their own. Also probably something you've already heard before. Like I said I'm not sure where I stand on that but it's an important part of the discussion, me thinks.

    I also will be awaiting the pictures of Aaron teaching Lil A proper table saw procedure in a few years :)

  5. Ha- I don't plan on sending them out two by two that's for sure. But Jesus did use children as an example, even sometimes pulling them from the crowd to the center. JPII often talked about youth, by it's very nature, being a powerful witness to the world of Christ's love. And, in that way, I think your kids and my kids already do evangelize. I promise your kids have shown me Christ through the stories you tell of them (and, lets not lie, through showing me how to irish step dance at my wedding). But, for the purpose of this blog, I did say by the time they are READY to use social media on their own (i.e. without my supervision, which I suggest in LATE high school years, not early) they will be comfortable using it for evanglization/communication...because they will be used to it. My facebook/twitter/instagram account are followed by lots o' people...my children's will be followed by close family members (i.e. their aunts and uncles/cousins) and only after those people have proved themselves to be responsible social media users themselves (because, let's not lie, adults are as bad, if not worse than kids).

  6. Interesting thoughts. I am more permissive in some ways (i.e. cell phones etc) and more strict in others.

    One of the things I have learned over the years is that you can be a very strict parent in regards to social media etc but that doesn't mean that your children's friends will be parented in the same way. I have had more problems as the result of others poor parenting choices. One of my children (in K) was exposed to improper pictures that some other child on their phone. The other child showed the whole bus. Bus drivers don't really pay attention to this sort of thing. My general feeling has changed that social media access should be restricted for children that don't know how to use it yet. My kids have been on social sites such as Minecraft where you go on servers and interact with others....well, in general most of the other children do not know how to be polite online yet since their parents don't monitor. A lot more cyber bullying exists than ppl like to think. On the evangelization side--my kids have been advocates for their faith. In such forums its easy to just talking about faith issues as the average other player comes out and argues atheism with them.

    Bottom line..they should be tech savvy but at the same time its not all roses out there and parents need to be aware how much the media can hurt them if unattended. Don't be a hands behind your back parent but don't give anyone full access. My personal advice is to wait as long as possible before opening this can of worms. Its nothing but a headache.