Confessions of The Original Online Junkie: One Does Not Simply Let Teens Play on the Internet

If you’ve been following Confessions of The Original Online Junkie series so far,

you know that today’s post was inevitable – teens and the internet.

Oy, where to start?

Grab some Pepto, or some alcohol, maybe both – this is going to be rough.

As parents, we are not only the primary educators of our children,

we are the keeper of their hearts and protector of their souls.

No big, right?

Wrong. Think again.

This is the stuff we will stand before God and plead our case.

Did we do our job adequately or did we fail our children?

Did we attempt to get in the way of them and speeding bullets or

did we think it more important to be their friend, their equal?

Friends, this is what keeps me awake at night. I know full well that these children were gifted to me and my husband by God. They aren’t ours – they are on loan to us, to be rightfully returned to Him at the end of their lives. We want to be able to stand before Him and humbly say I did my best, Father. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

I have the odd and unique honor burden experience of having been the teenager on the internet in the mid-90’s and now being the current parent of a teenager {17 year old girl} and a tween {12 year old boy} with a gaggle in tow at 8G, 5B, 3G, 1B, I hope I can offer some perspective that will help aid you in some decisions concerning your teen, your family, yourself and/or your marriage and social media use.

Are you ready? Let’s rock this!

So, what’s a parent to do these days? In a world that is supersaturated with social media and screen time of one variety or another – not using your smartphone? Can I interest you in a game of MineCraft? Or some television? Netflix? Amazon Prime? Roku? Angry Birds on the iPad, perhaps? Aaaaand circle back to the smartphone.

A few months ago two things happened that prompted me to take a closer look at the issue of teens and social media. One was an article put out by a fellow Catholic momma and Austin Catholic New Media blogger, Kathryn, in which she beautifully addressed tips for parents on teens and social media. I want to expand on this great resource with the hope that more Catholic bloggers of teens will write about their experiences and what worked for them.

  1. Create an atmosphere of respect. Recently I was asked by Catholic author Susie Lloyd what I thought young adults needed most in terms of parental support. Without hesitation, I put together a paragraph and out popped the word respect. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but there it was. The longer I stared at it, the more I realized how other things build upon respect. Communication is also key, but without respect for each other, communication is ineffective. Neither wants to listen to nor cares what the other says without respect. Though this can be seen as a general parenting tip, it helps set the stage for setting boundaries with social media use, and is an ongoing process.
  2. Avoid getting your child a cell phone as long as possible. {note: some families have legitimate reasons for giving their kiddos phones at earlier ages – this point is not directed at personal family choices, but intended to give broad information for parents to discern as needed} I think it would surprise people to know that for many practical reasons, we avoided getting our oldest a cell phone until she turned 16 last year. Ask me how many Christmas lists we got that included a Nintendo DS, a cell phone and a laptop. One year the list read completely defeated: I don’t even care if it’s a crappy analog phone. We ultimately held out because it was not a justifiable expense – I still maintain that it’s not justifiable, but she is older and more responsible and the phone gives her opportunities to show that maturity.
  3. 8:00 p.m. If you’re like I was at one time, it can sometimes be hard to be the heavy when it comes to drawing the line in the sand with our teens and social media. How can I possibly expect them to put their devices away when I’m doing what? Oh, yeah. Sitting on the laptop typing away, or Facebooking or texting my husband…we won’t say that he is sitting right next to me when texting. I quickly pushed that irrelevant guilt aside and thought to myself – ok, yes, it does matter that I model the behavior I expect from my kids, but it also can’t be an excuse to their having unlimited access. In our house, about four or five months ago, we implemented a curfew of 8:00 p.m.all devices are to be turned in and are returned the following day after chores and schoolwork are done and delivered with a cheerful attitude. Exceptions to the curfew are made for various events, but overall, it’s a pretty firm rule in our house.
  4. Set a recurring calendar event on your phone for the curfew. I can almost guarantee you won’t be able to remember each evening, so have your gadget remind you – and your teen.
  5. Be connected with your teen on all their social media accounts. This might sound like a hassle because you and I both know you don’t want to be signed up for ALL of their favorite haunts…Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Big Tent, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, Vine, etc…BUT, you really do need to be connected. Or at minimum, get to know how each kind of platform works. Did you know that Instagram has a no porn policy, but with only 15 full-time employees {as of last August}, their ability to monitor 5+ million photos uploaded each DAY is impossible. As parents, we need to know these things and make sure we are doing the monitoring and not putting false trust into these platforms to do their job. Ultimately, it’s our boat to row.
  6. Know your kiddo’s passwords. No, seriously. This is not an invasion of their privacy. Knowing passwords does not mean you break down the virtual doors of their accounts and go snooping around unannounced – unless there is behavior that warrants it. It just creates transparency with the accounts and helps keep kiddos accountable.
  7. Consider off-limits zones and times in your house. No phones welcome at the dinner table, please and thank you. During the school year, I attempt to not work on the blog or check e-mail, etc. during actual homeschool time. It can be a challenge, but it’s one that’s necessary. Try different places and times to see what works well in your house. See this post I wrote on some tips on balancing your time online.
  8. Digital footprint. Teach your teen the importance of prudence in their dealings online, from the pictures they take – or are in- to the kinds of conversations they have on their own accounts as well as others. Make them aware that anyone and everyone can view their conversations, pictures, etc. Don’t rely on your privacy settings to keep your information private. Not sure what’s out there online? Sit down with your teen and Google/Bing/Yahoo them and see what comes up. Knowing is half the battle.
  9. Self worth. Another sit-down worthy talk to have with your teens. Let your teen know that no amount of likes, comments, re-blogs, shares, retweets, even the number of friends, follows, or subscribers {etc.} define who they are. Teens today {shaking fist at the sky and said in grouchy gramps voice!} should know how to detach their interaction online from who God made them. Their ultimate value and worth comes from God alone and is fostered through their relationship with you, their parents. Sound like a broken record if you have to, but tell them in NO uncertain terms that social media and their presence, whether “popular” or not, will ever fulfill them the way Christ’s love can. It sounds hokey, but they need to know this. In fact, we adults could use a dose of this from time to time.
  10. Evangelize! Not just for adults anymore, teens can be amazing witnesses for the Faith. Under your guidance and with your encouragement, you can help them gain the footing they’ll need to later maneuver the secular world on their own. One trend I’ve noticed among my teen’s friends is to add their Confirmation saint name to their Facebook account. That’s one way to get a conversation started! Talk to them about their evangelizing endeavors and talk about what worked, what didn’t. Talk about the importance of maintaining friendships through theological differences. I give you an article I wrote on how not to evangelize and another on how to evangelize. I encourage you to read both.
  11. Stress safety. Don’t be afraid to use shock therapy. In my house, this works. I’ve been known to watch episodes of Hoarders or How Clean is Your House or You Are What You Eat with my kiddos to get conversations going about why it’s important that they clean and eat healthy. It may not work for everyone, but if you think there’s a chance it might, do it. I leave you with this old, but still relevant video on smartphone safety. ::note: this isn’t intended to scare you or your kiddos, but to raise awareness::


Here is a handout I put together on this very topic and with it, some great resources to further your research.

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