by Jamie Bonnema
Isn’t it mind boggling to think about how many of our daily tasks have turned into online experiences? We no longer have to leave our vehicles or houses to shop. A library is not required for research—it is only a reach away with the touch of our phones. News is available in real-time online instead of in the newspaper a day later. Pen and paper has been replaced with online documents and an online notepad. Phone calls have given way to social media messaging, conversations have turned into likes and emojis, and memes have replaced how we convey our opinions. Instant gratification, as well as instant disappointment, is readily available around every online corner.
The changes in the way we do life are inevitable, and it is important to have some guidelines for the safety and spiritual health of our families and communities. If we are naïve in our approach to social media and online use, we may find ourselves or our children on a path that is not only undesirable, it may be one that is difficult to change or has extreme consequences. I have put together some tips and questions to assist in our awareness of our child’s online use, as well as assessing our own. While this is not a substitute for professional help with an addiction problem, it is a good tool to gauge how we are doing, changes we need to make, and things we need to think about further.
Quick tips for parents for child’s social media and online use:
- Know the social media outlets that are being used.
- Have a way to verify online use on the child’s device.
- Have filters in place (filter out risky sites, porn, violent content).
- Check in regularly with the child about online use.
- Approach online use with guidance vs. control or neglect.
- Use incidents as opportunities to teach versus simply reacting.
- Research apps to avoid due to predatory or privacy issues.
Answers to these questions may tip off a problem with your child’s online use:
- Does my child initiate conversation regularly with me?
- Is my child uncomfortable or defensive when asked questions?
- Does my child have a difficult time communicating face-to-face?
- Is my child easily frustrated or angered?
- How does my child respond when it is time to end electronic use?
- Does my child use social media to communicate more than any other method?
- Is online use the number one activity for my child?
- Does my child seem tired, depressed, or apathetic?
- Is my child falling behind or doing poorly in school?
- Does my child have an online relationship which doesn’t exist in real life?
Answers to these questions may tip off a problem with our own online use:
- How much non-work time do I spend online?
- How much time does the data in my phone actually indicate I spend online?
- Does anything I do online compromise my relationship with God?
- Do I seek online relationships more than real ones?
- Do I seek online approval more than my family’s or God’s approval?
- Can I walk away today from anything I do online?
- Do I have activities I enjoy outside of online use?
- How often do I do those activities?
- Am I often looking at my device when others are speaking?
- Is it hard to quit what I am doing online to pay attention to those around me?
- How do I react when someone interrupts my online use?
- Am I frequently low in patience, easily frustrated, or short-tempered?
Please note that these tips and questions are meant for encouragement and not to condemn. They came about by reflecting on the things that I need to take inventory of continually, as well as observing the struggles I see around me in both kids and adults. I strongly believe that what we do in our personal lives does affect everyone around us—both positively and negatively.
I have been guilty of misusing my time on social media and can spend way too much time scrolling. And when I struggle due to my own choices, I have to take responsibility that my best self is not available for others. It may show up in impatience, overreacting to small things, or in frustration of getting further behind. This is not a pleasant version of me! But if I can do better, people around me also benefit. And if we all work together on this, both individually and with our families, think about how far into the future we just made an impact! Together we will maintain healthy and strong connections in an off-line, real life sort of way:), which is my favorite kind of life.
Jamie Bonnema is a former youth treatment counselor for residential care, education, and wilderness programs. She is a married mother of four children, works from home with a nutrigenomics company, enjoys working with GCA in various roles, and loves outdoor recreation.