Sifting Through the Evidence About Teens and Social Media

A major concern of parents for the last decade or so has been the impact of computer usage, gaming and social media on their children. It was confusing though, because it seemed like for every article touting the dangers, there was another implying that everyone was over reacting. One of the things we like to do at Teach One Reach One Ministries is to sift through the actual academic studies on a variety of topics and help parents know the highlights. We believe one of the goals of Christian parenting should be to keep your children as mentally and spiritually healthy as possible so that they will be able to reach their full God given potential.

So what do you need to know about all of this conflicting information out there on all things digital?

  • Someone has finally taken the time to look at a lot of studies closely to find out if there are any patterns. Not every academic study is created equal. Some are well done and others are thrown together to meet an academic or publishing deadline. There are also various types of studies used to obtain different types of information, so certain conclusions can only be accurately drawn from certain types of studies. It’s also important to read past the summary of any study to better understand some of the factors that may result in a particular study getting different results than another similar study. This group took the time to do that and you can read their full article here:
  • Gender plays an important role on how various types of media impact young people. One of the dangers of the current gender denial movement is that it puts young people at risk for things that may have been prevented had their gender been taken into account. For example, social media – and particularly Instagram – have a significant negative impact on teen girls. The impact on teen boys is much less for Instagram, but other studies find they struggle from exposure to violent content and video games.
  • There is a lot of money to be made from having young people addicted to their devices and streaming content, gaming and social media – therefore it is designed to be addictive. This is not some crazy conspiracy theory. There is a science to encouraging addiction and the industry is using that knowledge to hook young people on the various products available to them on devices.
  • Children are meant to participate in play that provides exposure to managed risks and with ever increasing independence encouraged. This type of play is how children learn about the world around them. It also teaches them confidence and problem solving strategies – as well as often giving them opportunities for social interaction. Movement to phones instead of normal play activities also means the develop of children has been hampered because of a resulting reduction in sleep and socializing with friends and relatives.
  • Because they are addicted, taking away or limiting devices will not improve a negative mental state immediately. If you’ve ever watched someone try to stop smoking, it is the same dynamic. Detoxing from devices often results in a worse mental state initially that can last for several weeks. After that time, studies found that mental state usually improved and often significantly.
  • It is often easier to prevent an addiction from starting than breaking one. In general, young people also often respond better to avoiding or curtailing something when they feel it was their decision rather than something imposed upon them. You have to do what is best for your child, however, and that may mean limiting or denying access to anything that is causing your child harm – regardless of whether or not your child is happy about it.
  • Peer usage of devices needs to be understood and cooperation amongst parents and young people in peer groups encouraged. The authors of the study I mentioned in the first point wrote something in passing that they never really revisited. There was a somewhat negative impact if, for example, a teen girl got off Instagram, but her friends did not. They attributed it to a feeling of isolation from their friend group. Obviously, I have no evidence to back up my theory, but it seems quite plausible that if an entire friend group agreed to drop Instagram, they would develop other ways to connect and be healthier from dropping Instagram with not even the slightest negative impact of decreased social imteraction.
  • Depression, anxiety and aggression have been found to have links to digital use. Girls reported a significant increase in depression and anxiety from social media use (particularly Instagram), while boys playing violent video games were found to have increased aggressive behaviors. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between content and other mental health conditions. (Although as we learn more, that could change.)
  • Money is keeping your kids at risk. Did you know the statistical link for the negative impact between Instagram and teen girls with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts is stronger than the link between lead paint and lowered IQ? There is just not a lead paint lobby and paint companies didn’t lose enough money by changing their product to ignore it like the impact of digital content and social media and the money connected to it encourages.
  • Doing what is best for your children will be extremely counter cultural and difficult for many parents – even many Christian parents who are used to counter cultural parenting. If I had a nickel for every parent who told me their kids are different and aren’t impacted negatively by streaming, gaming and social media, I would be rich. Ostrich parenting isn’t good for your children. Pretending something isn’t negatively impacting your children doesn’t mean it isn’t. By the time you realize you are wrong, a lot of damage may have been done to your child.
  • Adults aren’t immune to the negative impact of digital content and social media either. One of the dirty little secrets of academia and academic studies is “publish or perish”. Careers are advanced when studies are published. Which would be published first – a study every parent will want to read about how something may or may not be hurting their child – or a study pointing out how yet another bad adult habit is messing up your life? Just because you are an adult, doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing the negative impact of constantly looking at your phone. A digital detox may just be wonderful for your entire family.

The evidence is overwhelming. The question is: are you going to protect your children or leave them vulnerable because you are afraid to do the hard part of parenting?

Overcoming the Fear of Tough Christian Parenting Conversations

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think there is a parent alive that gets excited about having a difficult conversation with their children. Whether you need to share disappointing news, correction or an explanation about God’s instructions on subjects like sex, effective Christian parenting means having lots of conversations that just aren’t fun. Often, the very idea of having one of those conversations leaves a knot in our stomachs and a feeling of panic setting in.

Fear encourages procrastination. Why not try to postpone something that might cause embarrassment, hurt feelings or conflict? Who knows? The conversation may be easier after a good night’s sleep, finals are over or everyone is in a better mood. The problem is that procrastination often delays these tough conversations indefinitely, if not permanently.

The problem is that your children desperately need you to have these conversations with them. They need you to teach them what God wants them to do, help them create plans for obeying Him and even help them practice using these important scriptures/skills. They need you to overcome your fear, because often they are even more afraid than you are. They know you have their best interests at heart and will give them godly advice. But let’s be honest. Asking your parents questions about topics like sex is not high on most young people’s list of fun things to do.

So what can you do to push past the fear and have the tough conversations you have been avoiding?

  • Pray. Not just while you are mustering your courage, but also right before you start speaking to your child and in the process of speaking to him or her. Don’t forget to pray afterwards that your child will seriously consider and heed any godly wisdom or advice you shared.
  • Read scripture. Not just any Bible verses, but seriously study everything you can find in the Bible about the topic of the conversation. At times, you may even need to re-read every parenting verse you can find as well. Don’t forget all of the verses that counsel how to have tough conversations with others.
  • Ask for help from strong Christians. You are probably not an expert on the topics you must cover, which is another reason for your fears. Ask your minister, elders or a Bible class teacher for guidance. It is likely they have had the same conversation you are dreading many times and can share what they have found makes the other person more receptive. Don’t forget parents who have raised children who are strong, productive Christians as adults. These parents have done a lot of things right. You may find they avoided the conversation themselves. Or they may have had it with their children and even variations of the conversation with their children’s friends, too. (Successful Christian parents often also mentor one or more of their children’s friends.)
  • For some topics, read ”polished” answers. These aren’t available for every tough conversation, but groups like Focus on the Family and strong books on Apologetics often provide well thought out answers to common questions children and teens have on specific topics. You don’t have to memorize it (and probably shouldn’t or it will sound like you are “fake”). Just either say the same thing in your own words or share the resource (when appropriate) with your child and then discuss it. (While reading something from a neutral third larty can help, your kids still need to discuss it with you.)
  • Practice. Ask your spouse or someone else who knows your child really well to practice with you. Have them play the part of your child and practice what you will say. Encourage them to react in more than one way so you can feel more comfortable regardless of the reaction you get from your child.

Difficult conversations will never be fun. Your children, however, need you to overcome your fears and have those tough conversations with them. It is a crucial aspect of Christian parenting.

Can the Hygge Fad Enhance Christian Parenting?

New trends often attempt to reverse issues caused by current trends. It’s no wonder then that after several years of living in an isolated, cold, high tech world, the Danish idea of hygge is becoming popular in the U.S. So what is hygge? Is it a good thing? More importantly, can it enhance your Christian parenting efforts?

Before we get too far, hygge is a Danish term pronounced hyoo gah (like the name Hugh and with a hard ”g” in the second syllable). There is no direct translation in English, which of course makes it feel more special and exotic to us. Probably the closest English words would be terms like cozy, homey, warm and fuzzy, comforting, embracing and the like.

While summers in Denmark are pretty close to my definition of perfect – not too hot and daylight hours that basically never end – the winters are cold and very, very dark. Areas like that in the U.S. often have extremely high rates of depression, but the Danes credit hygge for keeping their spirits high – consistently ranking as one of the happiest populations in Europe.

Just like many trends, hygge is not inherently good or evil. A lot depends upon the individual and how he or she incorporates the various common elements. For example, comforting foods and desserts play a large role in hygge. Eaten in moderation, there is nothing particularly wrong with cake. If someone trying to create a hygge environment eats an entire cake at every meal, however, then the sin of gluttony comes into play.

Personally, I believe adding elements of hygge to your home can create the loving Christian home atmosphere most of us want. It encourages children to want to stay home more and invite their friends over. It’s also great for entertaining and we know that hospitality is not only commanded in scripture, but leads to higher success rates in Christian parenting. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to make your home more hygge. If you do decide to purchase items, IKEA can provide low cost items that are hygge since many other Nordic countries have similar ideas.

For a quick primer in hygge, you can read the book The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. In general, you want low lighting – like that from candles and fireplaces. Unplug from technology and wear comfortable clothes – the fuzzier and cozier the better, so break out the sweats, pjs and fuzzy socks. Food and people play a big role in hygge. Wiking suggests having people bring the ingredients for a meal and everyone work together in the kitchen to cook it (and yes, I too wonder how big their kitchens are). The food tends to be comfort food, so think pasta, potatoes, stews and desserts – their favorites are cakes and chocolates.

The people element is where things get interesting. Think friends and family with everyone having equal time in conversation. There is a sense of gratitude, harmony and a lack of arguments and drama in conversations. Think the perfect Norman Rockwell painting or episode of The Waltons and you are probably close to completing the hygge environment.

This social element has become rare in the U.S. over the last few years because of an anger that tends to accompany any discussion of differences, so you may need to make some rules that everyone agrees to follow until warmth and civility become habits again. The hygge ”rules” should be standard in your home – even when you don’t have guests. Loving, supportive interactions should be the norm in your grateful home.

And don’t forget hugs! The word hygge is thought to be linguistically related to the word hug and hugs are certainly hygge. Not only do they communicate your love for your children, but hugs can reduce stress and lower levels of aggression and anxiety. The old standard was eight hugs a day per person – at a minimum. Even if more recent studies question the exact number, it is still a healthy goal for your family.

So give hygge a try in your home and see what happens. Avoid any possible pitfalls, like gluttony, and embrace the good points. You may find your family is happier and you have more opportunities to teach your children the things God wants them to know.

The One Question You Need to Ask to Get Your Kids Thinking

If you have children in school, you’ve most likely experienced the conversation that upsets many parents. It’s usually framed by some variant of “My teacher said” or “I read/saw online” followed by some new “truth” your child has supposedly learned. This “truth” may be so far from the truth to be almost laughable to you, but to your child it can become a hill to die on.

For some families, this conversation can lead to years of arguments, debates and even fractured relationships. It can create a dynamic where your kids may reject God and Christianity more because you believe in it, than because they have any rational reason for their rejection.

There’s a simple question you can ask, to teach your kids to begin thinking more critically without setting up the beginnings of an unhealthy dynamic that lessens your ability to teach and point them towards God. The question? “How do you know that is true?”

This question works best when preceded by, “Hmmm. that’s interesting….” It shows your willingness to learn something new, because sometimes your kids will have learned something new that is true and will help you out in some way. Then the follow up question asking how they know the statement to be true, is where your guidance can grow.

Now, be prepared for the inevitable response that Mrs. So and so or some celebrity or influencer or book imparted the original knowledge. Try to swallow your impulse to roll your eyes or diminish the source in some way. Rather, follow the answer with a similar question asking how that person learned this to be true.

Once you get to this point, you will have to proceed in ways that best meet your kids’ personalities. Some kids will respond they don’t know and will walk away rather than dig any deeper. That’s okay. You may or may not want to mention that you’d be interested in hearing more when they find more evidence, but until then, you will be skeptical because you have learned accepting “truth” without doing your homework can cause a lot of problems later.

Eventually, the seed will be planted that not all “truth” is really true. That question will be there when they are burned by a “truth” they later discover is a lie. Chances are at that point, your question may become something they begin to ask themselves without prompting from you.

For those who have kids who enjoy reading and researching or if you homeschool, you can suggest they do some research to see if there is evidence to support or refute this new “truth”. You can spend time teaching them the difference between reliable and unreliable sources and the danger of only listening to those who already agree with what you have decided is true. If you want to really teach them well, consider exploring logical fallacies and Christian apologetics.

A small handful of you will have kids who will use the question as a springboard for their rebellion against God. They may reply by asking how you know God really exists or some other question you may struggle to answer easily. The truth is that if your children respond this way, avoiding asking them to examine what they believe won’t make them less rebellious towards God. Their hearts are already rebellious and if you know now, you may be able to still reach your children for God. Otherwise, you may not find out until years later when the rebellion has become hardened and is more difficult to root out.

The good news is those hard spiritual doubt questions do have answers. Good answers. Evidence based answers in most cases. If you need help, look for apologetics articles and books by people like Lee Strobel and others. I mention Mr. Strobel because he began his career as a journalist back in the days when you had to fact check sources and information. He uses and teaches those techniques as he explores a number of topics that can confuse people about God, the Bible and Christianity. They also come in editions for different age groups, so you can find one best suited to your child’s reading ability.

The next time your child comes home with a “truth” to share, ask your question. Encourage your kids to examine everything by the Bible – even if they heard it from a preacher or well known Christian. Teaching your kids to think critically can actually strengthen their faith and cause them to reject the lies of the world and false teachers. It’s worth taking the time to ask the question they need to be asking themselves.

5 Fun Ways to Learn More About Your Child’s World

Have you ever met parents who seemed totally clueless of how their child behaved out in the world? Sadly, it’s more common than you think. Too many parents think their kids are doing just “fine” and have “great” friends when that isn’t even close to their child’s reality. If you already have a great relationship with your kids – the type where they freely tell you anything and everything about their lives – good, bad and ugly – you probably don’t need to worry. On the other hand, if you know very little about your child’s life outside of your home and even less about his or her friends, you may be missing out on crucial information to help you parent more effectively.

For Christian parents, knowing if your child lives differently outside of your home can be crucial as it may reveal serious issues with the heart. Hearts that are beginning to view lying and hiding things as acceptable are generally not headed in a very godly direction. Spying on your kids by invading their privacy is rarely the best choice. There are more honest, fun ways of seeing your kids in their daily environments that give you opportunities to see how they are living while also giving you opportunities to get to know their friends and peers better, too.

  • Volunteer. You would be surprised how much the “catsup” mom learns about all of the kids in school – her own included! Most schools and extracurricular activities need volunteers to do various tasks. Look for ones that give you opportunities to interact with your children and their peers while volunteering. Instead of talking with other volunteers, observe the kids and interact with them in ways that are considered appropriate. Most kids desperately need someone to listen to them, so you will be ministering to them as well.
  • Sponsor or lead. Some activities need adults to lead them. This requires a bigger investment of time, but also gives you more long term access and involvement in the activity lives of your kids and their peers. Once again, many parents find this is also a great opportunity to minister to young people who need mentoring.
  • Host their friends. Whether it’s a play date, sleep over or Friday night pizza and game night, having your kids’ friends in your home is the best way to really get to know them. If you entertain enough, you may even find yourself with a few extra members in your family after a time. It’s important to remember that opening your home and leaving them to their own devices is very different from being accessible and available. You don’t have to hover, but popping in with cookies or a question periodically is a great way to remind them you are available and that you are aware of what is happening.
  • Treat to ice cream or coffee. Kids and teens love special time with adults. Whether it’s just your child or your kid and a friend, taking them out for ice cream, “coffee” or some other special treat gives you relaxed time to have deeper conversations with them. Sometimes framing questions with “I heard/read kids/teens your age ———-, do you think that is accurate?” can often yield a wealth of insight into their world.
  • Learn something new together that they choose. This is a great way to learn about your kids’ gifts and passions. If they’ve always wanted to learn how to weave a basket or play the ukulele, taking a class together can be fun. Even if it’s not your gift or passion, it gives you a better understanding of what they love and why they love it.

Taking extra time to join your kids in their worlds is a great way to make sure your kids are doing as well as you hope they are. If you discover issues, it also gives you time to parent them before things get too serious. It’s worth taking some extra time and effort.