The other night I talked with my daughter about the importance of keeping your research under control. I explained that one could spend hours and days exploring a particular topic, each click of a link taking you further down a tantalizing path of information. But at some point, you have to tell yourself when to quit. You have to return to your outline, acknowledge that you’ve thoroughly explored the topic you set out to investigate, and present your findings. I also added that, for the love of your mother and father, you have to go to bed.
I confess, it was a proud (if sleep-deprived) moment for this seminarian. At the same time, it was a mildly terrifying one.
That’s because my daughter is only eight years old.
Growing up digital
As third graders, my daughter’s class does most of their homework in Google classroom. She designs slide presentations to share what she did over school breaks. Using YouTube tutorials (under supervision, of course,) she’s taught herself to finger knit and bake a tie dye cake. And while she’s cleaning her room, she asks Alexa to play her favorite children’s podcasts.
I have to admit, it’s a pretty exciting world she’s growing up in. In this moment, the online world seems to my pre-adolescent kid like a digital wonderland, piquing her curiosity about the world around her, satisfying her thirst for knowledge, and offering a little autonomy as she chooses the stories and activities which are her favorites.
But at the back of my mind lurks a nagging voice, reminding me that this season won’t last forever. It won’t be very long before she outgrows the digital boundaries we’ve set for her. In fact, I can already see the signs.
She likes chatting with her classmates on a math gaming app.
She dreams of becoming a YouTube sensation.
She’s already asking to join Snapchat.
As youth ministry leaders who spend time with teenagers and young adults, my husband and I well know that one day we’re going to find ourselves facing the inevitable:
Our little girl is going to stumble upon inappropriate content.
She’s going to experience, and be tempted to participate in, digital bullying.
And unless we build a constructive and healthy family approach to digital activity now, she’s going to face these things on her own.
The importance of connection
My daughter is by no means alone in her young and tech-savvy ways. Whether you work with children and young people in your church or raise kids in your home, I’m certain you know a young person who is digitally fluent—and digitally vulnerable—too. As parents and church leaders, the more we come together to raise faithful digital citizens, the healthier our young people will be.
Here are three ways the church can start communicating with parents offline to protect kids online.
1. Get talking with parents of kids in your ministry.
As parents, my husband and I need the church to help us steer through the uncertain waters of being a healthy family in a new digital age. Church is the place where we build ourselves a support network that will partner with us when we struggle to stand firm on boundaries. Who will challenge us to never stop keeping lines of communication open with our daughter as she grows. And who will help us teach our daughter to be a thoughtful young woman, both online and off.
Church, we parents need you to do your research too. We value the wisdom you have to give us as we figure out how to be faith-filled families in this digital age. We need you to check in with us. Offer encouragement. Be our teammates. And help us feel like we’re not alone in our struggle.
2. Get parents talking with their kids about digital media.
Each time I sit down to talk with my daughter about a new technology-driven situation, I’m tempted in the moment to make quick decisions and off-the-cuff responses. But if I want my daughter to be grounded and thoughtful in her own decision-making, I need to set a better model for her. The Fuller Youth Institute has created a collection of helpful resources to nurture open family discussion on technology use.
Help parents talk with kids about online situations before they’re situations. It’s okay for us to be unfair. But if we’re silent on the matter, we miss a real opportunity to come together and approach boundary-setting as a team.
3. Get parents talking together, not suffering alone.
At FYI, we want to turn research into resources that leaders and parents can use to build relationships with young people. This week I’m truly excited to announce that we’re putting one of our most popular research projects into your hands, as we launch the Navigating Our Digital World Parent Workshop Kit. This downloadable resource is designed to help leaders equip and encourage parents like me who desperately need someone to hold our hands and walk with us along the parenting journey as we figure out how to parent differently in this new world of digital media and let it bring our family together, not tear us apart.
Based on our popular book Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, the workshop kit equips your church with resources to host a two-part parent workshop series, giving families the opportunity to discuss and learn how parents and kids can come together over digital media, answering pressing questions on when and how to take off the media training wheels. With an easy-to-deliver script and engaging slides, printable handouts, and pre-crafted communication tools, the Navigating Our Digital World Parent Workshop Kit does all the prep work so leaders can focus on creating meaningful conversations with parents and families.
Don’t let families like ours, and kids like mine, navigate this digital world alone.
Help families in your church think and talk differently about digital media.
Find tools grounded in the best research on media and youth now in our online shop.
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