Well, as Story Keepers we’ve talked about responsibly sharing the truth of our children’s stories with them, and we’ve talked about helping them feel empowered in the present. Before we talk about the future, there’s a bit more that we need to cover in the present. It’s time to talk about how we – and they – keep and share their stories in the digital realm. We’re shifting gears on this ride, dear readers. It’s time now to talk about the fact that not only are our children empowered to share their stories in a way that is healing and appropriate for them, but at some point, they’ll start to craft the continuation of their own story today, and because of the internet age it can be shared and viewed wider than ever before whether they like it or not. For most of our kids, this means talking seriously about social media.
In Jon Acuff’s “Digital Footprint” talk, he states that this current generation of parents raising children now is the first generation that has the responsibility of teaching our kids about the impact of their digital footprint. Everything they type, every photo they upload, every comment they make can be viewed by someone, somewhere, now and forever.
Parents, for those of us who understand the concept but maybe not the mechanics of the whole “it never goes away” part of the internet, let me share some insight from a friend whose business is to build websites and help companies with social media. Here’s the deal: no one is happy when a site goes down. Sometimes it’s just inconvenient and other times sites are portals to critical data. Because of this, websites like Facebook and others create redundancy, meaning that they have multiple servers in multiple locations around the region, nation, and sometimes even around the globe. This is smart business; it means if one goes down, another (or many others) will keep them operational and their customers (users) don’t even notice. All of these servers are creating backups at various intervals. This means that what we post is being backed up continually, meaning that even if we delete something, it’s on some backup file, somewhere. This is how things never seem to die on the internet. This is how the most obscure things are found. Savvy folks know how to get to the data.
So, it’s time. It’s time to talk to our children about their digital footprint. We’re working hard to make sure they are not defined by the hard parts of their story. Let’s help them be sure that they don’t create additional heartache and challenge for themselves. Let’s help them succeed in this digital realm, so that they can succeed in real life. And, yes, as a Story Keeper I definitely believe this is part of their story. What they share will follow them, and some of it will define them in the eyes of others. Sometimes, those others become very important…this affects hiring and other things down the road. Here are three ways to guide them as they enter into online activity.
- Integrity. This is a big deal. Integrity entails a lot, but for this purpose, let’s consider integrity as not posting anything online that you wouldn’t “put out there” if you were in person. This means we don’t type things that we wouldn’t say aloud to someone standing in front of us. It means that we don’t gossip (Proverbs 11:9). It means that we don’t post photos that we wouldn’t pass around our classroom. If we wouldn’t want everyone in the world to see it, then it shouldn’t be uploaded. It means that our online presence is fully consistent with who we are offline (Proverbs 11:3).
- Wisdom. Encourage your children to slow down. Some things they see online will prompt an immediate visceral response from them; people can be cruel and careless with online activity. When they feel that happening, being “slow to speak” (James 1:19) is wise. The smartest thing to do is to walk away from their device for at least 30 minutes. The world won’t end if they don’t respond immediately. That 30 minutes gives them time to consider and craft a response that is gracious and above reproach…or time to consider not responding at all. The best way to encourage them to slow down is to limit their screen time to begin with. If they’re only allowed to be on social media in 20-minute increments, for example, they’ll be accustomed to walking away from it already.
- Self-control. There’s a lot to see in cyberspace, and much of it isn’t helpful to anyone. In fact, much of it is downright detrimental in a multitude of ways. Warn your children about it. Don’t be vague. Warn them. Validate that some of it is legitimately tempting, and it’s normal to want to look at some of it. Help them covenant with their eyes (Job 31:1) ahead of time so that when – not if, but when – temptation comes, they’ll be ready to resist it. Be open enough on an ongoing basis as well so that when temptation comes, they’ll be more likely to talk about it. Do everything you can, Dads and Moms, to keep and enhance your platform with your kids.
Parents, we’ve touched on a huge thing. There are significant implications to the safety of our kids, and they need to understand this. Discretion will protect them (Proverbs 2:11). Additionally, keeping a “clean” online life is healthy, and supports the kind of healing you’re working to achieve at home.
Can I encourage you in just one more area? We’ve spent our time talking about the activity of our kids, but I want to also encourage us as parents to treat our children’s reputations (or perceived reputations) with care. If our children don’t want us to post something, we need to consider not posting it. Some of our kids are easily embarrassed, sometimes by things that we don’t think they should be embarrassed by. If we proceed, we may become someone that they feel they can’t fully trust and some of our kids have a difficult enough time with trust already.
I will never forget one day seeing a post come across my Facebook feed. A family we’re acquainted with went on vacation. Mom thought it would be cute to post a picture of her teenage daughter on the car ride…with head back, sleeping, and with mouth gaping open. This young lady is lovely, but this was not a flattering picture. My heart sank as I imagined how this sweet girl would feel when she checked Facebook and saw that mom posted something that I’m fairly sure she would not have wanted all her friends to see.
I say this as gently and respectfully as possible, and to myself first: as we ask our kids to respect others and to use integrity, wisdom, and self-control online, we’ll be a great example to them if we do the same in our relationship with them as they get older. Some things are okay being treasured by only us.