I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the direct message my teen girl received: “You are way too ugly to be posting selfies.” A guy she didn’t even know sent it to her on Instagram. (What makes someone go out of their way to hurt a total stranger?) My daughter happens to be a beautiful young woman, but that’s neither here nor there. Even though she’s poised, articulate, smart, and creative, the message shook her up.
Social media wields a powerful influence on our teens. Their world is colored by Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. They probably get their news from Twitter and Facebook, although my kids tell me mainly ancient people over 30 use Facebook now. Social media can be a powerful communicator of God’s truth, but it can also hurt. Some kids use it to bully and compete with others, or to subtweet at friends they’re upset with.
No doubt about it, social media can shake us up, and I have to admit I’m not so different from my teen. When we look at beautiful images on Instagram, we start to feel not so attractive ourselves. What we have, the places we go, and the people we know don’t look as exciting as the glamourous images we see, and before we know it, we start to feel less positively about ourselves. Social media can shake our self-image.
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Our Teens' Greatest Problem
One important difference between my daughter and I is that I’ve had 30 more years to learn how much God loves me and who I am in Christ. Although social media can present a powerful challenge for our teens, their greatest problem is a vulnerable self-image. They haven’t had the time to develop a strong identity based on who God is and how much He loves and values them.
When we understand better how God values us, His love becomes an internal filter through which we see the images and words social media throws at us. As parents, we can help our teens get to know God better, experience more of His Love, and learn more of who they are in Christ. To build a more positive self-image and let God’s love filter out the world’s negative voices, our teens need answers to these questions:
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Who is God and does He care about me?
One of the most amazing truths about our Creator God is that He cares deeply about His children and actually draws near when we call out to Him. We spend a lifetime learning this, but Psalm 145 provides a glimpse of God’s character and care for man: “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made… The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The Lord is near to all who call on him” (v. 9, 17,18a).
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Does He really love me?
Most of us can’t imagine anyone loving us more than our mother does, but Scripture tells us God’s love and care go beyond that of a mother for her child. His passion for us goes so deep that He has even engraved our names on the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:15-16). He loves your teen with an everlasting love, and He demonstrated that love by sending Jesus to die on the cross. Our true value rests on the blood Christ shed for us, not on the number of likes we get on social media.
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Who am I?
Scripture teaches that God knit your teen together in the womb, fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139:13-14). Our sons and daughters are His workmanship, created with a purpose: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT).
Our teens will continue learning these truths their whole life, but we can help them get started on the right track by seeking to reflect God’s love in the context of a healthy relationship with them. God can be a nebulous concept, but our kids see us in the flesh every day. We can’t be perfect parents, but we can reflect some of His love to our children by giving them three important gifts:
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The Gift of Affirmation
I love the passage in Deuteronomy 33 where Moses speaks a blessing over each tribe of Israel. It reminds me that as a parent, one of my roles is to bless my children through affirmation. When they were younger, I used to pray over them individually each night, thanking God for such a wonderful child and mentioning specific traits and talents I saw in each one. I still do this occasionally, but not near often enough.
As I write this, I realize all over again that my young adult children still need affirmation from their father and me. We can counteract the negative voices our kids might hear through social media when we take the time to tell them the special qualities we love about them.
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The Gift of Relationship with Us
Ultimately a positive, loving relationship with us opens the channel for our teens to receive more of God’s love and truth. Let’s be the kind of parents they can approach to talk about anything. Good relationships take time, time to listen and understand. I don’t always get it right, but I’m trying to learn to listen rather than lecture.
Living with a teen can be challenging, but let’s focus on developing a positive relationship in the midst of the problems. When we experience tension with our teen, we tend to focus on the conflict and define our relationship by the problems we’re having. What if we shifted instead to maintaining good communication and appreciation for them as people? Just the other day my teen girl and I were able to enjoy popcorn, Sour Patch Kids, and a favorite program together, right after we experienced some family fireworks.
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The Gift of a Growing Relationship with God
Learning to let God’s love filter what we see and experience in the world around us is a life-long pursuit. As we seek a daily relationship with God ourselves through time in His Word and prayer, we can encourage our children to develop their own relationship with Him. Rather than just teaching them about God, we need to shift the focus in their teen years to teaching them more about how to hear from God themselves and experience His presence in their lives.
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Social media can shake us up, but God is our unchanging anchor.
We can encourage our teens to grow a stronger self-image based on who God is and how He loves them. Let’s encourage them to spend a few minutes each day reading Scripture, so they’ll have truth in their minds to counteract the lies the world may throw at them. Sometimes the world may send us negative messages via Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, but we can learn to let God’s love filter what we see on social media.
Betsy de Cruz writes to encourage women to stick close to God and His Word, even when life gets bumpy and crazy. Her free guide, 10 Days to More, shows readers 10 ways to do devotional Bible study. It’s available at Betsy’s blog, Faithspillingover.com, where you’ll find Bible study and prayer tips, as well as encouragement for family life and everyday faith. You can also find Betsy on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
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Originally published Wednesday, 31 July 2019.