I’m sure every generation feels like they live at a unique time in history. And they do. But the reasons some of those generations live are wide and varied. Some of them are marked by wars; others are marked by economic downturns. And many of them are marked by significant technological advances. That’s what I’m feeling.
Our own uniqueness, I think, is marked by the incredible advancement of technology on all fronts. We – the adults from about 20 years old and on, have seen amazing things. We are the last generation who have lived at a time when everything had a cord, and nothing does. We saw the advent of the internet and then wireless networks. We saw the creation and then decline of VCRs and DVD players, as well as rotary phones and cellular devices.
We are also the first generation that has raised children in a social media world. From their first appearance, we have been able to post pics and videos of our kids, and most of us do so liberally. We do it because it’s fun. And we do it because we like to see the posts from our peers. But now that we are a decade or more into this environment, we are also the ones who have started to wonder whether or not our liberal sharing of our children has actually been a good thing. We are asking that question because we are seeing, in our children, some of the effects of doing so.
Or at least my wife and I are. And doing so has made us start to pause, more and more, before we post something. That’s not to say we don’t ever post pics of our kids or share life events with the social media world; it only means that we are more cautious than we once were, and we are still learning – feeling our way through this as best we can.
Consider with me, for a few moments here, three things we might well be teaching our children when we post about them so freely on social media. If we are communicating things like this implicitly to our kids, then we would probably do well to pause before posting so often:
1. It’s not real unless it’s posted.
I’m finding that some kind of post is often the “finishing touch” on experiences that we have. We eat a great meal, then we post. We go on vacation, then we post. Our kids do something cute, then we post. It’s almost as if the experiences we have, even as a family, aren’t even real until they’re posted about.
When, and what, is real to our children? What relationships are real? What experiences are real? What emotions are real? It seems that the very basis of reality is undergoing a redefinition thanks to things like virtual reality, hyper real and video games, and yes, maybe even our commitment to social media. It all starts to add up in the lives of our children, I fear, to the point where they find it increasingly difficult to know what is real at all.
If it’s not real unless it’s posted, it means that for our kids, an experience cannot have authentic value in and of itself. It’s only true – only real – unless it is shared with the outside world. Which leads to the second thing we might be unintentionally teaching our children…
2. Validation comes primarily from the outside.
Not only is an experience not real until it’s posted, but the value of that experience is only found when it is validated by those who see the post. Many people even use growth services like Social Sensei to increase the number of people who see their posts. It’s no longer enough for our family to find value in our experiences and to love the memories we make together; true validation comes through the reactions of other people.
Again, this is a delicate rope to walk because there is value in sharing with others. But we have to watch out or else we will slide even further down the slope of finding our approval, validation, and worth exclusively through the opinions of others rather than God. Consider, for a moment, what it says to our children if we have some experience of joy together, post about it, and then check relentlessly over and over again to see if other people have liked it. It not only reduces the joy we have had together; it also tells our children that true value can only be found on the outside.
3. Our desire is to showcase rather than cultivate.
One other thing we might be teaching our children through social media, and one more reason for us to be cautious – our social media habits might be contradicting what we know is our true job as parents. God has given us these children to care for, to protect, to provide for, but ultimately He has given us children to cultivate into citizens of His kingdom. True enough, God alone can do the work of the heart that is required to bring our kids to Him, but we are responsible to bring them up in the elements of the faith.
What does social media have to do with that? Just this – that if the value of and the validation of an experience, an interaction, or even an ordinary moment only comes after it’s been posted, then we are starting to communicate that our highest end, as parents, is not cultivating faith and commitment in our children to the glory of God – it’s instead to showcase them.
We would, of course, never say this. Never even think it, because it would mean that we are using our children rather than raising and loving them. And yet here we are. And we should be careful.
Parents, technology and everything it brings with it is part of our lives. And it’s here to stay. Because it is, we should be all the more vigilant to make sure that our homes, and our families, are not devoid of that technology, but are yet different than the rest of the world. These homes should be places of refuge – safe places – for our children. Ones in which experiences, and our love with them, are already real and validated.