Social Media: For the Love of God


Teens & Social Media

"I like made this google document on all my rules and requirements on how to take a selfie. I take a lot of pictures, but don't judge, I take like 100 usually, or like 150, maybe 200 sometimes if I really can't get a right one."

That quote comes from a student in a documentary called #Being13 in the social media age. Here's another one from a different student:

"I definitely feel pressure to look perfect on Instagram. What goes through my mind as I'm posting a picture about myself is - I'm thinking, ˜What will people think of this? Are they going to approve? Are they going to think I'm ugly, are they going to think I'm pretty? I'm thinking all these things and I'm comparing myself to others."

Social media use is at an all time high and as a result more and more researchers are paying attention.

The Good, the Bad, & The Ugly

Scientists know that teenagers have an enlarged nucleus accumbens - the "reward" part of the brain. You'll never enjoy chocolate as much as an adult then you did as a teenager. It also makes them a tad more impulsive and a little less predictable.

What we're also finding out is that social media approval - likes, shares, comments, etc. Lights up the "reward" part of the brain. Meaning, in some ways, it's just as good as chocolate but a whole lot more quantifiable.

What starts as harmless sharing of experiences, adventures, likes and dislikes, can slowly morph into a manicured self image, approval seeking, semi-compulsive machine where students (and many adults) check social media to find out how people are reacting to the content they're posting.

The documentary #Being13 mentioned earlier asked why teens were going on social media and found out that:

  • 61% of teens said they wanted to see if their online posts are getting likes and comments.
  • 36% of teens said they wanted to see if their friends are doing things without them.
  • 21% of teens said they wanted to make sure no one was saying mean things about them.

This also had a much more sinister side to it.

The study found that the more teens engaged in social media, the more distressed they became. Things escalated quickly. 8th grade students were sending nude photos, bullying, being bullied and saying things one doesn't feel comfortable repeating on a church blog post.

Why Faith Matters

Our greatest temptations tend to come from three sources: Appetite, Affirmation and Ambition. Some have used these to categorize Jesus' temptations in the desert.

In God, all of our needs are filled. Whatever we desire, whatever we're tempted with - we find their most beautiful and perfect form in God. He is the source of all that is good. So much so that Paul tells us that the secret to being content in every situation is Christ and He gives us the strength to find our contentment in Him - whether we have a lot or a little.

Paul, in a letter written to the Galatians says, "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."

In other words, Christians are freed from finding their approval in others. A not only that but often times following Christ may mean that you'll earn the disapproval of others:

John 15:18-21
18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. 21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.

In other words, Christians should expect to be unpopular but it won't matter because our approval comes from God and God alone.

Obsessively honing our social media image in an effort to garner likes is probably a symptom of a sin-sick soul.

What You Can Do About It

Pay Attention/Be Involved

#Being13 also studied parents of the participating teens. Almost all parents -- 94% -- underestimated the amount of fighting happening over social media. Despite that finding, parents that tried to keep a close eye on their child's social media accounts had a profound effect on their child's psychological well-being.

"Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts," Faris said.

Take Your Teen to Church

Seriously, it's a great place to learn that nothing can separate them from the love of God. It's also a great place for students to be surrounded by people who know they're loved and valuable because they're made in the image of God. 

More resources (Which were heavily used in this article):

Teenagers & Popularity: Life Can Be Hard At The Top

Why some 13-year-olds check social media 100 times a day

The Teenage Brain on Social Media

By Pastor Keith Sobus