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Talking to teens: How does social media fit into a Christian worldview?


Welcome to Reformed Perspective; I’m Alexandra Ellison.

Did you know that in Canada almost everyone is on social media? About 89% of the population uses it, making Canada one of the most online countries in the world. Given the prominence of social media in our society it’s crucial to understand how it’s being utilized. For Christian parents it’s especially important to be aware of their kids’ online activities.

In today’s video, I visited a high school to talk with Christian teenagers about their experiences with social media.

Q. 1 Are you on social media? If so, what apps do you use?

Student 1: “Not too much but I am on YouTube and Messenger Kids.”

Student 2: “Not really. A little bit. I have Google Chat so I can text my friends; they live like an hour away from me so I don’t get to see them too often, so I text them sometimes and sometimes do a video call with them.”

Student 3: “Yes, I am. I use Tik Tok quite a bit, as well as Instagram.”

Student 4: “Yes I’m on social media. Mostly Instagram and Snapchat.”

Q. 2 What are the benefits of social media?

Student 2: “I get to talk to my friends. If I didn’t have it I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them too much.”

Student 1: “I get to catch up with my friends because I don’t live close to them and I get to just be entertained and, um, find out a little bit about like movies that are coming out that I might like or just, um, stay current.”

Student 3: “I mean, it’s entertaining. I also have communication with some of my friends as well via social media, so it’s a good way to stay in contact with them. Also, with Instagram, I’m able to look at my family’s posts to see what they’re up to, especially if I’m not able to see them. I have a cousin overseas so I’m able to see what she’s up to overseas, via her posts on Instagram.”

Student 4: “Most of the benefits are communications; I’ve been able to communicate with one of my Bible studies that happens on social media, and also a lot of my friends: church friends, school friends.”

Q.3 What are some of the negatives?

Student 2: “If you are with a person, sometimes they’re too busy with their phone to actually be with the person. When you’re with the person they’re too busy on their phone, not with you.”

Student 1: “There are a lot of downs to all of these different websites, so you need to be careful on them.”

Student 3: “I know people think that they can handle it, so it lessens my time doing other more productive things. As well, it does have things on there that one should not look at.”

Student 4: “The negatives of social media are distractions. Sometimes it can just be really distracting, like you want to go do your work and then you just get distracted looking at something on Instagram and then you get down a rabbit hole, down there for an hour.”

Q. 4 What should parents be aware of?

Student 2: “Make sure that what they’re watching is good content not bad.”

Student 4: “They should be aware of who their kids are following ’cause there’s a lot of people who maybe seem like they’re good people but then they give false information or just a lot of things that can be not honoring God on social media. Sometimes they post something inappropriate that you don’t want to see in your feed, or randomly comes up. You especially don’t [want to] be following those type of things.”

Q.5 How does your Christian faith guide you in using social media?

Student 3: “My faith comes into play for what I’m looking at so that I don’t look at the negative things. As well, it keeps me honest with what I’m looking at, and how I use my time on social media, and what I use it for spreading God’s Word, or at least not getting into different areas of social media where they would be putting God down or just not following Him.”

Student 4: “Well, when I use social media my faith can come into play through communications with friends. Especially since I’m at a Christian school, so I can talk with Christian friends, have good conversations, as well as being able to have my Bible study that we have on Instagram. And we meet up and stuff, so it helps me communicate with others and helps me grow in that. And I think that’s pretty good, to have that space to be open, when sometimes you can’t communicate with others.”

Q.6 Can social media be used to glorify God?

Student 2: “I think so. You can tell your opinion on your worldview; share your views of the world on social media.”

Student 1: “Well I would say they would have to be extremely careful, and pretty much not really interact with it that much at all. And maybe just talk about the Gospel and all the benefits and all the good things to spread the message because God wants us to spread His Word to the world. There are adults and other people that also do that on YouTube and other platforms, but young kids can also try to do that, to show that the youth also love God as well. But there are risks to that – major, major risks – because some people do, when they’re on these platforms, they might get caught up with the fame that they might be getting, and more want what the public wants instead of what God wants them to want.”

Student 3: “I think that they can use social media to their benefit and to our benefit as Christians, as you can spread the word of God via social media to a large group of people especially if you have a large platform like these influencers do. As well, you can find communities on Facebook, for example, you can join a Facebook group of Christian people, whether they’re doing a Bible study or they just talk about their views on Christ.”

Student 4: “Pages like I follow, a few that put a Bible verse a day, or follow like YouVersion, the Bible app. Ways like that. And then also through communication with other Christians, like if you’re just find spaces through different apps, you can find people on things like Discord or Facebook. There’s just many ways you can connect with others.”

It’s important for us to reflect on the profound impact our digital interactions can have on our faith and our relationships. Just as we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, let us extend that love into the virtual realm remembering that every interaction carries the potential to glorify God. In a world often filled with noise and distraction if we do choose to use social media maybe use it as a tool for spreading the light of Christ for building up one another, and for fostering genuine connections rooted in love and grace. As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology, may our faith serve as a compass guiding us towards discernment and ultimately towards God’s eternal truth.

Thanks for watching this episode of Reformed Perspective. Make sure to subscribe and share this video with family and friends.

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The challenge of keeping technology in its proper place

I grew up in a home without a TV. But we did have a Commodore 64, a primitive computer (pre-Windows) that we used almost exclusively for games like Test Drive, Pac Man, and Ghost Busters. My smarter and older brothers were quick to figure out that if we added an antenna, the computer monitor could also be used as a TV. Before long, we were watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday evenings. And then we were also hooked on some of the shows that came right after the hockey game, like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. We never watched all that much TV but somehow, without any big decisions being made by my parents, the home without a TV had become a home with a TV. Similarly, I have been intentional about not getting onto social media. I have never signed up for a personal Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account. But in the past 24 hours I have used Marketplace (a product of Facebook) to search for used bricks, Etsy to purchase plans to build a greenhouse, YouTube to figure out why our toilet isn’t working properly, Church Social to prepare for a care group gathering this weekend, and Spotify to listen to music while driving.  And that doesn’t include the swath of online tools I use for work daily, like Google Suite, Slack, and Zoom. So, in spite of the line I drew to not get onto social media, by using all of these digital tools I’ve somehow signed up anyways. A paradigm shift How do we move forward in a world where screens and social media use is hardly an option, especially when they can also be so toxic? Similarly, what are we to think of new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), which creep into our lives, whether we are aware of it or not? In preparation for this issue of the magazine, which dives into how technology is being used in Reformed schools as well as understanding AI, I went to the most prolific reader I know, RP’s Editor Jon Dykstra, asking him what is the best book I can read on the subject. He pointed me to The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch. I wasn’t disappointed. Crouch brought practical and biblical clarity to these questions and more. But his book did more than that. It gave me a paradigm shift for how I was looking at the whole topic of technology in our lives. Allowable may not be helpful (1 Cor. 6:12) If we focus simply on whether something should be allowed, we often miss the point. It may have been possible to keep TV’s out the home before, but it is much more difficult to not allow screens today. Many Reformed churches which once discouraged TV’s now welcome screens in church and at home as gifts from the Lord. Andy Crouch offers a more helpful approach – putting technology in its proper place so that the things that should be our priorities, like family, friends, and faith, remain priorities. In a broken and depraved world, we so easily go from owning possessions like a phone, tablet, or gaming console, to being possessed by them. For example, sociologist Jean Twenge has shown that teen mental health has plunged since 2012, the year that a majority of Americans owned smartphones. And many senior readers, if they are honest, will acknowledge that their screen use has long crossed into the territory of becoming an addiction What does helpful look like? Putting technology in is proper place requires discernment, something that is more difficult than rules. According to Crouch, technology is in its proper place when: It helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It starts great conversations. It helps us take care of the fragile bodies that we inhabit. It helps us acquire skill and mastery of domains that are the glory of human culture (sports, music, the arts, cooking, writing, accounting, etc.). It helps us cultivate awe for the created world we are part of and responsible for stewarding. We use it with intention and care. On the last point, he adds: “If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about technology, it’s that it doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own; much like my children’s toys and stuffed creatures and minor treasures, it finds its way underfoot all over the house and all over our lives.” Take a moment to reflect on the technology use in your home and life. How does it align with the criteria above? Let’s also do this reflecting humbly, recognizing that the ultimate judge is not ourselves (we are very quick to justify what we like) but our God, who calls us to be faithful stewards of our time and gives us a high calling as a prophet, priest, and king (Lord’s Day 12, Heidelberg Catechism). Tech-Wise changed my thinking If you or your family struggles with managing technology, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Crouch’s book, as he shares practical advice about how to prioritize character, shape our spaces with intentionality, structure our time, and apply all of this in the details of life, from our commutes in our vehicles to how we sleep. This was a paradigm shift for how I was looking at things like social media, including whether media organizations like RP should utilize platforms like Instagram when these mediums cause so many problems for their users. It has made me realize that I was being naïve, and even hypocritical, if I thought we were even able to “flick the switch” on social media. After all, a good case could be made that even apart from our Instagram and Facebook pages, RP’s online presence (complete with a popular app, videos, website, podcasts, and newsletter) could also qualify as social media. But it has also served to strengthen my appreciation for our board’s decision to prioritize this print magazine and our Real Talk podcast, over social media and video. Unplugged is different Since most members of the Canadian NAPARC churches also receive the magazine, we are able to bond, and sharpen each other, about what we find in these pages. For example, my church’s Young Peoples Society picks an article from it at each meeting for their discussions (checking off the first two criteria from Crouch already). This simply isn’t possible if each church member is plugged into their own source of information, oblivious to what others are reading or watching. A print magazine in particular engages not just our hearts and minds, but also our bodies (we have to pick it up, hold it, gaze at it, flip the pages). Our heart rate slows as we settle into a comfortable position and slowly work through the issue. RP’s team has also been intentional about trying to make the reading experience delightful, with nicely designed pages, space for large pictures, a captivating kids’ section and new sections like the artist profile. Our senses and hearts need to be fed along with our minds. Our hope is that this magazine, and to varying degrees all of RP’s resources, will strengthen your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ, will be used to start great conversations, will help you take care of your bodies and souls, and will develop awe for God’s creation. But reading this is a small part of your life. So do take more than a moment to consider how the other sources of technology in your home and life measure up to Crouch’s criteria. If you have someone else around you, consider reading Crouch’s criteria about whether technology is in its proper place and ask them for their thoughts, perhaps even about how you are managing technology. And if your device happens to ping while you are enjoying a conversation with them, ignore it!...