Social media terrible impact on our children

By Randy Alcorn
Eternal Perspectives Ministry


Note from Randy: This is a sobering and important article from The Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter, explaining how social media is causing our children to suffer, and encouraging parents to be proactive in protecting their children. (And it’s not just children who are negatively impacted by social media; many of us adults are too.)

If your child has a smartphone or has access to a phone, a tablet, online gaming console, or a computer, they are vulnerable.As a parent you might wonder, “Do I have the right to interfere? Isn’t that being nosey?” Your job is to interfere, and to know what is going on in your children’s lives, as well as what happens when they’re at friends’ houses and at school. You need to protect them, just as if you were standing next to a freeway and would feel an obligation to put your arms around them and say, “Stay off that freeway.”

This is a battle for our children, with their lives and futures at stake. May Christian parents answer the Lord’s call to protect their children.

Social Media Is Causing Our Children to Suffer

By Joe Carter

The Story: The U.S. surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, has issued a warning about the potential risks of social media on children’s mental health. Here’s why Christian parents should be concerned—and what we can do to protect our kids.

The Background: The surgeon general’s warning comes in response to growing scrutiny over the harmful effects of inappropriate content on and excessive use of social media. These platforms have been linked to a range of harmful consequences, from disrupted sleep patterns to promoting suicidal thoughts among young people.

Murthy has called for policymakers, platforms, and parents to establish safe limits, and he believes children shouldn’t join social media before the age of 13. The Biden administration is simultaneously releasing plans to improve online safety for children that include establishing an interagency task force, promoting digital literacy and habits, and supporting efforts to prevent online harassment and child abuse.

An estimated 95 percent of teenagers and 40 percent of children aged 8–12 are on social media, often exposed to extreme and harmful content. Those spending more than three hours a day on these platforms are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety. Additionally, one-third or more of girls aged 11–15 have reported feeling “addicted” to certain platforms.

As family researchers Jenet Erickson and W. Bradford Wilcox point out,

Newer research indicates that yes, social media is a factor, with some adolescents and young adults especially affected by platforms like TikTok and Instagram. The largest study to date found that girls between the ages of 11–13 appeared to be especially vulnerable. And Facebook’s own research, leaked by a whistleblower last year, revealed a link for teen girls between Instagram use and increased suicidal thoughts (13.5%), eating disorders (17%) and feeling worse about their bodies (32%). [links in original]

What It Means: Human inventions are part of God’s common grace to mankind, and most have the potential to be used for our flourishing. However, in our focus on the potential benefits of technology, we often downplay or dismiss the obvious harm and suffering they can cause. This has been especially true of communication technologies like social media. While Christians, in particular, have been slow to respond to the threat of social media, we can no longer ignore the effects on our children and teens.

We should become more aware of how communication technologies shape our thinking and interactions. Harold Innis, a 20th-century communication theorist, posited that media technologies have three profound effects on us: they shape (1) the structure of our interests, (2) the character of symbols, and (3) the nature of community. Applying this model to social media reveals significant areas of concern.

The structure of interests refers to the subjects that hold our attention. In this age of algorithms, social media can greatly influence what our children and teens think about. It’s unsurprising there’s been a skyrocketing number of teens exploring and engaging in bisexuality, eating disorders, and transgenderism when social media sites have been promoting those topics to teens.

It’s easy for teens to start with a worthy interest and be led down a path to suffering. A teenager interested in fitness might receive an onslaught of posts promoting unrealistic body ideals, leading to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy behaviors. Social media algorithms may then point them to proanorexia (“pro-ana”) and probulimia sites and to online communities where they can interact with others who promote “thinspiration” (i.e., “inspirational” pictures of extremely thin bodies).

The character of symbols, or the ways we interpret and communicate information, has also been revolutionized by social media. Platforms tend to favor brevity and instant gratification, reducing complex ideas to emojis, hashtags, and viral challenges. This shift can undermine critical thinking skills and encourage a superficial understanding of issues, such as the Bible and faith. Rather than turning to parents, pastors, or mature adults who can help them navigate their questions and doubts, teens are encouraged to learn from their frivolous and ill-informed peers.

The nature of community is greatly affected by social media. While these platforms offer a way to connect with others, they promote shallow, fleeting interactions over meaningful, deep relationships. This can impair the development of critical social skills such as empathy and conflict resolution.

Teens tend to confuse social media with “real life.” On platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, users are regularly exposed to idealized and often unrealistic portrayals of the lives of others. Seeing peers and celebrities flaunting their “perfect” (often photoshopped) bodies, luxurious lifestyles, and flawless appearances can lead to unhealthy comparisons and a distorted self-image. Many teens and preteens feel pressured to meet these unattainable standards, which can lead to body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.

Cyberbullying is another significant issue. Before the internet, bullying was mostly confined to school grounds. Now, it has infiltrated homes through screens. Online platforms have become a breeding ground for harassment, trolling, and abuse, where anonymity often emboldens bullies (as any adult who has been on Twitter can attest). The effects of cyberbullying can be devastating, leading to anxiety, depression, and, in extreme cases, suicidal ideation. According to a survey by Pew Research taken in 2022, nearly half of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 (46 percent) report ever experiencing at least one of six cyberbullying behaviors.

What can we do to protect our children? While the Bible doesn’t say anything directly about social media, it has a lot to say about considering the company we keep and avoiding negative influences:

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Prov. 13:20)

My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. (Prov. 1:10)

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33)

We can’t completely control who children and teens are exposed to online. But we can pray earnestly to the one who cares for the souls of children and welcomes them into his kingdom. We can ask him to work in their hearts and the hearts of those around them, keeping their feet from evil ways and causing them to delight in him above all.

Parents also can and should take greater precautions to protect their children. The most effective way is to limit or take away their access to smartphones. As Leonard Sax says,

As a family doctor, I pay attention to these nuts and bolts. I advise parents to install parental monitoring software on any device with Internet access, to enforce limits on social media use. Common Sense Media recommends Net Nanny and Qustodio, as well as Bark or Circle, among other parental monitoring apps.

Explain to your teen that the use of a smartphone is a privilege, not a right. Inappropriate use of the smartphone will result in forfeiture of that privilege. What constitutes inappropriate use? Downloading or sharing obscene photos is inappropriate use. Cyberbullying is inappropriate use. Posting nasty comments anonymously is inappropriate use. A parental monitoring app will let you know whether any of this is happening, and it’s the job of parents to know. [link in original]

“My advice to parents: don’t wait for state or federal legislation,” adds Sax. “You could be waiting a long time. Parents need to act now.”

This article originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition, and is used with permission of the author.

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