Fuller Youth Institute


This post is part of a series celebrating our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?

Is an Apple Watch on your teenager’s wish list this year? Don’t be surprised.

Following an initial launch aimed at adult techies with money to burn, Apple has begun aggressively marketing their new [digital smart] Watch to a much younger audience this Christmas season. If the recent ads are any indication, Apple is intent on making this new wearable device as ubiquitous as smart phones and MP3 playing pods have become over the past few decades.

But in a world full of teens who already seem glued to digital screens, the thought of yet another glowing device, and one that is literally attached to them, has many parents wishing they could turn the clock back to when a Mickey Mouse timepiece would suffice. 

Although the Apple Watch is still way too expensive for many of us to even consider buying for our kids (not to mention ourselves), we thought it might be helpful to begin thinking about how to discuss this; with each other as adults who care about the young people in our lives, as well as with teens who might be considering, asking, or begging for an Apple Watch this Christmas.

1. Is it time for a watch?

Wearing a wristwatch, in and of itself, is a responsibility. Remembering to put it on each morning, being mindful to avoid scratches and damage, and knowing when to take it off all requires an adjustment period. A helpful starting point for conversations about the Apple Watch might be, “Can you handle wearing and caring for a wristwatch on a daily basis?” There are way cheaper options on the market with which to teach your kids ‘Watch Wearing 101.’

One recent study found that roughly 66% of college students currently own and wear a wristwatch; 35% reported wearing theirs’ everyday, 32% wore one on occasion, and 34% said they never wear a watch. Interestingly, when the same study asked if these young people were interested in wearable tech like an Apple Watch, just 44% said they were very interested.[1]

2. How many hands do you have?  

Earlier this year a friend who had been using a pre-release version of the Apple Watch told me his favorite thing about the watch was how it allowed him to put his phone away, but still casually glance down to be sure he wasn’t missing urgent messages from his spouse or kids.

Adolescents are biologically hardwired to be more hyperconnected and vigilant about checking in with peers than we are as adults. This is why, when it comes to screens, teens tend to be like an over-confident circus performer; always eager and willing to try juggling one more. The Apple Watch may help some adults with putting their phones away but it remains to be seen whether the same will be true for young people.

It is important to think about the Apple Watch as a potential new piece within the existing ecology of digital devices your teen already uses.

3. Is this about fashion or function?

Conversations about digital devices are often very practical and focus on how a young person will use a particular device to connect, study, or play. We tend to overlook how a new digital device has social implications, as a kind of fashion accessory, for today’s teens—which is something the Apple Watch seems to cater to even more than previous devices. It is helpful for adults to remember how, for young people, owning a new device is both a matter of what they’ll be able to do with it and how they will feel about themselves as someone who does or does not have one.

When parents use practical reasons like safety, responsibility, and cost to explain their decisions to not allow a teen to have a new device, it fails to address social and emotional aspects that may feel much more urgent for teens. It is important to talk with young people about how their sense of belonging and self-worth should not be dependent upon what they wear or which devices they use. The old argument that “all my friends have one!” is as much about a young person’s friends and peers as it is the device in question. (If this is a pressure or pain point in your home, we explore this idea in much more depth in Right Click!)

4. What does it do?

You probably remember the ads that helped launch Apple’s iPod. Youthful looking silhouettes dancing to upbeat music in front of vibrantly colored backgrounds. These ads instantly told us what the device did and sold many of us on the idea of buying one. By focusing on the fashion side of their watch, Apple has struggled to effectively convey what exactly their latest device actually does.

Most product reviewers have said, as either a praise or criticism of the Watch, that it is essentially a convenient accessory to the iPhone. Not quite the “phone on your wrist” that some speculated it might be, but also not the kind of fun “new toy” that smart phones and portable MP3 players were after their initial releases. Two things that caught our attention about the Watch were that: 1) It does not have a built-in camera, which is a favorite smart phone feature among younger users. 2) In order to reply to a text, or any kind of messaging, users have to either dictate (i.e., speak into the watch) or select from a list of available responses—neither of which seem like appealing alternatives to texting for teens. Plus your iPhone still has to be physically nearby.

Alongside our recognizing the social and emotional side of having a new device to fit in with their peers, it is still very important that we teach young people how to “kick the tires” and take the time to weigh the costs and benefits of purchasing an expensive device. The Apple Watch is going for roughly $350 right now, and it raises many of the same sorts of questions about usefulness, necessity, and additional recurring costs that should be considered for bigger ticket items like laptops, appliances, and automobiles.[2]

Maybe an Apple Watch is still out of the question for your kids but you’re thinking about purchasing one for yourself or your spouse this Christmas. Include kids in this decision-making process to help them learn what kinds of questions to ask, and how to make purchasing decisions that aren’t purely peer-pressure or impulse driven.


[1] Lauren Slome. “Most millennials are interested in wearables but only 40% own a device.” Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Research Center; University of Missouri School of Journalism. Dec. 2, 2015. Available at: https://www.rjionline.org/stories/survey-most-millennials-are-interested-in-wearables-but-only-40-percent-own


[2] Some Christmas sales are offering cheaper versions but, as always, Apple has a lot of add-on options and products available. Keep in mind that the Watch is tethered to an iPhone as well, so this is in addition to, rather than instead of, the cost of the phone. 

This post is part of a series celebrating our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?

Because I parent a 13-year-old every day (with two more swift on her heels), I think about questions like this pretty regularly.

To be real, let’s just say daily.

Even though we made our daughter reach the thirteen threshold before diving in (here’s why), and even though she can only post from home or on WiFi (because she’s apparently the “only” 13-year-old on earth without a smartphone, though research would suggest one out of three US teenagers join her), it doesn’t really reduce parental anxiety over what is—or could be—happening not only “out there” online, but also inside as she navigates her own identity formation.

Like me, you might be thinking about your parenting options in light of this anxiety. We can lock them down and keep them isolated from the evils of social media—and consequently isolate them from most of their friends—or we can take a deep breath, put some scaffolding in place, and go along for the ride.

Research is far from authoritative on these matters yet (the phenomena are still too new and continually evolving), but early indicators paint a picture of social media as the new “school lunchroom” of adolescence. In Right Click we explore this in more depth, but in a snapshot, a quick glance through social media serves much the same function as a glance around the school cafeteria, complete with all the social cues and nuances of evolving adolescent identity formation.

In other words, this stuff matters to our kids a lot precisely because it’s one of the environments in which they’re playing out their quest to answer the big questions of “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” Just like young people have always done. Same search, new platforms.

But knowing that doesn’t make it any less unnerving for parents. Especially when CNN reports that some 13-year-olds check social media 100 times a day. (Don’t worry, that’s not an average!)

Or Common Sense Media research finds that the average teenager spends 9 hours a day consuming digital media. Ugh.

And then experts like Sherry Turkle remind us that our devices and digital media have a way of impeding the face-to-face conversations necessary for building basic life skills like empathy, self-restraint, and emotional intimacy.

What’s a parent to do?

Rather than villainize the modalities of teenage connection, we can capture these parenting quandaries as opportunities to learn. Let’s not miss this incredible chance to coach, mentor, and journey with our kids into the world of digital media. Because if we don’t, someone else—or the mob of teen culture, or the pull of brand marketing—will pick up where we leave off.

Recently a New York Times parenting blog suggested “Seven ways parents can help 13-year-olds start their social media lives,” reflecting on the recent CNN-backed study of 200 13-year-olds and their social media interactions. Alongside those tips (with some overlap), here are five I’ve found helpful in navigating the advent of social media in my own home:

1. Start on one platform.

Easy does it. While your teenager might want to explore Snapchat, Kik, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (to hang out with Grandma) all at once, that’s likely to be overwhelming for all of you. Start with one account on one platform, and you (the parent) get to hold the password to that account and have access to the device on which it’s used. If you’re not already using the platform yourself, get your own account too.

2. Go over online safety rules. Then do it again.

Do you remember the first time you taught your kids about the importance of wearing bike helmets? Neither do I. Why? Because we’ve had to ask over, and over, and over again that they put the darn things on. And each time we have to remind them why. As our pediatrician recently told my 7-year-old (who had confessed to wearing a helmet “sometimes”), we only get one brain, and when it breaks, it doesn’t get better very quickly.

But kids don’t really care about this kind of future-talk. They can’t predict what life with a traumatic brain injury might actually look like. So they glaze over during our lecture, then shrug it off and do what’s easier, more comfortable, or more fun in the moment.

Online safety is a lot like bike safety. You don’t think about it much until something happens. Before my daughter and I set up a first account, I talked through the importance of only accepting “follow” invitations from people you know. We talked about creepy men who pose as kids or as harmless fan accounts. We talked about social media being an extension of relationships you have in real life. She nodded and agreed.

Then a month later we had the same conversation. And a month later I scrolled through her followers to find some accounts that freaked me out a little, and we had another conversation. It’s not that my daughter is a rebel. It’s just sort of like the bike helmet.

3. Watch, but don’t stalk.

Recent research suggests that teenagers who know their parents are monitoring their social media interactions tend to be less distressed by online conflict. Having your support—and at times your help—as a safety net can be somewhat of a relief to young teens, even if they may roll their eyes at you about it in person. But try to restrain yourself from lurking every day at every move they make, and definitely refrain from mentioning in person everything you see online.

4. Remind them that “likes” aren’t everything. Then model it.

Everyone wants to be liked. But on social media, liking “likes” can have a dark side. The recent study on 13-year-olds found that they get anxious about what’s going on on their social networks when they’re not looking: 61% want to see if their posts are getting likes and comments, 36% want to see if their friends are doing things without them, and 21% want to make sure no one is saying mean things about them. In other words, the biggest motivation for posting and checking back in is to see how others are responding to what they have to say and show. For the vast majority of teenagers, these interactions are primarily with peers they know in real life, so a digital like (or the coming dislike) is an extension of what happens—or doesn’t happen—in the lunchroom or on the soccer field.

Talk with your teenager about the ways that seeking likes can drive us too much, then follow up that talk by modeling it yourself. After all, many adults compulsively check in for similar reasons.

5. Interact on their terms. Prepare for the terms to change at any time.

At thirteen, friending and following your kids is important. But keep the interaction with them about what they’re doing online offline unless you’re invited in. Among parents we’ve interviewed, the majority say they don’t like, tag, or post on their kids’ platforms, but if their kids tag, post, or interact with them online they reciprocate. It’s a bit of a dance, and the song can change midway across the floor.

The other night my daughter and I were looking at something together on social media on my phone, and she said, “Why didn’t you like that picture?” I explained that I was trying to give her space and not like or comment on her posts, and she promptly grabbed by phone and liked her own post. This week she doesn’t mind her friends seeing that I’m associated with her. Next week might be a different story. Flex and keep dancing. It’s not really about you.

BONUS: Tap into trusted adults.

One of the first things my daughter did after creating an Instagram account was scroll through my feed and follow a number of adult friends, many of them from church—adults who know her and who were happy to follow her back. Though sometimes I wince a little when someone mentions my daughter’s social media feed on a Sunday morning, truthfully there’s also some relief in knowing that I don’t have to be the only adult tracking what kinds of interactions are taking place on social media. Other adults she trusts and who can be places of honesty and grace (both digitally and face-to-face) are part of this journey too. And even if later she abandons this adult-saturated platform for something more peer-focused (as older teens tend to do), she’s starting out with a support network in place.

If you have a young teen in your life, how are you keeping your sanity about social media and digital interaction?

This post is part of a series celebrating our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?

We try to keep things “fair” among our kids. At least sort of.

Nathan started making his own lunch in second grade. When Krista and Jessica entered second grade, we expected the same of them.

Krista got her ears pierced when she was ten. When Jessica turns ten, she will have that same opportunity.

We’re not always perfect. Far from it. But we don’t want our kids to think we play favorites.

But we’ve told all our kids that technology won’t be fair.

Just because Nathan was allowed to set up a Facebook account when he turned 13 doesn’t mean the girls will get the same social media access.

Even though Nathan got a smart phone when he turned 14 (he was one of the last kids in his grade to get one), Krista shouldn’t assume one will head her way when she hits that age. Nor should Jessica.

When it comes to technology, we’ve told our kids that they need to show us they are responsible.

There are two types of responsibility.

The first is taking care of your devices.
And for our child who left their “dumb phone” (as they call it) in their shorts and it went through our washing machine, you lost some responsibility points that day. (And yes, that child had to spend their own money to replace that phone, which luckily for them, wasn’t all that expensive).

But that’s the easier type of responsibility. It’s pretty clear-cut for everyone.

The second type of responsibility—showing us you make good choices in how you use technology and digital media—is much tougher. For our kids. And for us.

Some of the questions we’re discerning as we assess their progress in that type of responsibility are:

  • Do you obey the guidelines that our family has agreed upon in terms of when, how, and where you can use your devices?
  • Do you have a history of making good decisions when new temptations or opportunities arise that we don’t have rules about?
  • Is your technology helping or hindering your relationships with our family? I love it when my two older kids text me. I hate it when I’m trying to talk to my kids and I can tell they are distracted by the presence of their devices (even if they aren’t on their devices, if those devices are nearby, they still have a strong gravitational pull).
  • Is the way you use technology affecting your homework or chores? One of our children had been skyping with friends while doing homework. Social life benefitted, but grades suffered. So the rule with that child is now “no skyping until homework is done.” We haven’t set up that rule with the other two. They haven’t seemed to need it. So far.

Parents, be fair in other areas. But you do not need to be fair with your child’s exposure to technology and digital media. The stakes are too high. Know each child and create the best support and boundaries for them individually.

What else do you do to try to assess if your kid’s ready for the social media portal or device they are begging for?

Photo by Amanda Tipton

For TODAY Only, receive up to 70% off Sticky Faith resources. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

  1. Pick out your combination of resources and place an order RIGHT HERE.
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  3. You will be set to go for Sticky Faith as you head into 2016!

Available products include:

Can I Ask That? Volumes 1 and 2

Right Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital Media World

Sticky Faith Family Training DVD Curriculum

Sticky Faith Launch Kit

Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition

The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family


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Join us for a FREE Live Panel on Families and Digital Media featuring Kara Powell, Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, and Steven Argue, FYI’s Applied Research Strategist.

Kara and Steve will be joined by more parents to share ideas and strategies for parenting kids and teenagers in a world saturated with digital media. Whether you’re a parent, ministry leader, or both, you’ll gain new insights both from current research and from parents who are navigating the same questions you’re facing every day.

Watch LIVE December 1 at 12:00pm PST right here!



This webinar celebrates our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?

Ah, it’s the Christmas season… that joyful time of year when everyone’s together.

Together staring at a new video game.

Or a new phone.

Or basically anything except you and the rest of your family.

As we were interviewing parents about technology, we asked, “What comes to mind when you think about kids and digital media?”

One mom replied, “PUT THAT THING DOWN! That’s what comes to mind. That should be the title of your book right there!”

And it’s true, during the holidays we start to notice just how many hours we spend sitting around as a family staring at screens. What is everyone doing? And more importantly, what are our kids doing during these electronic binges?

As parents, exposing our kids to digital media is like watching them walk into oncoming traffic. We’re concerned about what they’re experiencing, and we’re left with hundreds of new questions, like “when should they get a smart phone? And what apps should they be allowed to use? And how much screentime should they get?”

And then there are the deeper questions about safety and privacy and who our kids are becoming as they’re clicking around this new world.

We hear these questions year after year from parents everywhere, and we’ve had these same questions here at FYI. So we investigated more and created a resource just for you. (Though secretly it’s just as much for ourselves!)

Tapping into the latest psych and social research on digital media, parents just like you partnered with the Fuller Youth Institute to create Right Click, a resource that helps families navigate today’s digital technology.

Each chapter starts with fears and questions, then talks about new research and fresh ideas. At the end of the chapters are simple rituals your family can use to keep everyone on the same page and on their way to becoming healthy digital Christians.

The goal is to make navigating technology as a family feel like a team process that’s more about relationships, not rules.

Supervision, not surveillance.

More than anything else, our prayer is that technology will move from being something that drives your family apart to something that brings your family together.

Want to know more? Download a free chapter and check it out.

Download a Free Chapter

Also, we’re hosting a free live panel with Kara Powell, Steven Argue, and two on-the-ground parents who will be taking an honest look at parenting strategies in today’s digital world.

Join us live on December 1 at 12pm PT.

Hope to see you there, and we hope you enjoy Right Click.

Still want more?
10 things every parent should know about gaming
How young is too young (for digital media)?

Photo by Amanda Tipton

Final Deadline to register for the 2016 Sticky Faith Cohort is December 15th! Join a community of leaders committed to building a Sticky Faith culture.

Still on the fence? Discuss any questions you have about the Cohort with Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and a Cohort alum directly December 10th at 12pm PST. Reserve your spot for the call by emailing Brian Nelson at bnelson@fuller.edu.

(712) 832-8320 Access Code: 559575#

What should I do next?

  1. Have you filled out an online inquiry form? Here’s the link!
  2. Join the phone call on December 10th to have all your questions answered.
  3. Have you discussed the Cohort with your senior pastor or church board?

Want to talk with someone in person? Call our Church Engagement Specialist, Brian Nelson at 818-620-6996 or email him at bnelson@fuller.edu.

Photo by ljholloway photography

Enjoy this post to celebrate with us our newest resource, Right Click, releasing on December 1st. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. Pre-order your copy of Right Click today HERE. What’s your #rightclick?

It is always fun to see the way a Halloween costume changes a kid’s demeanor.

Give a boy a set of foam Hulk muscles and he’ll start stomping around and growling loudly. Or put a girl in a princess costume and watch her twirl dramatically, singing at the top of her lungs.

Halloween is a day when we give kids permission to put on costumes and pretend to be someone else—in a fun, safe way.

For today’s parents, the issue of identity is one of the trickier topics to deal with when it comes to how young people use digital media. Halloween can be a great opportunity to talk with your kids about how identity works online.

Younger kids typically use media to play games as avatars. An avatar is something that represents us within the fictitious world of a game. Kids choose a character to “be,” but don’t see that choice as related to who they really are. For younger kids, game avatars are a lot like Halloween costumes in this sense—they just pick a character they like. And change their mind tomorrow.

As kids get older, they start to think more about costumes as personal and social statements. Factors like their friends’ costumes, and how their peers will perceive them, carry more weight as they decide who and what to be. For adolescents in the process of forming their own identities, Halloween represents a rare opportunity to do something that society doesn’t let them do often—“try on” being somebody else.

Young people experience a similar kind of transition as they go from using game avatars to sharing as their ‘real’ selves on social media. The distinctions between childish play and grown-up socializing get murky.[1]

When it comes to the online behavior of both young people and adults, researchers have found that a feeling of anonymity is one of the main factors that cause us to behave badly in digital spaces. Like teens egging a house on Halloween night, we’re more likely to trash somebody else’s walls when (we think) we’re well hidden behind a mask.[2]  

One of the really difficult things for adolescents to figure out as they begin using social media is this difference between an avatar and the “costume” of anonymity.

Not all anonymity is bad. Digital spaces are a lot like Halloween in how they provide young people with outlets to explore their identities and have fun with their friends in the process. This is why apps that let users share anonymously are often so popular among teens. But it is important to help young people recognize the boundaries and limits of this. Participating on social media can also feel a bit too much like a game that rewards users for hurting or outdoing on-screen enemies. [3]

If your kids are relatively new to the world of social media, think about using this Halloween as a teachable moment that helpfully illustrates the way we’re able to participate in digital spaces as an avatar, anonymous user, or authentic self. Ask questions like, “What’s the difference between the avatar version of you and the real-life version of you?” “How do you feel about the way you relate to other people online [through gaming or social media], and how they relate to you?” “Are your relationships in real life with these people similar or different? How does that make you feel?” One of the most important lessons for young people to learn is how, unlike an avatar, the actions of a costumed character online have real consequences for the offline people they conceal.


[1] Livingstone, Sonia. Children and the Internet. Polity, 2009, pg. 12-23.

[2] Wright, Michelle F. "Predictors of anonymous cyber aggression: the role of adolescents' beliefs about anonymity, aggression, and the permanency of digital content." Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 17, no. 7 (2014): 431-438.

[3] Davis, Katie. "Friendship 2.0: Adolescents' experiences of belonging and self-disclosure online." Journal of Adolescence 35, no. 6 (2012): 1527-1536.

Photo by Kevin van der Leek

I love volleyball. I have played it practically my whole life.

Recently I started coaching girls volleyball at a local high school in Pasadena. It’s not the same thing. I’ve quickly learned that coaching high school girls is a whole other ball game.

Here’s one example of how I’m trying to find my bearings. I told our JV team that my wife and I saw Taylor Swift in concert. They all screamed, giggled, and asked me what songs she sang. It was a great storytelling opportunity. I thought I’d bring that same story to the varsity team. It was met with “Eh, I don’t even like Taylor Swift.” Conversation. Over.

I couldn’t figure it out! I constantly felt like a nomad as a coach trying to figure out my place, and often times still do. Every day is different trying to connect with these girls.

Recently, our JV captain Meghan suffered a fractured foot. Needless to say, she was devastated. At the next practice, I was standing at one end of the gym watching. The girls were laughing together, cheering, and yelling chants in between plays. On the sideline watching was Meghan, looking down and out. I went out on a limb, walked up, and sat right next to her.

Through a class I took with professor Chap Clark at Fuller Seminary recently, I learned how young people feel abandoned by older generations because of the way we have created a performance-based society for young people. They often believe that if they’re not successful, they don’t matter. What truly matters, though, is helping them see their identity in God and how they have value regardless of their success or failure.

As I sat down next to Meghan, we talked about her injury and she mentioned how hard it was not playing. I told her, “You know, you’re an amazing volleyball player, but that’s not why we like having you on the team. We like having you on the team because of who you are. We appreciate you for you, and that’s enough.”

I saw maybe a slight twitch in her lip create the smallest hint of a smile. She gave a quiet “Thanks, Coach.” I didn’t expect much, but you could see something clicked.

The next day during a game, Meghan sat next to me on the bench. She was cheering on her team, encouraging them to keep working. I love how even when she was upset about her injury, she showed what being part of the team is about. It was not about her success on the court, it was about her willingness to serve others. She knew she offered value to the team regardless of her performance because her identity was rooted in something deeper.

Oftentimes as leaders we are so driven to find what makes young people successful and cheer that success on. It feels like we are cheering for them, but we’re really cheering on their accomplishments. We’re so driven to see them get A’s, to make the varsity team, to get that scholarship, you name it.

That day something clicked for Meghan, and something clicked for me too. Coaching is like pastoring. My personal investment in the girls affirming who they are is just as, if not more, important as coaching them to be better volleyball players.

I still love volleyball. But helping young people find deeper significance is something worth giving my life to.

How are you helping young people in your sphere of influence find significance beyond success?

There’s a land out there where everything is perfect. No one is ever sad. People go on trips all the time. They scale mountains. They paddleboard in the ocean. They’re at brunch with their friends. They eat the most amazing meals. Everything is perfect, and nothing is wrong. It’s a place where everyone likes what you do, and tells you how awesome your life is.

There’s a problem, though.

In this land, no one is as happy as they appear to be. It’s mostly a myth. This fantasy world is today’s social media landscape. For many of us, it’s a comparison trap. If we’re not posting something awesome, our friends usually are. Even though we may ‘like’ something, we’re often a little sad we aren’t doing something fun, too.

To complicate our ‘perfect’ social media presence even more, Facebook recently announced that they are releasing a ‘dislike’ button. “What [users] really want is the ability to express empathy,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained. “Not every moment is a good moment.”

Empathy is a good thing.

Many people are saying, “Finally, I have been waiting for this. I don’t want to like the post you wrote about your dog throwing up.” Others fear this change may usher in disaster for young people. “Disliking” has the potential to increase cyber-bullying and decrease a younger person’s willingness to share something honest on Facebook for fear of public ridicule. The opposite of empathy, handing out “dislikes” could foster callous social response in a climate that already feels like anything goes.

Regardless of what we think of the ‘dislike’ button, it’s happening. And we can’t avoid it. Here are 5 tips to better communicate with young people about social media in the coming presence of the ‘dislike’ button:

1. Say “I love you” and “I like you” more than simply liking their successes

The more adults tell young people that we like what they do, the more they feel like their identity is rooted in success or in a particular role. The more we tell them that we love—and like—who they are, the more their identity will be grounded in their inherent value as those who bear God’s image.

Some claim that narcissism is at an all-time high in our culture. Between reality TV, YouTube insta-stars, and social media, teenagers have learned that if they don’t get enough likes, they don’t matter. My cousin once told me that he was going to delete a picture we took together and posted on Instagram because it didn’t get enough likes. Wow. The more we say “I love who you are” to young people, the more this can help root their identity in something deeper than their own social media fame.

2. Be an active social media user, not a passive consumer

It’s easy to just consume Facebook. I could scroll through Facebook and never think twice about not actually interacting with people on the platform. I’ve seen too many cat videos, photos of someone’s lunch, and quotes from my friends about how much they love their girlfriend. It’s too much! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in that and begin to think, “Man, my life sucks.”

Being active on social media, posting on other people’s walls, and sending messages to friends helps break down the self-perception that we’re not valuable enough. When we reach out to people, they let us in to see that everything is not, after all, as perfect as it appears on Facebook. Encourage the teenagers in your life to do the same.

3. Remember that people only post highlights

Have you ever seen anyone post a picture of themselves deciding not to go the gym? Me either. However, I have seen countless photos of people during or right after their workout sharing how great they feel. People will hardly post those low moments where they decided not to go to they gym, got in a fight with their significant other, or failed a test that actually mattered to them. Social media is a fantasy world that only captures the highlights we want it to capture. Remind young people that everyone deals with pain and struggle in some way. They just might not show it on Facebook.

4. Be mindful of what you post and how others react

Social media is full of trolls. Go look at any celebrity’s profile and you’ll find that every post is met with a lot of both positive and negative feedback (yes, even Taylor Swift). Remind teenagers that when they post something, may not be received the same by everyone. Sometimes we just need to ignore the trolls and move on.

5. Encourage young people to spread kindness and actual empathy

Research is suggesting that today’s young people are actually getting nicer to each other. Perhaps in part because of social media, they have become more inclusive, empathetic, and welcoming towards others. Even before I wrote this post, I asked ten high school boys what they all thought of the dislike button. Every single one of them said they feared it would turn Facebook into a place of bullying. That’s what empathy actually looks like.


The truth is that our young people today have the opportunity to create the culture that they want to create. We have the opportunity as leaders and parents to encourage that. Let’s not allow “dislike” to have the last word.