I would not generally read my child’s diary or emails. I have never activated the tracker on their cell phones to spy on them. My children’s rooms are their own domain to arrange as they choose (but are still responsible to keep them tidy). We allow our teens a good deal of freedom. However, I do not allow them to have an online profile without friending me, and let me tell you why.
We don’t want to give our kids the delusion that social media is private space. Things posted on Facebook or Instagram (and anywhere else online) are quite public, and that is how it must be treated. If your child thinks they can say something to their 300 closest friends behind your back, they are mistaken. Think of a room with that many people. When posting on Facebook, you are in effect shouting out your information to that whole room.
Nothing posted online really gets deleted. Rather, it gets scanned, cataloged, and filed for future reference. Whole business empires are built on cataloging information, and often tracking information about individuals for marketing purposes. That fact is not some paranoid conspiracy, but a matter of life online. Employers will look up your Facebook pages and twitter feeds, and maybe even run a background check just to find out what you’re really like. Do you really want those unfortunate pictures and angry remarks on your resume?
Children need to understand their behavior online cannot be different from what it is in ‘real life.’ The Internet might feel like an anonymous place, but the words and actions are by real people, with real world consequences. If you’re a bully, or a cheater, or a sexist, or a liar online, you’re that in real life too. Or if you’re patient, kind, encouraging, or forgiving online, you’re that in real life too.
As parents it is our calling to know what is going on with our kids. The Bible instructs parents to share God's truths as they journey with their kids. We are to travel with our children instilling God's word into their lives.
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut 6:6-7).
Teenagers are beginning to understand the various facts of life, but still need parental guidance, even when they think they don’t. So parents need to know what children are choosing to share. I personally have called other parents (on more than one occasion) to share my concern about their child’s words on Facebook. Parents need to know if their child is sounding depressed or suicidal, or talking about doing something amazingly stupid, or just cursing the air blue. As part of this big family we hold each other accountable to represent Christ in our actions.
Following on social media is a way to share in your child’s interests. It gives you a window into their hearts. You can see when your child is excited about an upcoming event or irritated about a test. It gives you points of reference when you spend time together. You can laugh about some silly video or enjoy the discussion of who would really win in a battle: Jedi or ninjas?
Still, there’s no need to smother your children publicly. Wise parents will observe some boundaries. Here's some tips for parents:
Remember that a key task of a teenager is growing into an independent adult. They’re learning to live life without your constant supervision. Together, you need to negotiate shifting boundaries. In posting online, they have gifted you with a glimpse of their world, and if you want to see more of their life, treat their choices with respect, even while giving needed parental guidance. Show the same love and respect online that we have for them in person.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster