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Frontline Horrors at Your Kids’ Fingertips

The atrocities committed against Israel has highlighted the urgency of parental control over social media. As graphic content and misinformation transforms our children’s screens into windows of human suffering, no child should experience.

Not long ago, some voices hailed the arrival of social media on the battlefield as a transformative change. Smartphones capturing events in real time offered the promise of authenticity and unvarnished documentation of cataclysmic cultural moments—in real time.

The events in Gaza and Israel the last two weeks have sharply tempered that optimism for three reasons.

One, those “unvarnished” moments proved to be graphically, horrifically violent in many cases. Two, trying to sort fact from distortion as rumors have run wild on the likes of TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook has proven difficult. And, finally, many of those who’ve encountered these images and stories on social media have been children.

The latter possibility prompted a Tel Aviv school parents’ association to encourage parents to have their kids delete their social media apps. “We cannot allow our kids to watch this stuff. It is also difficult, furthermore—impossible—to contain all this content on social media. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.”

War in Real Time

Once upon a time, reports about what was happening on the ground trickled out over time. Now, dramatic and blood-drenched images may captivate our attention via social media even if we weren’t searching for them. 

Writing for Wired about the Ukrainian-Russian war in 2022, Chris Stokel-Walker said, “TikTok has created a stream of war footage the likes of which we have never seen, from grandmothers saying goodbye to friends to instructions on how to drive captured Russian tanks. So much of TikTok’s success comes down to both how visual it is and how instant it is. From memes and dance crazes to the storming of the US Capitol, it captures and clips the world with an immediacy other platforms can’t. If Facebook is bloated, Instagram is curated, and YouTube requires a shedload of equipment and editing time, TikTok is quick and dirty—the kind of video platform that can shape perceptions of how a conflict is unfolding.”

TikTok has announced its intent to try to keep its platform free from such imagery: “TikTok stands against terrorism. We are shocked and appalled by the horrific acts of terror in Israel last week. We are also deeply saddened by the intensifying humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. Our hearts break for everyone who has been affected. We immediately mobilized significant resources and personnel to help maintain the safety of our community and integrity of our platform.”

Still, the volume and speed at which content gets posted may nevertheless elude TikTok’s stated intentions (and it’s algorithms) to protect its users from graphically violent imagery and misinformation about the war.

Real Time Parenting

So how can we, as parents, protect our kids from such imagery and its potentially traumatizing influence?

  1. Set—and reset, if necessary—firm boundaries about smartphone and social media usage. Those boundaries involve where kids can use phones, what they’re looking at, and for how long. It’s a lot harder to protect a child sequestered for hours alone in his or her room than it is when they’re on the couch in the same room with you.
  2. Be aware of your own news engagement and the example you’re setting. It’s good to be informed about what’s happening in the world, especially a situation as difficult and important as the war unfolding in Israel right now. But if our kids see us on our phones constantly reading stories about it, it might create a curiosity on their part that moves from being healthy to unhealthy.
  3. Ask questions and listen. Even if your children don’t have smartphones are seem disinterested in what’s happening in the news, they may still be thinking about these recent events. Ask them what they’ve heard, and give them plenty of space to respond. Questions can be as simple as, “What have you heard about what’s going on Israel? What do you think about that? Have you seen anything that you want to talk about?”
  4. Model a prayerful response to suffering. It’s so easy, and perhaps natural, to feel overwhelmed and discouraged when the news is so horrible. In fact, your kids may be feeling those emotions, too. But simply taking some time to pray together as a family, thanking God for His goodness and his sovereignty, and interceding for those who are suffering can help give your children a faith-shaped perspective on worldly tragedy.

We Live in a Broken World

We serve a Father who loves that broken world. And we, as parents, have an important responsibility to protect our kids but also to help them understand what’s happening around them in age-appropriate ways.

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