Helping youth bring Christ’s values to social media
September 18, 2012
Recently, I picked up my teenage daughter and her best friend to go to the mall. While they were sitting in the car, both teens, who have smart phones, began texting and barely carried on any conversation. Later, after I picked them up from the mall and took them to dinner, I discovered once again they were busy checking Facebook statuses, messages and YouTube videos while at the restaurant, with very little in way of a verbal conversation with each other or the rest of the family. As I spoke up about it, my wife pointed out my own addiction with my smart phone at the table, making me realize I am also guilty of not practicing what I preach.
Social media invades all parts of our life and can go anywhere we go. The devices that are available now appeal to a wider audience, both young and old. The largest demographic to embrace the media are teens. They are able to communicate to a vast audience of peers and strangers in a matter of minutes. So how can we make sure teens are demonstrating Christ's values in this world of social media while still insuring their own safety, self-esteem, moral values and the teachings of the Church?
Although Facebook has a 13-year age limitation, most tweens (11 to 12) lie and create their own site with or without parents' blessings. Youth may judge popularity on how many friends they have or number of subscribers. Values become warped as youth are exposed to inappropriate pictures from friends and strangers with girls and boys taking pictures of themselves in suggestive poses or making vulgar facial, hand or body signs. YouTube videos which make fun of people or show teens in foolish predicaments are passed around in media circles and online surveys which call for youth to "rate" other youth on their appearance, personality, even "date-ability" all have become popular. Youth also use these sites in posting inappropriate pictures or embarrassing videos of others to harass or make them social outcasts. Self-esteem may also be affected by the use of social media.
As youth get so caught up in this social information, some often forget their faith values. They hide behind the anonymity of the phone or computer and spread gossip, venture on inappropriate sites, or even engage in cyberbullying activities. What is most confusing is that a lot of those same teens have their Christian faith as the most important thing in their profile. Most think it's just innocent fun, but how would they react if their parents or grandparents saw their postings. Better yet what would they do if they had to send that message or post to Jesus?
As parents and grandparents, we need to help our youth understand the importance of their actions and to use the mediums in positive and safe ways. Remind them of the Gospel values that should be applied not only in person but over the Internet. Ways you can assist your youngster are:
• Talk with your youth about your expectations and guidelines for using social media in an appropriate, healthy and Christ-centered way. Be sure to address issues such as appropriate postings, pictures, video links and tagging.
• Make sure you have your youth's password or are friends with your child on Facebook with full access to posts, and a subscriber on Twitter.
• Use the rule, don't friend or accept friendship with strangers.
• Remove any friends with inappropriate material or pictures.
• Talk about how the spreading of gossip or surveys affect the dignity of the human person, as Christ call us to love one another.
• Point your child to some beneficial Facebook pages, and subscriptions like the Archdiocesan Facebook and Twitter sites, the Office of
Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization Facebook, AYC and the parish youth ministry if they have a site. The Vatican website and USCCB are good, too.
• Show the great apps that they can use to help them in their daily walk of faith, like Ibreviary, USCCB and the New American Bible.
As young Catholics they are evangelizers of the faith and should remember that Christ calls us to live out our faith in all that we do, even online.
Randy Adams is the Associate Director of Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.