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A Teen’s Life Online

Student Story: Mackenzie

Teens today are the most tech-savvy and plugged-in generation ever! Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are an integral part of their way of life. So, how can we put healthy boundaries around digital usage? This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston gives a sobering overview of the dangers online and shares reasonable limits that parents can set.

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Setting Boundaries With Your Teen

I really like homemade waffles—especially when they’re topped with real butter, Canadian maple syrup, fruit, a pile of nuts… and more waffles. I’m serious as a heart attack about that. But while I love waffles, I hate waffling. And I’m pretty sure God is not big on that either. In James 1:8, we learn that a “double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” And in Matthew 5:37, we read: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

This holds true for how we parent our children as well. That’s why when you set boundaries for your kids and teens, you had better make sure that you stick to your guns on whatever boundaries and rules that you’ve set for your family. This includes implementing pre-determined consequences for breaking those rules.

Rules Rule!

No one likes the word “rules.” It sounds—well restrictive. Yet who would argue the need for rules in a court of law, a school classroom, or just about any sport? Without rules, it would be an “anything goes” free-for-all! I’ve got to tell you… I hate stop signs and traffic lights… but I wouldn’t want to live without them.

Raising a family requires rules, too. Children need and want boundaries. The world makes more sense when they know what’s accepted and what’s not. Children feel safer when boundaries are explained and defined. And they find comfort in the consistency of parents who stick to their game plan.

If You Don’t Make the Rules, Someone Else Will

Make no mistake; you absolutely, unequivocally need a parenting game plan. Because if you don’t have rules in place, the world will. And without your rules to follow, they will follow the culture or a peer group that could lead to life-shattering issues. The culture is constantly telling our children they aren’t enough, trying to get them to eat, drink, party and even spend their way into acceptance. Kids often lose their true selves due to social pressures, opting to morph into whatever is popular or acceptable to their peer group. Many teens end up in a personal identity crisis in high school or even middle school, medicating with alcohol, drugs, sex, and other addictions.

So, how do you as parents keep your children from falling prey to these challenges to their true identity? It takes lots of prayer, unconditional love and clearly defined rules. Rules with relationship—because rules without relationship cause rebellion. And the most important relationship your child can ever have on this earth is with you. You—not their peers—need to be their most important role model. They need to have your love and acceptance, and home has to be a safe place for them to land each day after school. They need to know that your rules are designed for their best and that as their parent they can trust and rely on you at all times. And they need to see you living out your life and your faith in an authentic way. You can model being true to yourself, giving them the courage and permission to be real and true to themselves. Your home will then become a place that builds intimacy through love, humility and honesty. With this model, you’ll have a lot less need to exert external controls. Why? Because they’ll want what you have.

Rules for Cyber City

But until they are adults, your children need you to keep external controls in place. As I already stated, kids needs boundaries to feel secure. Take the area of setting boundaries for social media use—a big concern for parents today, and rightly so.

How many times have we heard news stories about pre-teens and teens getting into trouble on the Internet via some form of social media? Increasingly, this trouble is turning deadly. It did for Amanda Todd. At age 15, Amanda committed suicide after years of cyber bullying. She was just eleven-years old when it all began. First, she became a victim of a Facebook predator/blackmailer, and then fellow classmates bullied her—both verbally and physically. Inappropriate photos of herself— that she posted in an impulsive moment —followed her everywhere. No matter how many times she changed schools, she could not escape the torment.

In a televised interview with Amanda’s mother, it was clear that she had no clue as to what her daughter was up to all those years. There Amanda was, alone in her room with unlimited, unrestricted, 24/7 Internet access. She would stare into the video cam with endless fascination and at all hours of the night. When her mother told her that she couldn’t have the video cam, she whined and pouted to the point where her mother finally waffled and gave in. “I lost that fight” she later lamented with deep regret in her voice.

When I was Seventeen, I “Unfriended” My Parents

Honestly, it is all so preventable—if as parents you set boundaries and rules early on for your teens. And then stick to those rules. Drawing lines in the sand, and re-drawing them, and re-drawing them again is pointless as your teen will use your weakened resolve against you. Whatever respect you might have had from them, can be lost completely.

The following is just one example of how an increasing level of earned trust, in the form of setting boundaries, might go down in the area of social media use. (You can read more examples in my book, Tough Guys and Drama Queens.)

  • When you’re 12 years old, you won’t be able to have a social media page—be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever.
  • When you’re 13 and 14, you can have an account, but you can only check it once a day for 30 minutes (not 30 minutes for each one). We’ll have full access to all your posts, tweets, etc. You must “friend’ us on your Facebook so we’ll know what your posting.
  • When you’re 15, you can spend one hour a day on social media as long as it doesn’t take away from family time, completing your homework, or keeping you up so late that you can’t get up on your own in the morning. Oh … and we’re still watching!
  • When you’re 16, no more than two hours on social media and make sure that your language is appropriate.
  • When you’re 17, it’s all yours. We’re no longer watching. You can “unfriend” us.
  • When you’re 18, I hope that you’ll accept my “friend” request.

My purpose here in giving you this example is not to turn you into a clone of myself and my own parenting style—rather to give you an idea, or model of what it might look like. I can only tell you that these boundaries have worked well for myself as a parent.

Well Behaved Kids or Healthy Adults?

But again, you need to first have a well-defined worldview. Only then can you add clear boundaries and subtract strictness. In other words, your goal is not to have well-behaved kids, but well-adjusted and spiritually mature adults who have learned how to flesh out their faith in a rapidly changing society. You want them to shine as lights in a dark world. And the only way they can do this, is if you (1) allow your children to be exposed to opposing worldviews while they are still under your influence, (2) to lovingly speak truth to them when they’re exposed to error and (3) to be a strong voice of reason and wisdom.

In short, if you do your “God job” as a parent right, you’ll make that “forbidden fruit” (worldly enticements) as appealing to your teen as a rotten banana—because, after all, home and hearth is where the homemade waffles are!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Teens Can Be Cooler Online

Online networking sites offer teens a place to post videos, music, images, comments, thoughts, and wallpaper in any form they want. They can express whatever they want to whomever they want. They can invite people into their “home,” and limit who enters their “home.” They present themselves as they want to be presented. They form groups, develop a base of friends, and find things in common with complete strangers.

I’ve never met a young person who does not want to “be cool” in the eyes of their peers. Wanting to “be somebody,” wanting to be accepted and loved are normal feelings and that’s why teens often exaggerate online. Catching someone’s eye, hoping for value among their friends, and finding acceptance amidst peers is paramount. They want to be seen as having it all together, and that they’ve accomplished something. They want others to “sing their praises” and to be revered by their peers.

Teens want the same kind of validation that you and I want. The problem? Adults are able to show success and significance in ways teens cannot. We adults find significance mainly through our work. We display to others our worth and value through the toys we own and the places that we travel. We find acceptance through family, grand kids, or even our pets. Life is fulfilling, and our years of intentional living show that we’ve arrived. Why, even my GPS system tells me daily, that “I have arrived.”

Teens, on the other hand, usually don’t purchase their own cars, and they do not yet have careers. They lack experience in relationships, and do not have kids or grandkids. Their toys usually come from their family, and they cannot travel without Mom and Dad. They have not collected much, or done much, and the teen years are not really their best years. They have earned very little, and most of what they own is given to them — usually in excess.

Most teens long for the same things that I long for — purpose, acceptance and significance. Until they learn a little, live a little, and blow out a few more candles, the Internet is one place to give voice to their longings.

Most teens don’t have a house. They don’t have a spouse. But they do have a mouse.

The Internet gives your teen massive opportunities for social networking and interaction.

The question that you must be concerned about is whether or not the image your kids project online will cause some problems or possibly damage their relationships. Understand that teens embellish their image and seek to “look cool,” not only online, but in every aspect of their life. They can get away with more embellishment on the Internet, however.

Do teens exaggerate things about themselves? Of course they exaggerate; they are teens!

It can become a bigger problem if your teen’s online presentation becomes negative or inappropriate — if they are threatening or saying inappropriate things about others. If that happens, it is time for correction, and more training before they are allowed online again. Teach them that some of the things they say online cannot be taken back. Kids often miss the fact that the Internet is a place where you cannot always get rid of something once it is placed out there for the world to see. Photos and comments on the Internet are much like tattoos: you cannot easily get rid of something that you once thought was a cool idea.

Will your teen’s online exaggeration always cause him problems? No, not always, but sometimes it can. Should you be concerned? Of course. So, be sure to keep an eye on his use of the Internet, and demand to know how your teen presents himself online. Tell him you’ll be regularly visiting the pages where he is posting content. If he balks, then it’s time to consider shutting down the Internet.

Should you eliminate Internet social networking altogether? Don’t go overboard, but there may be times when it would be appropriate to limit or eliminate access to social networking sites if your teenager is not using them wisely or is participating in things online you don’t approve of. But, again, you’ll never know unless you regularly visit the sites your teenager is visiting and reading his online posts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.