Battling for the Next Gen – Social Media

 Train up a child in the way he should go;
      even when he is old he will not depart from it.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 22:6.

This is part two of my thoughts on Battling for the Next Gen. I would like to talk about a few things that I have learned about kids and social media over the last few years. I would like to give parents a few things to consider.

Social Media is awesome! I’m on several platforms myself and I enjoy using them. I am not opposed to kids having social media when their maturity and age is properly considered. Parents do need to be aware of a few things though. It is very common for kids to have two profiles on a social media platform. This is totally a guess, but I would say 50-60% of kids on social media have two accounts on at least one platform.

They will have one their parents know about and one they do not. The intent behind this is not always to hide what they are posting, sometimes it is to hide what their friends are posting and saying. Some kids reserve their second profile for other people’s phones. If their parents are tech savvy, they will only login to their “not for parents” profile on their friends’ phones.

Kids often let others sign on to their profiles using each others phones. It’s the easiest way a grounded kid can get around it. Girls tend to be a little worse about this than guys in my experience, but it is certainly not exclusive to the ladies. Some kids who do not even have a phone, have a Snapchat that they check daily on other people’s phones. It happens folks.

You cannot completely stop this, but there are some steps that you can take to make it clear that this is not okay and to slow it down. For younger kids (up to 15-17 depending on their responsibility and maturity) if they don’t know their own passwords, it makes it difficult to login on other people’s phones. It also makes it harder for them to let others use their phone. If they get logged out and don’t know their own password they wont be able to get back in even on their own phone.

This only helps though, if you make the password something your kids cannot guess and you don’t write down the password in a notebook with the word “passwords” written across the cover and placed next to the computer. Kids are not completely stupid. You also will need to make sure they cannot download an app without your authorization.

The most powerful control a parent can have is a real filter. Something like circle by Disney, where it controls the content before it gets on the phone at all. Even this is not perfect though, so you still have to pay attention.

Password advice: Here is a simple method you can use to pick a very difficult password for your kids and hackers to guess. Pick a year. For example, I’ll pick 1776. And pick a character you like from a book or movie: I’ll pick Harry Potter. For this example I’m only going to use the last name: Potter. Here is a password you can make and remember using those two things: 17P0tt3r76*. This is not my password FYI. All I did was split the year, change the vowels to numbers (the number “0” instead of the letter “o” and a “3” instead of an “e”), and finally add a symbol. And all I have to remember is 1776 and Potter.

Then if you need to change it, just change the word or the number. For example: 19P0tt3r45*. You get a new, secure password and all you have to remember is 1945 and Potter. Using secure passwords on FB and email will keep you from getting hacked nearly as often, fyi, and it keeps your kids from figuring out your password.

Battling for the Next Gen – Cell Phones

 Train up a child in the way he should go;
      even when he is old he will not depart from it.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 22:6.

I am about to cross the 10 year mark in student ministry. I will soon be heading to my 3rd church (though the move has been delayed by COVID-19). Over that time and in those churches, I have learned a lot. I have seen some really amazing parenting even in the midst of some really crazy struggles. My purpose in this post is to both encourage parents and to give some observations that may help as they go forward with their families. I started writing and realized this was going to be a really long post, so I’m actually going to break it into 4 or 5 posts. Today, I want to post on cellphones. Check back in to see the rest of the posts.

Cellphones, particularly smartphones are one of the greatest challenges parents face. There is not a one size fits all answer to this issue either, each family needs to take this issue with each kid and make the wisest decision they can. That said there are a few things I’ve learned that I hope parents can learn from as well.

There is no upside to kids having cellphones in their room, particularly at night. At best, kids having a phone in their room is neutral (meaning not good or bad), although I think most scientists studying adolescent sleep patterns would say that it is always negative. Most of the time, kids having a cellphone in their room at night is a negative. I’ve had parents tell me that their kid needs it to sleep for music or whatever, but for the last few thousand years kids slept without them, they can today as well.

I talk to kids every week who spent at least 1 night in the past 7 up until 2 or 3am on their phone. Some of these kids even have safeguards on their phones put on by their parents. There is no perfect safeguard. Cellphone manufacturers really seem to be trying to help parents out, but the reality is, no system is perfect. Start typing “ways around” into Google, it will auto suggest “screen time.” There are hundreds of videos on YouTube and other platforms that can teach your kids how to bypass the locks you put in place. But even if your kid isn’t using them, there still is not an upside to having a cellphone in their room.

The risks are just too high. Most early exposure to explicit content is accidental. Even doing research for homework. I know of one case where a kid was researching a character in Homer’s Odyssey and one of the search results on Google was explicit content. Innocent searches can easily find explicit content.

Social media like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok all battle explicit content. They will take it down when it’s reported, but not before thousands of people, often kids, see it. Keeping cellphones in public spaces will at least allow you as a parent to know if they stumble on to something and to have a healthy conversation about it. This can be the difference between exploring explicit content and exposure to explicit content. It makes a difference.

Do what is right for your kids and your family, but please consider carefully before cellphones go into bedrooms or private spaces.

Right to Rule

Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most beautiful man made things I have ever seen. It is simultaneously beautiful and imposing. It sits up on its mountain overlooking the countryside for miles in every direction. It is easy for me to picture a king sitting up in his palace looking down on his domain. I have always been captivated by the idea of kings and queens. They have left an unmistakeable mark on history. Their palaces and many of the nations of the world stand tribute to their impact on history. Throughout history, most kings and queens have ruled based on one of two things: birthright or right of conquest.

Birthright is what a person is entitled to based on their family and birth order. The queen of England is the queen because she was the oldest child of King George VI. Her son will be king because he is her oldest child. Birthright is what you are entitled to because of who you are. Right of conquest gave someone the right to rule because they conquered in battle. Henry VII had a very weak claim to the throne based on birthright, however, he won the war and got to be king.

Have you ever noticed that Jesus has both. He has both the birthright and right of conquest. Birthright is probably not the best word because while Jesus was born; the Son, the second person of the Trinity, has always been. He is eternal as one aspect of God. But everything, creation itself, YOU, are his by right. Simply by the nature of who he is…God…he has the right to rule creation and the right to rule your heart and life.

But Jesus also has won the right to rule. He has conquered sin and defeated death. Man rebelled against the rule of God in sin, but Jesus has now defeated sin. You owe him your allegiance, your life! He has the right because of who he is and because of what he has done.

What does it look like to let Jesus rule your life? You will have to engage God’s word and spend time in prayer to answer this question. How can you follow a Lord you do not hear? And how can you hear a Lord you do not know?

Not 4 Sale!

When a TV show or football game or youtube video sells an ad to a company, what are they actually selling? They’re not just selling time on the air, they’re selling you. You are their real product (especially in social media). Parents, your kids are their product. You, as a consumer of a certain TV show or viewer of a certain youtube video, become the product of that show or site that they then sell to companies that want to advertise. They are buying your time, your resources, and your energy.

Let me clarify, I am not opposed to TV, youtube, or radio, I use all 3. I am not even opposed to advertising, though I do hate ads and thanks to binge-watching and streaming services watch far fewer of them than I once did. This is not a post about the evils of the advertising market or media that has a certain political persuasion. What I hope to do, is convince you to be aware and deliberate with…well…with your “self.”

First, be aware of your value. You were created by God. Not you generally, as in everyone was created by God, but you specifically (Psalm 139:13). You (if you are a Christian) are adopted by God (Galatians 4:7). You are worth far more than this world can ever know or pay. Know your value.

Second, be aware of how what you consume affects you. We have developed a basic understanding of nutrition in our society. We understand that if all we eat is Sour Patch Kids and Doritos, our body is not going to operate effectively… and we’re going to get fat. What you consume with your mind also affects you. Pay attention to who/what you are giving access to yourself.

I kept hearing about “haul videos” from my students. Haul videos are essentially videos where a person buys a bunch of stuff from a site (Amazon, Wish, eBay, etc…) and then shows themselves opening it and using it or wearing it. I decided to watch a haul video, so I watched a wish haul where a woman tries on a bunch of cheap clothing she bought on Wish.

The video is clean, it doesn’t show anything you wouldn’t see walking through the mall, actually, you’d probably see more walking through the mall. I think the content provider’s intent is to review the quality of the stuff. But there is no denying, she is selling a lifestyle and a culture. Additionally, I know after some research that she is sponsored by several companies. They are buying your time when you watch her videos. They are putting you in their basket. Will you let yourself be sold into their picture of what the world and you should look like?

Think of it this way, companies don’t really sell something to you, they sell you into something. They sell you into a style of clothing. They sell you into a diet. They sell you into a TV show. They are convincing you to give yourself (your time, your money, your emotions) to them. Again, I’m not telling you to stop buying designer clothing, watching TV, or anything like that. I am encouraging you to be aware of what you’re paying and how what you consume affects you.

The world and Jesus are fighting a battle over yourself. He has paid the price for you, bought you with his blood, his death on the cross. If you are a Christian you belong wholly to him. Pay attention to who else is buying you.

Finding Adventure

Over the years I’ve gathered rings, stormed the beaches of Normandy, conquered the world, and raided tombs. I’ve liberated nations, fought off alien invasions, and battled orcs. I’ve played my share of video games in these endeavors. There are a few of the games pictured above that I have been playing since before my students were born. One of the great things about these games is that each brings a new adventure and a new challenge. Today, I thought I would point out some life observations illustrated by some of these games.

Here are a few ways that life and video games are very different:

  1. There are no saves in life. One of the biggest things we have to remember in life is there are no do-overs. You can’t save and come back and do something over again if you mess it up. You don’t get to come back to a moment you missed. We either seize the moment and get it done, or we don’t.
  2. There is no pause. This one is very similar to the first, but with a slightly different implication. We don’t get to pause life. You can (and sometimes need to) get away from something or someone for a season, but life doesn’t stop just because you’ve poked your head in the sand. Time keeps flowing and life keeps happening. Avoiding life isn’t like pausing a game, you don’t get to pick up where you left off.
  3. Life is rarely so simple. Video games have come a long way since I first played Sonic the Hedgehog on my Sega Genesis. The stories are often more intricate than movies, major actors often provide the voices and look of the characters, and games often connect one to the other much like a TV series from seasons to season. But even in this complexity, video games are so much simpler than life. Decisions you make in life have real-life and sometimes even eternal consequences.
  4. The real world is so much bigger. I play a few games that are HUGE! The map (the world you play in) is absolutely enormous. One of the games I play has multiple continents that each could take weeks (or months) to explore and years to play through all of the content. Even still the real world is SO much bigger. It’s not just bigger in the sense of physical size, but it is bigger in diversity. The physical traits of our world can be radically different from place to place. Then there are all the people, each with their own story.

There are some ways that video games and life are similar though and here are a few of them:

  1. Even in real life, sometimes all you can do is watch. One of the most frustrating parts of video games to me is when the game takes away control from you and you can do nothing but look around and watch what happens. Video games sometimes have a fight you cannot win, you start the fight, but then the game takes control and essentially forces you to lose regardless of the choices you made or the buttons you bang on. Sometimes life is the same way. You don’t always have the ability to change the outcome, all you can do is be faithful in the decisions you get to make.
  2. Every life will eventually end. Just as each game will eventually end, so will every life. There comes a time when we all will play our last level to use a video game analogy. We have to make the most of the time we have and play (live) like this may be it.
  3. There is a programmer even in real life. This one really falls into both categories, because God is so much better than a video game programmer. The decisions you can make in a video game are all ultimately determined by the game’s programmers. Life is so much more complex with so many more decisions, but ultimately those decisions all are given to us by the author of life (God). What believers have to remember is that our decisions matter, but ultimately, God is in control of the ending. He works through even our bad decisions to work out the ending. Let me repeat it though, our decisions do matter.

Life is not a video game. But, there are somethings that we can learn from them. Don’t forget to live life. Whether you’re waiting, fighting, planning, or building, live life for the glory of God.

The photos in the collage come from the following games: Sonic the Hedgehog, World of WarCraft, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Call of Duty (Franchise), Splinter Cell, 007 GoldenEye, Assassins Creed (Franchise), Tomb Raider (Franchise), Halo (Franchise), Age of Empires (Franchise). If you have questions about the specific content of these games or another, feel free to message me.

Broken Values

All decisions are ultimately value decisions. We, people in my cultural area, claim to have a certain set of values. Many here would say that their values are God, family, and country. They might add things like community, integrity, friendship, sports, or hard work if they think about it for a minute. None of those things are bad, several of them are things that I place highest on my list of values. The difficulty is not only having good values, it is have them ordered well. We have to learn to recognize what values are in opposition when we face a decision.

Edmond from the Chronicles of Narnia has become one of my favorite characters. He (in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) and Eustice (in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)  both illustrate an attitude shift that is one of the things I most hope to see as a student pastor. Their values change. At the beginning of the book (or movie) Edmond’s top values are Turkish Delight and power. We know that because he betrays his family and the Beavers to get both. That does not mean that he does not love and value his family, he just values the other things more and we know that because he made a decision placing Turkish Delight and power over his family. Later, you see him submitting to another and placing his family first, putting his values in their proper order.

As I said before, all decisions are values decisions. I make a choice after dinner on whether or not to eat dessert, there are two values in opposition in that decision, one value is eating things that taste good, the other value is controlling my weight and health.  Which I value more in that moment will determine the choice that I make.

To figure out what you value most, look to see what you let fill your time first. What time do you protect? You say you value church for example, do you protect that time from other values, like sports? If every time you’re faced with the choice between a sport or church, you choose the sport, I’m sorry, but your higher value is the sport. You say you value hard work and family. If every time your phone rings you pick it up to see if its works even when you’re on vacation with your family or watching a movie with your kids or on a date with your spouse, I’m sorry, but your higher value is work. (It might actually be money, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

If your faith, if God is truly your highest value, then you will take steps to protect your time with him and your time with the body of Christ (the church). If family is your second highest value, then you will take steps to protect your time with your family.

Here is what it boils down to, know what you value and know what you value most. Then, make decisions that protect and live out those values in their proper order.

It’s Not About a Choice

I’ve been reading the Chronicles of Narnia again. The books are great fiction. They have stirred a question in me, “What does it mean to choose God?” Or worded another way, “What does it mean to choose to follow God?”

Movies and books so often highlight the choice of the hero. There is this moment where the hero chooses to fight for what is right. There is a moment where the hero chooses to get up off the floor after almost being defeated. There is a moment where the hero’s advisor steps in and gives them the key piece of information they need to win. It looks a little different from story to story, but it all boils down to a single moment.

Life rarely works that way and I think we have deceived ourselves into looking for and waiting for this big “moment” where WE choose to get back up and fight or do what’s right. People, and the church, are loosing their impact because they’re sitting around and waiting for their moment.

Life is not about a single moment. It is about a billion moments. Even if you are one of those rare cases like MLK, Churchill, Wilberforce, or Bonhoeffer, where you are largely remembered for one thing, that one thing still required many, many right choices.

We need to stop waiting for big hero moments and start making the choices God asks us to make in each little moment. Choose to follow God now and keep choosing Him moment by moment. That is how we follow God.