Helping TCKS use social media wisely

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

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.

Unpacking

Source: www.freeimages.com

A friend commented recently that I use the word ‘unpacking’ a lot.  It’s true: as a traveller I find myself unpacking frequently, and being of an orderly disposition I don’t really feel settled in until the case is unpacked  and everything’s neatly packed away.  You know I’m really tired if I get home late but leave the bags unpacked on the floor till the morning.

But it’s not this sort of unpacking that she was talking about.  It’s when unpacking is a metaphor for reflection on an experience, an emotion, or event.  You could equally call it processing, but I think that sounds a bit too, well, process-oriented.

In my experience mission workers do far too little unpacking.  We carry a lot of clutter around with us, and often pay a price for taking our ‘excess baggage’ with us.  It can be very unhealthy to take with us everywhere we go our crates of past disappointments, frustrations and hurts.  Spiritually and emotionally, it’s good to travel light.  So how do we get rid of our excess baggage?

Unpacking is the activity of reviewing what has happened to us, reflecting on it, learning the lessons, and moving on.  We are most accustomed to doing this when we have a debrief.  We look back at our last term of service and review what went well, or badly, and how we grew as a result.  Truthfully recognising our role in the events, and how we reacted to them, helps us.  It can bring emotions to the surface which, once acknowledged, can be dealt with.

 

People who follow Ignatian spirituality do this practice regularly, in many cases at least once a day.  They call it the Examen.  It’s a very healthy procedure which involves analysing how we feel, particularly if a strong emotion has surfaced.  We can do it periodically, often in the aftermath of a challenging event or incident.  Asking ourselves such questions as Why was I so angry?  What was I afraid of? or What made me feel so happy? will help us learn about our emotions and understand our responses.  By examining our choices and our reactions, we create a place in which we can forgive those who have wronged us, and repent of the wrongs we have done.

Sometimes when emotions rise up it’s because  we feel vulnerable (even if it’s only subconsciously) It has been compared to  sitting on top of a wobbling pole, so we try to re-establish security by placing big rocks around the base of the pole to stop it wobbling.  These rocks represent potentially compulsive behaviours like shopping, drink or drugs, being a star employee, excelling as a parent/partner/child, eating, or having sex.

These activities, while not necessarily wrong in themselves, help to bolster our short-term feelings of self-esteem, so when we’re tempted to indulge in one or more of them to excess, it is helpful to ask why.  It may be that some recent experience has undermined our self-esteem so that we need to take steps to feel good about ourselves.  The problem is that none of these activities actually delivers long-term good self-esteem, so we have to keep on doing them to feel good.  Only a full appreciation of our relationship with God in Christ can set us free from this cycle of compulsive self-destruction.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Sometimes we experience emotional instability because we are carrying too much excess baggage.  It’s rather like having a case which won’t shut without us sitting on it, so the stuff inside keeps spilling out at inopportune moments.  This is what happens when our emotions burst unhelpfully into daily life.

The solution is to open the case and get everything out.  Take a good look at each individual item (memory, emotion, experience) and decide whether you really need to keep it.  If not, throw it out.  If you do need to keep it, fold it up neatly and put it back in the case, which will now shut properly.

Orderly unpacking will help us travel lighter.