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The Parenting Dilemma

Hello, PATH parents!

From the minute our kids are born, we find ourselves confronted by various (and often complex) Parent Dilemmas. We must decide on vaccines, sugar, timeouts, pre-K, video games, YouTube choices…The list goes on and on. Obviously, these are topics that don’t have to be binary, yes or no, but must be carefully considered regarding how much and how soon. Sometimes the dilemmas are so plentiful, figuring out and then doing “the right thing” for our kids gets a bit overwhelming!

When our kids become teenagers, another Parent Dilemma looms before us: Social Media. Truthfully, most of us parents feel great pressure to allow our teens to use social media. First of all, teens love it! It’s fun, easy to use, and a major way that teens connect with peers these days. However, if we’re honest, our yes to our teens using social media is often more about us not wanting our kids to be the weird ones, the only ones who don’t have Instagram or Snapchat. We don’t want our teens left out of meaningful connections with friends or to be teased by other teens that they are out of touch with technology or teen culture.

We also want our teens to be able to understand and enjoy the good parts of modern technology so they can seamlessly move into college or the workforce after graduation. Furthermore, allowing them to learn proper social media use under our parental guidance seems wiser than forbidding it until adulthood (when inexperienced mistakes have even more real-world consequences).

This is such an important and relevant topic that Netflix recently released a docu-drama titled The Social Dilemma, in which major players in the tech industry (creators and engineers at big media companies like Facebook and Google) weigh in on the unintended consequences (and dangers, really) of social media and how it is genuinely negatively affecting teens today.

The film explores some dynamics that, if true, really should get our attention as parents and cause us to rethink that “how much” and “how soon” we referenced earlier. (For example, the film highlights the marked and steady increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide rates for teenagers upon the introduction of social media to society.) If the engineers and creators of this technology do NOT allow their own children to use it or do not allow their own children to use it until ages 14 or 15, then it benefits us to evaluate why and to look at how social media might be negatively affecting our own teens right now.

While I do not have the resources to fact-check every assertion made or every bit of research cited in that docu-drama, it is a valuable film to watch. We watched it as a family in our home and had great discussions during and afterward, and my teens made some new decisions regarding their own social media use (without my husband or I asking them to do so). They made these decisions out of their own convictions of what was best for them.

One of the best lessons we can teach our teens is to personally “own” their lives, to choose for themselves to do what is best for them in the long run. That involves continually evaluating what they want to give their time and attention to, what they want to use or to avoid on the path to accomplishing their dreams. Our teens must be reminded of the following: It is not enough to have dreams; you have to make daily choices on life’s journey that actually lead you to the life you want.

Naturally, we also must teach our teens that moderation is key. For example, to live a healthy lifestyle, sugar does not have to be completely abandoned; it just should be a balanced addition to your diet and not a major food group! In the same way, social media might not have to be completely avoided; it simply needs to be understood in ALL of its dynamics and then used in a dosage and way that actually benefits your life.

I hope this has inspired you to investigate the social media in your teen’s life and to make adjustments that make the most sense for your family. Be encouraged that we are all trying to get this right as parents, and if we realize that things need to change at any point, great! That’s what being a good parent is all about: learning as we go and making the best choices we can for our teens along the way. Life in the technological age can be a wild ride, but it’s an exciting and good one when we’re intentional.

Have a wonderful week investing in your amazing teens! You can do it!

Lisa Raftery