Why Kids Need to Friend Their Parents Online

Rev. Deb Koster

July 7, 2019

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.

Nothing is private

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.

Online is permanent

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?

Online and offline need to be consistent

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.

Journey with your children

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.

Make connections

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:

  • Don't respond to everything. Don’t be too quick to comment or like--you don’t need to be their most active friend. Choose your interactions wisely, and use these points of learning for conversation later. They will shy away from sharing if their parents dominate every conversation.
  • Don’t dismiss their interests. You might be surprised at what they like, who they friend, and what they post about. Some of it might be serious, some might be silly or trivial or trendy beyond your understanding. You might have to Google some topics just to understand the jokes. But it matters to them, so respect their interests. Don't make assumptions--if something is concerning, privately ask what it means to them.
  • Don’t let Facebook replace actual interaction. You may gather a very different assessment in conversation than you would from only reading their Facebook wall or twitter posts. And social media will never tell you everything that is happening--we tend to share only what we want others to see about us. We don’t often share our deepest struggles. You will only discover those things when you tune in to your child in person.
  • If you have a concern, take respectful action. Ask about what that particular post meant to them. Be slow to condemn; rather, help them see the ramifications of how someone uninformed might take something they said. If discipline is warranted and a conversation does not resolve the challenge, then remove the privilege. Internet access is not a right, but a privilege to be removed if abused. Keep phones and computers in a public part of the home.

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.

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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