Social Media Is Not (Only) a Student Ministry Issue
The earliest collegiate Facebook users are about 40-years-old.
It is no longer 2006. Social media is no longer a “young people” problem. It’s an “all-of-us” problem.
The last few years that I’ve been writing frequently about social media and the internet, the most common speaking requests and podcast interviews I’ve received are from student ministry leaders. This makes sense, in some regard, right? Teenagers are the power users of social media. They use the internet in such a way that it shapes culture more than their parents or grandparents.
I’m grateful to get to speak to student ministry leaders and parents about social media and its impact on teenagers. It’s an important topic, I’m glad churches and parents recognize this, and I’m happy to be a resource to help Christians think through how these things affect teenagers.
But we are mistaken if we think social media is a student-ministry-centric issue, as if teenagers have a demonstrably more unhealthy relationship with social media than their parents do. I think this is an assumption we shouldn’t make.
If you doubt me, look at the average ages of people flaming each other in the comment sections of local news Facebook posts. It isn’t teenagers. What kinds of people are harassing journalists they don’t like on Twitter? It (usually) isn’t teenagers (BTS stans notwithstanding).
This isn’t to say teenagers don’t use social media foolishly. They certainly do. I just don’t think the matter of social media’s effects on our souls should be relegated to the youth group.
Back in 2018, promoting his movie Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham sat for an interview I’ve cited a few times in the past. Burnham is being interviewed by Sam Jones who wants to dig into kids and social media a little bit. Here’s part of their conversation edited for clarity:
Sam Jones: “I think that what happens for a parent is we wonder how to protect our kids, and … I worry that kids can’t sort out all the information that they have access to…”
Bo Burnham: “Right…can we, though?”
SJ: “Well I mean we can’t either, but at least…”
BB: “I mean, at least what? At least we have the nukes? I mean there is no real ‘at least’ for me
We as adults we need to clean up our own information processing before we start to, you know, wag our fingers at what kids are doing about the internet and internet culture and, ‘These kids addicted to their phones.’ I’m like, ‘What are we addicted to? How do we exchange information?’ I mean, we’ve completely set the culture on fire, I think, through the exact thing we’re worried that kids might one day do.”
SJ: “Well I think the difference is that I can use social media without the number of likes directly affecting my self-esteem. I have the experience to separate the two.”
BB: “You may have that lived experience that allows you to dissociate from whatever those toxic effects of the internet are. I don’t.”
Bo Burnham nails exactly what I’m identifying here. When Bo is interviewing here, he’s about 28-years-old. He’s no youth. At that age, he hasn’t been a teen for nearly a decade. But he knows what it’s like to have difficulty separating online experiences and offline mental health.
Just about anyone in your church under the age of 35-40 grew up on the internet, and those people are old enough to be “seasoned” student ministers and nowhere near the age of the students in your student ministries!
I mean the earliest collegiate Facebook users are about 40-years-old, and they’re arguably some of the most active users of the Meta suite of platforms. The reality is that most of the students in your student ministry are second generation social media teenagers at this point.
I think that if local churches have any hope to disciple people at the rate social media is discipling people, we need to have as many conversations about social media in the pulpit as we are in the youth room.
Thanks for reading Terms of Service with Chris Martin! Subscribe for free.