How and Why We Allowed Our Teen to Join Instagram

by John Beeson

One of our favorite games as a family is called Oh Heck. You might know it as Up and Down the River. The reason this simple card game is so great is that while the rules of the game remain the same, every hand there is a different trump and a different number of cards. Throw in the fact that you can play the game with anywhere from two to seven players, and every game is different.

That feels a lot like parenting a child in 2019. The only thing that is the same is that everything is always changing.

In April our fifteen year old daughter asked if she could create an Instagram account. We said yes.

When is the right time to let your child engage in social media? More broadly, how do you parent children relating to technology?

A friend of ours, Diana Henderson, recently created a very helpful video tutorial called Tech in the Home: A Survival Guide for Parents. In it she expresses the struggle of so many parents. Like Diana we were parents who envisioned ourselves as creating a technology free home. We wouldn’t let screens have an undue influence in our children’s lives. We didn’t want them to be our babysitters, we didn’t want our children addicted to video games and social media.

What we discovered was that the rules kept changing underneath our feet, both because of the constantly changing landscape of technology as well as the maturity of our kids.

We are far from the exemplars of parenting well in the midst of the ever changing technological culture, but I want to share some of the best things we’ve learned along the way and point you to Diana’s videos as a great resource to help sharpen your parenting in this area.

1)      Create some hard and fast rules.

Get unity as parents as what the basic rules of the home will be. Our rules changed at different ages, but whether it is only one show on weekdays, or technology only comes after reading and chores, or no cell phones before age X, or only pre-approved TV shows and video games, you need to be united as parents. I guarantee you whatever rules you create your kids will immediately begin testing them. They will discover the weaknesses of your systems. So be thoughtful and reasonable about the rules you set up. I believe that monitoring/blocking is a must in any home today. It’s better to set up a set of rules that is more lax that you will actually enforce than to set up an idealized list of rules that will never be followed.

2)      Focus on the heart, not the rules.

Rules are helpful, but don’t make them the master. What you care about are your children’s hearts. You are helping shape citizens. You are training their affections. One day your children will have autonomy. What will happen then? If you’ve created children who perfectly obey an idealized set of rules only to leave for college and throw themselves into endless hours of gaming, then you haven’t succeeded. How can you help your children internalize the heartbeat of the rules you have created? How can you help create healthy ruts in their habits and desires? I would rather have my children fail at home and walk through that failure with them than have them show outward compliance while inwardly they are chafing.

One of our children is particularly drawn to technology. We are constantly working to figure out how to tweak the rules and reframe the message so that, by God’s grace, it hits the heart.

Parents also have a responsibility to appropriately care and protect the hearts of their children. The research on the impact of social media on the hearts of teens, particularly girls, is sobering. With that in mind, we allowed our children to have access to texting only for family members and friends approved by us long before we allowed social media to enter into the picture. The negative impact of teen girls in particular of feeling judged by others and feeling the pressure of conforming to societal expectations regarding body image is sobering.

The reality, however, is that we are not going to roll back the reality of social media in the lives of our children. It will be part of what it means to be a human being for the rest of the 21st Century. Just as I don’t believe I can appropriately pastor a congregation while being disengaged from social media today, I know that my kids will need to learn how to utilize this technology that has great capacity for good and evil. And, in the midst of the world we live in, we must help our children become wise, strong, and righteous digital citizens. They must eventually learn how live faithfully in both the real and the digital world.

3)      Producing vs. consuming.

I learned a lot from Diana on this framework. In her Survival Guide, Diana has us consider that technology itself can be used creatively for producing or passively for consuming. We need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. How can we encourage productive use of technology? Our son (13 years old) recently has been working on a play with a friend from school on a shared Google document. That is a creative and wonderfully productive use of technology.

Likewise, we want to encourage our children to foster their gifts in creative ways by things like learning how to create and edit videos, design graphics, etc. I’m not doing my job as a parent if I don’t help prepare them for a 21st Century workforce where these productive tools may well be important aspects of their vocation.

Our son recently joined the tech team at church. It has been so fun to watch him dive into learning about media presentation and lighting. He is using his love of technology to serve Christ’s body and learning great skills along the way.

We continue to have all of these conversations with our kids and have found that the conversations themselves are invaluable. When our daughter came to us and asked about being on Instagram, she encouraged us to monitor how it was impacting her. She said that she had two reasons for wanting to join: first, maintaining her friendships in New Jersey; second, sharing what she produces as an artist (she’s a great artist). So, this time, we said yes. We recognize that the rules are different for each of our kids and for you and your kids. We recognize we’ve failed as much as we’ve succeeded. And we recognize that this is the messy world of parenting today. But in that, we also don’t fear. God is still in control and he is going to be praised in our successes and failures as parents.

What have you learned as you have raised your kids in a technologically saturated world? Used by permission.

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