Today we have a very practical question from the congregation:
“How can we do a better job teaching our children and teenagers to stay connected with their faith? So many distractions today- Facebook, instagram, texting, etc.”
We live in an age of unprecedented exposure and access to technology. Smartphones, for instance, did not exist twenty years ago. Yet now, at our finger tips, is access to an array of resources and distractions.
With technology advancing so quickly, parents are often scrambling to catch up. Questions like “How can I utilize the newest technology to support my child’s education?” are mixed with “What are the dangers in the newest app that my child is downloading (and that I know nothing about)?”.
Faith…in an age of distraction. What is the best way to shepherd our kids through it all? Here are a couple of ideas. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section.
Idea #1: If you want your teenagers to stay connected with their faith, then make connecting with faith a household priority.
Let’s face it: parents cannot create faith in their teenager, only God can do that. But parents can create an environment within the family where faith can thrive.
Parents have the most influence over the faith development of their teenagers. Not their friends, not their youth pastor; parents. Pursuing faith as a family requires the parents to take the lead and set the example.
This can look a bit counter-cultural at times. It might look like attending church as a family even when it means missing a soccer game. It might mean going on a family mission trip instead of a trip to the beach. It could look like prioritizing a family meal in the midst of a busy work schedule.
What does this have to do with technology?
Simple- pursuing faith as a family priority means that everything else, including technology, comes second (or third or fourth…). The ‘distractions’ of social media, group chats, and Instagram can be discussed in light of your family’s #1 priority- are these things growing your faith?
Parents need to take the lead on this because if you don’t, no one will. Be the example that you want for your family by pursuing God in every avenue of your life, and encouraging your family to do the same.
Idea #2: Buy your youth pastor a coffee. Then, as he (or she) is about to take his first sip, ask him about the latest apps and technology that students are exploring.
If your youth pastor is doing his job, then he’ll have a good pulse on what students are into (Snapchat and Instagram, for example) and what students no longer really care about (Facebook is still a thing?).
A little story for you: Facebook came out when I was in college. At that time, you had to be in college to get an account. If your e-mail did not end with “.edu”, you were out of luck. Facebook became an insanely successful way for students to connect and it very quickly grew out of its ‘college only’ roots.
Teenagers and young adults were the next to jump on the Facebook train. Life was good as they created profiles and shared pictures. Then, after a couple of years, something unexpected happened.
I got a friend request from my mom.
I love my mom, and I actually enjoy being Facebook friends with her. Where else can she ‘like’ all of the photos of her grandkids? (and I mean ALL)
But for teenagers, Facebook became a place for parents. It was no longer a place just for them and their friends. And they fled.
So much so that at a recent youth group gathering, we asked our high schoolers to raise their hand if they had a Facebook profile, and not a single hand went up.
This speaks to a general truth about teenagers and technology: Teenagers want a place for them and their friends to connect; a place without parental oversight.
And they’ll keep looking for it in the newest apps and social media inventions.
As a parent, your job is to know which of these apps provide a healthy environment for independence, and which apps should be avoided.
For instance, Instagram is a photo sharing site that allows comments and ‘likes.’ Snapchat, on the other hand, allows users to send videos that automatically delete after being viewed.
Which app provides the better environment for healthy independence? And which may encourage youth to engage in damaging behavior?
It is the parent’s responsibility to provide boundaries for their teenagers and technology.
Idea #3: Celebrate the good of technology while also setting limits on access.
If your student has a smart phone, do they have a daily devotional app downloaded? What about the Bible app?
Your teenagers want to use technology. Parents can use this to their advantage by encouraging the applications that will put students in the Bible. There are TONS of wonderful, faith-based applications to choose from.
Yet in the midst of encouraging the good of technology, parents must be the first line of defense in establishing limits. This is particularly true for students and time.
How many hours a day is it ok to have screen time? Are phones allowed at the dinner table? At what point does the laptop get turned off for the night?
The answers to these questions will be different for every family. But it is imperative that parents at least have these conversations with one another. Be a team. Set family limits.
In the end, your child’s faith is something that is out of your control. It is between your child and God. You cannot create faith in your child; that is not your job. But…
…you can create an environment in your family where faith can thrive. Even in the midst of all of the distractions that this generation must deal with, your family can put pursuing God first.
“Seek God’s Kingdom, and God’s righteousness, all all other things will come after.” Matthew 6:33