Article by Matthew Crocker
For quite some time we have been aware of the dangers presented to our children through social media. Online predators, scam artists, and cyber-bullying to name a few. Almost all parents seem to recognize these things as potential threats to their children’s safety. Yet, in a strange twist it seems as if we have failed to fully understand the dire threat social media poses to our psychological well-being and, as a result, to our discipleship. We cannot afford to ignore this any longer. It’s time that we recognize the harmful effects of social media and work to disengage from it in our lives before it destroys us.
Recently, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist with the New York School of Business wrote an article demonstrating the negative effects of social media on young girls. The full article is definitely worth a read and can be found here. In this article Haidt makes the case that young girls have been disproportionately affected by the use of social media platforms such as Instagram. With its heavy emphasis on the visual medium, and endless possibilities for comparison, Instagram has proliferated a mental health pandemic amongst young girls.
For example, Haidt shows that the rates of adolescent depression have skyrocketed since 2010. This correlates almost exactly with the date of Instagram’s inception. In December of 2010 Instagram had roughly 1 million users, by 2014 it had over 200 million users. While correlation does not equal causation it is certainly interesting to note that in this time period self-harm dramatically increased among young girls. Jonathan Haidt writes, “From 2010 to 2014, rates of hospital admission for self-harm did not increase at all for women in their early 20s, or for boys or young men, but they doubled for girls ages 10 to 14.”i
Similarly, Jean Twenge, in her book iGen shows that life satisfaction amongst teens reached an all-time low in 2015. Her conclusion is simple, “as teens spent less time with their friends in person and more time on their phones their life satisfaction dropped with astonishing speed.”ii The most frightening thing about this reality is that life satisfaction seemed to be steadily increasing in the preceding years. Like the stock market, there were ups and downs, but you could expect a general upward trend as the years went on. 2015 marked a mental health recession where “the gains of more than two decades were wiped out in just a few years.”iii So far, the evidence is not looking in favour upon the use of social media.
Unfortunately, none of this data specifically points to social media as the issue, a fact those in Silicon Valley revel in. While this is true it doesn’t necessarily mean that social media isn’t the issue. So how can it be pinpointed as a problem once and for all. Simple, ask the kids. As Jonathan Haidt shows in his article, when over 1500 teens were asked to rate how social media platforms affected their sleep, anxiety, loneliness, body image, et al., “Instagram scored as the most harmful.”iv Simply put, social media—and Instagram in particular—are negatively impacting the lives of young people.
So, what exactly are we to do in response to this? As people who call Jesus Lord how should we respond to these very real dangers of social media? I have a few suggestions for us. First, if you are a parent of someone young perhaps it is time you reconsider using Instagram and other platforms all together. The detrimental effects are apparent and if our kids see us captured by the lure of the luminescent phone screen then we can be certain that they too will be captured by that trap. Monkey see monkey do, as they say. Secondly, if your kids do use social media, consider monitoring that usage more closely. Set limits in your household for when and where they can use it, or even set up designated times of the day where phones are off limits. A good resource to help you practically deal with technology and family life is The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch.
Additionally, work to raise up your kids in the faith rough intentional family discipleship. While I have no proof for this claim, I believe that the detrimental effects of social media can be mitigated through intentional discipleship in the Christian worldview. Social media—Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, etc.—catechize young people. The platforms, both in content and medium, teach young people how to view the world. This worldview is highly globalist, extremely impersonal, and fosters comparison on every level. Yet, this can be combatted. We can fight against this worldview formation in our homes. Parents have an overwhelming influence on the formation of their kids. Parents still are the primary ones to give them a coherent world picture. One way this can be done is through “counter catechesis”, finding and using resources to disciple your kids. I’ve written a resource specifically for this purpose which can be found here. Likewise, this is why we run our Youth Foundations at Christ City Church. To partner with parents in “catechizing” or teaching their kids the Christian worldview. In fact, it why we do all our kids and youth ministries here at Christ City to partner with you in this endeavour.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that the gospel message, which we see clearly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, challenges the entire narrative of social media platforms. Social media can deceptively promise a self-created identity which brings the individual affirmation through likes, comments, and DM’s. Yet, as Christians our identity is not found in what others think of us, but rather is found in our relationship to the Lord. Something we’ve been granted through Jesus Christ by being united with him. It’s because to this that “likes” shouldn’t matter to us. It’s because of this that we can see social media for what it really is and turn away from those things as need be.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily held by everyone at Christ City Church.
i Jonathan Haidt, The Dangerous Experiment on Teen Girls, The Atlantic.
ii Jean Twenge, iGen, 96.
iii Twenge, iGen, 96.
iv Haidt, The Dangerous Experiment on Teen Girls, The Atlantic.