By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Update to everyone older than teens — students using social media to express themselves and relate to others is as natural to them as breathing, agreed three Tennessee Baptist ministers who relate to students.
For those who need an update on social media, one follows —
Instagram, which features photos more than text, is currently a popular form of social media among students. Twitter is also popular because unlike Facebook the user can better control the people they want to communicate with and it doesn’t have so many ads. Facebook is still used by students, but not as much as their parents, the ministers agreed.
Snapchat and After School, both apps, are used by students. After School is a bad choice, because only people 18 years old and younger can join and then they can post comments anonymously, which leads to bullying people and making threats against people.
Finally, anyone with a phone can text and with a phone that has a camera can “sext.” Sexting is texting or sending someone a photo of oneself which carries a sexual message. This is often done using Snapchat to reach a group of friends because the image disappears in 10 seconds. Yet someone can take a screen capture, so the image never really disappears. Currently students can be prosecuted for sexting in Tennessee. Then legal experts will track down the images.
And, as this article is being read, new forms of social media are being developed and used by students, many without the knowledge of their parents, observed all three ministers. Another factor in this situation is that students use several platforms at the same time.
Alec Cort, a former student minister who is now a professor/chaplain at Donelson Christian Academy, Donelson, and senior pastor, Lakewood Baptist Church, Donelson; Jason Salyer, associate pastor – students, East Maryville Baptist Church, Maryville; and Brett Frazier, associate pastor, next generation, Faith Baptist Church, Bartlett, reported on their experiences with students using social media.
Advice to parents
“Just as we never knew a time without TV or the telephone, students today have never been without social media,” noted Cort, referring to most adults who are parents of middle schoolers and high schoolers.
So understandably students often consider their parents and other adults irrelevant if they aren’t on social media.
The main difference in online communication is that it is basically permanent because even if the original post is removed, it may have already been shared, noted all three ministers.
“The big thing for parents is not to be intimidated and retreat from it,” advised Salyer. Then they have to deal with the down side of their children and themselves becoming addicted to their smartphones.
Frazier said he thinks many students are still addicted to their phones, but that trend is lessening. He used to experience some resistance when encouraging students to put phones away during worship or Bible study. Now he has backed off of that position partly because he has seen students, especially older students, use their phones less and more appropriately maybe because it is more normal. Frazier has served as a student minister for about 10 years.
“Having a screen in front of them all of the time is exhausting them,” said Frazier.
All three ministers recommended that parents judiciously monitor the social media use of their children, evaluating the platforms and giving feedback and even restricting the use of their children.
Frazier said parents should have the passwords needed to see what their children are doing on each form of social media.
Salyer and Cort agreed, noting the parents also should be using those social media platforms as well.
Cort and Frazier recommended the use of Covenant-Eyes, an Internet accountability and filtering program.
Salyer said he offers templates for cell phone or technology contracts to parents. The contracts include requirements for social media usage. “The goal is to help students see the need for healthy boundaries in this area and have some basis to guard them from the dangers,” explained Salyer in written comments.
Frazier said he also would encourage parents to set time limits on usage so that students can’t use their technology when they should be sleeping.
Parents always should realize that children have at their fingertips many different ways to “fake out” their parents, said Cort. Frazier agreed noting that apps to monitor or filter usage “aren’t that productive for older teens because they all know how to get around them.”
“Then it becomes an integrity issue. … It’s just like it is for adults, nine out of 10 times we’re hiding something because it’s wrong.”
Controlling their children in this area “will be very difficult,” because their children do not want them to “encroach on their independence and freedom,” noted Cort.
Salyer noted that dangers online are often obvious, but parents also should consider the not-so-obvious actions of their children which “are just as damaging spiritually,” he noted. “We encourage our students to consider things before they post and test whether they are kind and beneficial or prideful and seeking the approval of others.”
Parents should see their actions concerning their children’s use of social media as an expression of love, wrote Salyer. Cort and Frazier agreed. Frazier noted that students want to be disciplined and have boundaries.
The good news
The bottom line is that anyone, regardless of age, is measured by his or her communication. All communication impacts people and is remembered, they agreed.
Communication via social media is a tool which can be used for good, the ministers added. Faith Baptist relies on social media to spread the word about events and its ministry. Faith, which has a large student ministry, has three Twitter accounts, one Facebook page, an Instagram account, and its own website. But the ministers have a policy that they don’t communicate online with parents of the opposite sex without someone else being included in the message, explained Frazier.
Social media is powerful, the men added. “You can reach thousands of people with the gospel, millions, in a minute,” noted Frazier.
“Students can learn and benefit others with the way they harness social media, but we should love them enough to help them see it, like everything, through the lens of God’s Word,” wrote Salyer.
Cort added, “We should remember that this generation has seen the most rapid growth of technology of any generation born. … This is the first real culture to deal with this in a very big way.
“Technology itself cannot help people make moral choices but the proper use of technology can,” said Cort.
“Even though technology is known for evil it is not evil, it can be good. It is about the heart behind the user,” said Frazier.
“Social media is not inherently good or evil, but instead reveals the heart,” agreed Salyer.