[This article is part of a youth ministry series we have been writing about for years. Click the link to check out all of the other articles we have here.]
For those that may not have heard, the American Psychiatric Association released a health advisory on social media this month. They have completed extensive data-gathering, recognizing that this can impact parents, youth, teachers, churches, health care officials, and more. The study has come up with ten concerns that I think the Church should seriously take note of. (Side note: want some social media images we made on the beatitudes? Go download them for free here and share them online)
It should be noted that this health advisory is not based on speculation; therefore, it may not cover everything that you think it would as it is only based on direct evidence. As the report states, it was conducted with thousands of children and included standardized assessments to evaluate social media’s impact. That being said, this is an initial study and long-term study as well as specialized populations with marginal groups.
Highlights of the Recommendations
I encourage you to go read the whole thing, but there are a few points that I think are important to note:
- Social media is not inherently good or bad, but each individual is impacted differently.
- Social media, when used to encourage healthy socialization, emotional intimacy, and social support can be very beneficial.
- Social media should always include digital literacy education and training.
- Social media usage for adolescents is based on maturity of the individual not their age number. Some may have to wait later in life.
- Social media should be monitored initially and appropriately transition to more respectful privacy that allows for freedom of use.
- Cyber hate, racism, illicit activities, self-harm, harm-to-others, and pornography are a significant concern of adolescents to consume and all these materials should always be blocked and healthy discussion of what was seen is important follow up.
- If you observe psychological, behavioral, or emotional negative social media use, this could lead to further negative behavior outside of internet use. Ensure you appropriately follow up with the student, up to and including counselors, youth pastors, psychologists, and mentors.
So what is the role of the Church and Christians within this? Is this an area we can have a healthy influence that sees a generation of youth protected and nurtured? And what can we do now?
- Youth ministry, young adult ministry, and the influence church have over Christian families are huge. You need to be educated on what is happening online as it is a part of the fabric of this latest generation. That digital literacy? Where is the Church in this education? We can start by understanding it for ourselves and then need to educate our congregation and communities. One place to start is ConnectSafely.org’s guides that explain the risks with these different platforms.
- If we take seriously the idea of training and mentoring youth and their families, social media has to be part of it. Playing into the role that it’s all bad does not help and can degrade any influence we may have to speak into teenagers’ and pre-teens’ lives. What does healthy social media usage look like and how do we model it? How can we better combat the material not good for any Christian’s eyes, let alone a developing student?
- Healthy socialization, support, and online intimacy are seen as a must here. What does your church do to foster this? This includes moderation and appropriate conversations, but it is so much more.
This is only a beginning conversation. I think there is a lot we need to do about this. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the health advisory, what resources you have or seen being developed to support this, as well as what you see the Church doing more with social media with regards to adolescents and their development. Leave your comment down below.