Our culture’s obsession with self-esteem has a new vehicle, and it fits in your teen’s pocket: That’s right, their phone. Today’s adolescents prefer to watch Vine videos and YouTube over their parents’ former obsession with MTV. On average, teens spend a mindboggling nine hours a day using technology, most of which is sharing every detail of their lives on apps like Instagram and SnapChat. Their quest is to be affirmed.
Forget 15 minutes of fame. They’re only looking for six seconds — that’s the maximum length of a video on Vine, the app that claims personalities get “really big, really fast.” And they have the stories to prove it.
In 2013, two teens became famous for nerd-style vandalism, when they dressed the part and used a Sharpie to write “=16” after the “4×4” on their family’s SUV. They became overnight celebrities, canceled their college plans and parlayed their fame into a pop-rap act with sold-out tours nationwide.
Although watching that creative video is fun and harmless, hanging out online isn’t without risks. We already know that teens give away every detail of their lives — which can lure stalkers, provide bullies with potential fodder and affect how future colleges and employers view them. But there’s also a serious issue that is a growing problem with teens: technology and smartphone addiction. New research shows that half of American teens believe they are addicted to their smartphones.
Researchers believe that as teens become hooked on social-media apps, they are less able to regulate emotions, manage impulses and make good decisions. Social-media addiction also creates lower self-esteem — the direct opposite of what teens use social media for. This addiction has also resulted in the nation’s first cellphone addiction rehab center for teens.
The bottom line is that when our teens spend an excessive amount of time online, they are on a quest to find their identity by comparing themselves to others. The fame, beauty, wit, status and so-called identity of other online teens become the measuring stick by which they judge their value. And because they can never measure up, they are susceptible to anxiety and depression.
A parent’s greatest error could possibly be turning a blind eye to how much time teens spend online and what they’re doing there and why. Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to help our teens appropriately navigate technology and avoid becoming addicted to its allure and promises of identity, fame and celebrity status.
Set limits on what they can view
The biggest problem with a teen’s value being formed by media is that teens are often being lied to. (How many of those Instagram photos of your daughter’s friends aren’t perfected beyond reality? Is Kanye’s newest music video really an expression of the art of love as he claims, or could it be mild porn?)
One reason we set limits is so that our children can live in the real world with real relationships — friends who have zits and, gasp, pores and love relationships built on serving each other, not lusting after each other. What can you do? Limit the exposure and boycott the bad stuff. It’s OK to say no. I’m the parent. It’s my job to discipline and correct them when their tastes and desires run counter to God’s best for them.
Set limits on how long they can view
Almost a quarter of all teens admit to being online “almost constantly.” You’ve seen it — you go out to eat with your family and you notice teens at other tables who have no interaction with the people they’re with because they’re busily attending to their smartphones. It’s OK in these situations, too, to say no to your kids.
Limits on social media are a small cross to bear, but will feel like one nonetheless to a teen. Yet just as we set curfews because we love our teens and want to keep them safe, we can set time boundaries on how much our teens can use technology, and when they definitely should not, such as while eating or during other specified times of the day.
Remind them of their identity in Christ
Christ offers a real and lasting sense of worth. Instagram doesn’t. Self-denial, not self-esteem, is actually the solution to our insecurity as we find our value in Christ. Despite what the culture tells your teen, that’s the way to overcome their insecurity, not another follower on her Instagram profile.
Dannah Gresh is author of The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces.