A discussion at Global Connections’ TCK Forum last week considered helping TCKs to use social media wisely – a challenge for all of us involved with raising healthy children. We often remember that Jesus told us to be as innocent as doves in this world where we are like sheep among wolves, but we can so easily forget that he told us to be as wise as serpents too (Matthew 10:16).
In an age when children and teens are spending ever more time on the internet, at a time when we hear daily reports about online gaming, cyberbullying and sexting, how can we take steps to help our young people be safe? And what is the role of sending agencies and churches in helping parents?
What can churches and agencies do?
- Include in our orientation programmes information about social media so that parents are equipped to help their children understand internet security, particularly when skyping with grandparents and facetiming with schoolfriends.
- Encourage the involvement of a few trusted adults so children can have positive relations with a small number of adults who aren’t their parents with whom they can talk honestly about challenges, e.g. godparents, uncles and aunties.
- Encourage awareness of risk within the missions team – often the mission community consists of a team of up to 100 in-country partners who are automatically deemed ‘safe’ because they’re in the family. But how well do we know them? Let’s not make inappropriate assumptions about people we don’t really know.
- Include a social media policy within our safeguarding policies. This helps to put social media on the map and create an opportunity for us to talk about the challenges.
- Help our adults to avoid denial. Many parents will say “My Jimmy wouldn’t do that, he’s a good boy” but the evidence is that Jimmy might actually be doing something online that would horrify his parents. Let’s help parents realise there is a real danger online that can affect their children.
- Include social media challenges in our re-entry training – we need to help parents understand that their children may have been shielded from harm by being in a Christian school, and that a secular school in their passport country may have a very different set of values among its pupils.
What can parents do?
Helping young people be safe focuses far more on our relationship with them than on the rules. It is now widely recognised that rules limiting online time or having computers in a family room aren’t effective, as young people can simply get online on their phone in their bedroom, go round to a friend’s, or change the settings on their internet security.
- Develop an open and frank relationship so that you can discuss sensitive issues with your children
- Model forgiveness rather than condemnation when a child makes a mistake online
- Learn to be aware of social media so that you can talk knowledgeably with your child about issues. Get on Facebook and find out about Minecraft!
- Don’t spy on your kids’ internet activities – it communicates distrust
- Focus on knowing your child, not what your child has been doing
- Communicate that precautions you want them to take are not because you don’t trust them but may not trust people they interact with online
- Most schools have a policy on cyberbullying – know it and use it
- Don’t ban or limit gaming time but find out what they might be getting out of it and develop other ways of meeting that need
- Don’t’ get too upset about the amount of time your kids spend watching online vids – it’s how they relax!
We have remarked before in these blogs that pornography is not the problem. Likewise misuse of social media is a symptom of something deeper. Many young people are sucked into bad things because of their need for acceptance and belonging in a community. It is incredible hard for a godly teen to stand out from the crowd in a sexualised culture. Helping them to feel valued, trusted and accepted will go a long way towards maintaining a healthy self-esteem which will help protect them against bad influences.
What resources are available?
- CCPAS has an online course on internet safety
- Childline has child-friendly resources on dealing with cyberbullying, sexting, and gaming
- Safer Surfing is an Austrian website (your browser will offer to translate it) with good resources
- Saltmine Trust has a drama presentation and interactive workshop for use in UK schools.