Just how social is “social media”?



Sue Summers

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Just how social is “social media”?

We live in a shrinking world. Marshall McLuhan (Canadian philosopher and visionary) was the first to use the term “global village” in the 1960s. “The term global village has been used to express the idea that people throughout the world are interconnected through the use of new media technologies.” (www.library.illinois.edu/village/globalnews/mod1/pg1.htm) Keep in mind he lived long before our present Internet-connected world. Now, more than ever, we certainly live in a “global village”.

One of the outcomes of our technological advances is the creation of “social media”. By definition, social media include “forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)” (Wikipedia). The example of social media most of us instantly recognize, and most likely use, is Facebook. This site allows free and easy-to-use opportunities to share information, photos, and videos. There are many other social media sites, such as Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Instagram that are used by children, teens, and adults that have sprung up since social media have become popular. “By February 2018, WhatsApp had over one and a half billion users, making it the world’s most popular messaging application at the time” (Wikipedia).

There are concerns about the wide-spread use of social media. Some of these include lack of sleep, hacking of personal data, decreased face-to-face interpersonal communication, isolation, bullying, sexting (the sending of sexually explicit photos over the phone or Internet, with or without permission), and low self-esteem. These are real issues that parents, grandparents, teachers, youth pastors, counselors, and others who interact with children and teens need to be aware of.

Despite the potential dangers lurking within social media messages, photos, and videos, social media are here to stay, and are growing in popularity each year. Because of prevalent cell phones that have Internet connections, people can interact via social media from virtually anywhere in the world.

So… how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?

As always, an open line of communication with teens and preteens is necessary.

Each of us craves relationships that are built on respect, discussion of ideas, and love. We need more than texts, posts, and email.

Adults need to set some rules.

We’ve all seen families or groups who are out to dinner and each member is on his/her cell phone. Here’s the latest rage with young adults who are interested in sharing ideas and serious dialog when out together: Each person places his/her cell phone in the middle of the table. The first person to reach for his/her phone pays for everyone’s dinner. Now there is an incentive to ignore the phone and be present!

Rule #1: no cell phones at mealtimes.

Some families collect the children’s and teens’ cell phones at bedtime (or after dinner). This cuts down on bedtime abuse and also prevents too much time spent with social media.

Rule #2: control the cell phone use.

Limiting cell phone use is important. However, the content on social media sites is often a concern. Interact with children and teens regarding what’s appropriate to post and what are healthy uses of their social media. Parents, and all adults involved with children and teens, have the responsibility to teach them how to be appropriate and responsible citizens. Everyone needs to report any misuse or troublesome posts. The new catchphrase is “If you see something, say something!”

Rule #3: be a responsible friend and citizen.

Here’s a radical idea!!! Use social media to spread the gospel. Most of us are reluctant to start a conversation with our friends or family members about the good news of Jesus Christ. However, social media can provide opportunities to share websites and videos that might transform a life!  Two websites that can easily be shared are: the one-minute “sharing the gospel” video from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MoLhVHSu_0M and the “Who Am I?” campaign from Discovering the Jewish Jesus: https://whoami.com/

Marshall McLuhan would be amazed at how accurate his term “global village” is now! But learning to be “social” takes direction and encouragement from mature and responsible adults. Let’s help our kids navigate the maze of mixed messages in our culture.

Sue Summers is a Christian media analyst, teacher, author, and speaker. She is the Director of Media Alert!

Her website is: www.MediaAlert.org

Sue can be reached at: Sue@MediaAlert.org

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