Teachable Moments: Taking the Fear and Stress Out of Parenting Challenges

“The stress of facing a crisis with my children is definitely my favorite part of parenting!” …said no parent ever!

Yet, have you ever noticed how we seem to learn the most during the hard times? One of the greatest lessons I have learned about parenting is not to fear the challenges our children face, but to be grateful for them because they become teachable moments we might not have otherwise.

When our children were much younger, Jeff and I found ourselves in what felt like a crisis situation with our neighbors. Every time we went outside to play in our backyard, their very friendly (but also very large) labradoodle would run over barking, jump up on our one year old, and push him to the ground. Their daughters would knock on the door to see if our girls could play, then hide in the bushes and throw things at them when they came outside. They called our girls words they had never heard before. They even stole our snowman out of our front yard… with Jeff watching!

I can tell you honestly, I was not thanking God for that “opportunity.” I was figuring out how we could move! 

But those encounters led to some really important conversations about how our faith determines our actions instead of our feelings and how what we see on the outside is often a reflection of something deeper going on beneath the surface. We talked about being kind and setting healthy boundaries— not something I planned to address with a four year old, but there we were!

Our neighbors obviously had some personal struggles going on; however, we didn’t know the extent until a few years later. Once those issues were addressed, their family dynamics became much healthier. We ran into them at the pool one day and my girls were surprised because they were actually kind! 

Learning the truth and seeing how their girls had changed became another teachable moment. It enabled us to talk about forgiveness, grace, and second chances. These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves.

And that is something to be grateful for!

“These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves. That is something to be grateful for!”

When your daughter is dealing with friend drama, you can call the other moms or seize the opportunity to talk with your girl about what real friendship looks like (and doesn’t look like), as well as what kind of person she wants to be, both now and when she grows up.

When your son and his friends make a dumb choice and get into some trouble, you can yell at him or cover for him, or you can take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure, consequences, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the power of influence. 

When your child has a personality struggle with a boss or teacher, you can rescue them or teach them how to adjust their actions to align with different leadership styles. This will serve them well in life as they find themselves under different authority figures, some of whom they likely will not completely agree with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we catch our kids searching for something inappropriate on-line or caught up in some sort of crazy friend drama, you will not find Jeff and I skipping in circles, singing Oh Happy Day! No, we are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. But the advantage of having four kids is we’ve learned that most of these struggles are a normal part of growing up. They are not an exception; they should be expected. 

The important thing is how we handle them.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Paul David Tripp mentions this idea throughout his book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. He puts beautiful words to what my heart has learned over the years:

Be thankful for these little moments. Don’t look at them as the bad moments of parenting, as hassles and interruptions; these are the good moments of parenting. These are moments of grace… Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace. God loves your children and because He does, he has placed them in a family of faith so that you can be his tool of convicting, forgiving, and transforming grace. You are faced with the resistance of your children because God is a God of amazing grace. His grace has the power to turn very bad moments into very good moments. Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus Christ is about?

—Paul David Tripp

God is a Master at taking bad situations and transforming them into something good. King David’s indiscretions led to a conversation with the prophet, Nathan, which transformed David into a man after God’s own heart. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus led to a conversation of repentance and restoration which transformed not only Peter, but countless others as well. And God transformed Jesus’s death on the cross, arguably the worst thing that has ever happened, into the best thing that ever happened to us! 

We do not need to fear or stress over the difficult situations we face as parents. God can transform each one of them into something good! When Jeff and I find ourselves faced with yet another parenting challenge, we remind ourselves (or more often, he reminds me!) to take a breath and view it as a “moment of grace.” I am grateful our children are learning these lessons at home and that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk through it with them. That will not always be the case, I know. 

So, for now, we will be grateful and embrace these challenging moments as teachable opportunities.

This is grace.

The Freedom of Self-Denial

“Mom, are you serious?? What is wrong with you? No one else in the world has stupid rules like this. I hate it! You’re ruining my life! You and dad are the worst!”

I sat there suppressing a smile and polishing my Mother of the Year trophy while the child-who-shall-not-be-named stomped out of the room.

Sorry, kid, this isn’t our first rodeo.

In case you’re wondering about the preposterous rule, Jeff and I recently implemented a “No technology during the school week” policy. You can imagine how well that went over.

Y’all, sometimes parenting is really hard. Okay, most of the time, parenting is really hard! Making our kids mad at us is no fun. Setting limits and boundaries we know they won’t like is terribly difficult. Listening to them tell us that we are ruining their life (and wondering if it’s true) is heart-wrenching. 

But sometimes a mom (or dad) has to do what a mom (or dad) has to do.

In this case, the reality is that our kids are different people when they are not using technology. When they know it’s an option, nothing else seems to matter. They rush carelessly through their schoolwork so they can get online with their friends. They overlook assignments or “forget” to study so they can be done faster. They lose sight of how much they love things like sports and other activities because their focus is on a screen. And though they hate to admit it, their aggression and anxiety skyrocket. 

However, when digital entertainment is no longer an option, everything changes! They take their time on their schoolwork and their grades go up. They spend time together— laughing, playing outside, making up games, and being creative. As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol. Our hope is that, through this process, they will learn the value of denying themselves and be able to choose it for themselves in the future.

In fact, on a few occasions, our older children have even handed us their phones, recognizing they needed a break from the digital world, but not trusting their own ability to resist the temptation. How cool is that?

As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol.

Unfortunately, it never gets any easier to deny ourselves what we really want.

Jeff and I started a new eating plan this week. I’m not going to lie; it has been tough. Our meals (I use that term loosely, lol!) are planned out for us, and our eating is extremely restricted compared to what we are used to. Honestly, it feels quite a bit like torture!

But it has also given me new perspective. I had no idea how much my life revolved around food. It is horrifying and humbling to recognize how quickly an indulgence here and there can become an all-consuming, insatiable hunger. Like my kids, I have overlooked the most important things in order to satisfy what my heart craves.  I have been ruled by the desire to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and I didn’t even know it!

However, this week, all that changed. 

This week has been an experience in self-denial. I have had to prioritize what is best for me over what I desire. I have chosen integrity over indulgence and long-term results over short-term satisfaction. My hunger pains have reminded me that while I may feel deprived, there are those who would consider my small portion a gift, an answered prayer.  As the week went along, my perspective shifted and I have grown more grateful for what I have been given instead of focusing on what has been withheld. 

I’m not quite there yet, but I am inching my way towards finding the freedom that comes from releasing an idol.

Friends, it makes me wonder. If my kids didn’t recognize how technology affects them and I didn’t realize how food affects me, what else in our lives are we blind to? In what other areas are we indulging our senses, feeding our feelings, and drowning in our desires? And what would happen if we chose to step back and open our hands, willingly denying ourselves of whatever it is that consumes us?

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

We live in a fast food world of self-indulgence. Super-sizing is expected. Entitlement is rampant. Just look at our political climate—we are so quick to claim a side, yet we have forgotten how to have a conversation.  We continually choose being right over being in relationship. We focus on our miniscule areas of disagreement instead of our larger areas of commonality. 

We are being deceived, friends! We are worshiping self-made idols and calling it freedom, when really we are enslaved to our own desires. 

I wonder what would happen if we all chose gratitude over greed. Would our world look any different if we decided to walk the path of self-denial? If, instead of feeding our selfish desires, we denied ourselves and sought to fulfill someone else’s needs? What freedom would we gain by shifting our perspective, and rather than seeing ourselves as victims of someone else’s restrictive cruelty, we decided to find freedom through restricting ourselves?

This is the perspective we are hoping our kids will grasp— that while self-denial is unpleasant at first, it can lead to great joy and freedom.

Just a few things to think about as I count the minutes until my next “fueling”…

4 Thought-Provoking Questions to Help You Keep Your Faith in College

Two weeks ago on a Friday night, I sat in a room full of teenagers. We sang and prayed together, then watched a virtual message by what should have been our speaker at Student Camp.

(COVID, however, had other plans.)

So instead, we were squished together in someone’s basement, making the most of our “Not Camp” experience. I listened as these about-to-be College Freshmen answered some thought-provoking questions on how to keep their faith in college. 

They discussed what it means to find our identity in Christ. They mentioned how easy it is to get distracted by what we do or to define ourselves by what others think of us. Yet, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that God is the author of life, not us. The best we can do is intentionally seek Him and live with open hands. 

I looked at these teens whom I’ve grown to love and found myself wondering: As they look towards the future, how are they going to be intentional about allowing Jesus to write their story?

A few days later, I sat on my back porch with one of those Senior girls. Lord willing, she will be heading off to college in a week or so, and I wanted to make sure she was prepared for some of the challenges that lie ahead. I know she loves Jesus, and I have watched her slowly move Him up her priority list over the past three years. I have no doubt her heart’s desire is to live boldly for Him in college!

But sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can get so distracted by what’s right in front of us that we lose sight of what we want most.

So here are some of the questions I asked my young friend that day. Maybe they will be helpful to you (or someone you know) as well.

Questions to help you keep your faith in college

1. What do you want to change about yourself from who you were in high school to who you want to be in college? What will you need to do differently to make that happen?

2.  What are you looking for in your friendships? What is your plan for finding those kind of friends?

3. What are your biggest fears about college? What do you think will be your biggest temptations?

4. What do you want your spiritual life to look like this year and how will you accomplish that?

What to expect

We talked about how fear, excitement, and nervousness are all normal emotions going into a new adventure like this. It’s perfectly okay to experience conflicting emotions! Trust me, your parents are feeling the same way!

We talked about how the environment you put yourself in will likely determine your friendships. It will also greatly impact your level of temptation. If you want Christian friends, hang out where you’re likely to find other Christians- church, Bible Study, campus ministries, etc. And be the kind of friend you hope to find!

(**It is particularly important to think through this under the current COVID restrictions. With many churches and Bible Studies still online, you may need to do a little research before you go on ways you can get connected with other Believers.)

We also talked about how everyone feels lonely sometimes, even people who are really, really happy and living their best life! And how, while you don’t want to wallow in those feelings, you also don’t want to ignore them, hiding or camouflaging them with busyness and other empty things. 

It’s good to let yourself sit in it for a moment, acknowledge it… 

And then turn to Jesus. 

Let Him remind you that even though you feel lonely, you are not actually alone. Let Him fill those parts of you that are aching, and then listen to how He directs you…

Should you spend time alone with Him? 

Reach out to a new friend? 

Call a trusted adult? 

He’ll let you know. 

But if you ignore those feelings and rush through them, you might just miss an opportunity to grow.

And that’s what college is all about: growth. 

If you want to grow spiritually, you are going to need to be intentional.

Hopefully, these questions will help you start on the right track!

31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Your Teens & College Students: Week 1

Hey Friends,

I am SUPER excited about partnering with you this month as we pray Scripture over our college students and teens! As mentioned in my previous post, these are not “perfect verses” or perfect prayers. They are simply a place to start! (You can read more about how I got the idea for 31 Days of praying Scripture over teens here!)

I encourage you to read the daily Scripture before you pray. I have done my best to keep the meaning of the verses in their intended context (we never want to pray Scripture for our own benefit in a way it wasn’t intended). Feel free to use the prayers I have written or pray your own- there is nothing magic or special about these prayers! And if these don’t resonate for your child in their given circumstance, hopefully it will spur you on to find some verses that do.

(Note: I selected these verses and wrote these prayers for young adults who are already walking with Jesus. If you are praying for a teen or young adult who is struggling with their faith or salvation, please reach out and I can give you some different verses to pray over them!)

There is power in prayer, but there is even more power in the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” As we pray the Word of God over the young adults and children in our lives, I believe that God will be working in ways we may not see here on earth, but that will impact His kingdom eternally. May it be so.

I also encourage you to pull out a photo of the college student or teen (or in my case, both!) who you are praying for and keep it with your Bible this month. As you pray, imagine the Lord placing a shield of faith around them, protecting them from the attacks of the enemy, so that these seeds of truth may be planted firmly in their hearts and minds without being stolen away.

Here’s a photo of our girls, just for fun:

I have several other students I will be praying for as well. Mamas, you know who you are- I’m covering your kids with you!

Now, onto the fun part…

Day 1:  Philippians 3:13b-14

Father, as ______________________ begins a new school year, please help them forget what is behind and press on toward what is ahead. Let them step into this new adventure unhindered by the past, filled with hope for the days to come. May they press on towards the goal of knowing You, for which You have called them heavenward; may their relationship with You, both now and forever, be the prize they seek to gain. 

Day 2: Hebrews 10:35-11:1

Father, I pray you will fill ___________________ with confidence in Your Truth. Help them persevere when they face trials, trusting that You will honor their faithfulness as they do Your will. Help them not shrink back when they face doubts or opposition, but give them faith to believe in You. May they be sure of the hope they find in You and certainthat You are present and working, even when they can’t see or feel You. Open the eyes of their heart to know You are there.

Day 3: Psalm 1:1-3

Father, may ____________________ be blessed as they walk daily with You. May they not keep company with those who delight in doing bad things or who would draw them away from You. Instead, may they delight in meditating on Your Word and in keeping Your ways. May they be like a tree planted near streams of water, so that their faith will not wither under pressure, but instead will yield fruit over time. Lord, as they drink deeply from Your Word, may they prosper in whatever they do for Your glory.

Day 4: Proverbs 3:3-4

Father, I pray You will write Your love and faithfulness on the tablet of _____________’s heart. May they allow these virtues to flow in and through them to the people they encounter each day. As they seek to live out their love for You, may they win good favor in the eyes of those around them and, most importantly, with You.

Day 5: Joshua 1:7-8

Father, please help _____________________ be strong and courageous. As they face new situations and a new environment, may they be careful to obey Your instructions and listen to the Holy Spirit, not turning away from You even a little bit, so that they may be successful as they follow Your path. May they keep Your Word always on their lips; may they meditate on it day and night, so that it will influence their thoughts, choices, and actions. May they prosper and find success through their faithfulness to You.

Day 6: James 1:5

Father, when ___________________ lacks wisdom and is searching for answers, may they not be deceived by the abundance of information and opinions around them. Instead, may they seek the truth from You and from Your Word, knowing that You give generously to all who ask without finding fault. And when they do seek wisdom from You, Lord, may it be given to them along with a heart to apply it.

Day 7: Matthew 5:14-16

Father, help ____________ remember that they are the Light of the world, a reflection of You in a world of darkness. When they are tempted to hide their faith or their true self, give them courage and strength to let You shine through them. May others be drawn to You by the light they see in them.

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And that’s it for week one! Check back in next week for 31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Your Teen & College Student: Week 2!

Also, if you know of someone who might find these verses helpful, would you mind sharing it with them? And I would love to know if you are joining me in this prayer challenge. If so, would you mind giving a shout out in the comments (here or on FB)? Just type, “I’m praying” or the names of those you’re praying for. Thanks!

13 Ways to Help Kids Unplug from Electronics and Plug into Life

I’m sure no one else is having this problem, but it seems like every time I turn around, my kids are on electronics. 

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I. TURN. AROUND.

One minute they are eating breakfast, the next minute… electronics.

One minute they are doing their chores, the next minute… electronics.

One minute they are playing outside, the next minute… yeah, you guessed it.

Electronics.

I am blaming it on the pandemic! When this thing started FOUR long months ago, we had no idea our not-really-school-but-still-kind-of-school year would eventually fade into our not-really-summer-but-still-kind-of-summer months, leaving us stuck in this weird in-between place.

Only with even less structure to our days.  

What’s a parent to do?

I mean, don’t these kids know that when we go to their annual check-up the doctor is going to ask me how much time they spend on electronics? Umm… is there an option for EVERY SECOND OF EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY???

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad. 

(but if I’m honest, it really is)

Friends, it’s time for an intervention!

A little bit of electronic time is fine and can even be beneficial! But seriously, in our house, we have used up every ounce of “a little bit” before breakfast…

So, I am obviously not really writing this post for you, I am writing it for me. My guess is there may be others of you out there struggling with this same problem; but if not, I clearly need your help! So feel free to add suggestions in the comments or message me with ALL THE THINGS to help me be a better mom! 

In the meantime, here are 13 ways I’ve come up with for helping my kids unplug from electronics and plug back into life!

13 Ways to Help Kids Unplug from Electronics and Plug into Life:

  1. Chores
  2. Bible Time
  3. Reading Time
  4. Exercise/physical activity
  5. Board Games
  6. Hobbies (music, photography, art, movie-making)
  7. Outside play (basketball, skateboarding, bikes, pool)
  8. Creative Time (drawing, painting, crafting, Legos, etc)
  9. Cleaning/De-cluttering
  10. Cooking
  11. Scavenger Hunts
  12. Serving others
  13. Local Adventures (ice cream shops, hikes, parks, tourist attractions)

*Obviously how you apply these things will vary depending on the age of your kids, among other things. Bible Time could be individual “Quiet times” in their room, reading a Bible story together, learning about missionaries, or memorizing a chapter of Scripture in a month as a family (or some combination of these options). Exercise might be riding bikes in the neighborhood, a pick up basketball game with neighbors, a video workout on Netflix, swimming, trampoline, etc. Cooking could involve your teens making dinner for the family or your little ones making cookies with mom or an older sibling. You get the point.

And there’s one more thing I feel like I should add, mainly because God has made it very clear to me that this is key: 

Changing my kids’ behavior will be ineffective without also changing my own. 

If I’m honest, I- the mom, the one in charge, the role model and example for my children– spend WAY too much time on electronics myself. 

I find myself filling in the cracks of my to do list with social media. I will pick up my phone to send an important text and put it down 30 minutes later after getting sucked into the Facebook vortex or scrolling through Instagram. I go online to find a recipe and end up following a rabbit trail of various news articles and personality quizzes.

I cannot ask them to get off their phone if I am constantly on mine. 

I know, I know- we all are desperate for connection right now, so I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk to our friends. And many of us are online for work, so we can’t exactly unplug anytime we want. I get it! Since entering the “writing” world, I find myself constantly distracted (not just online, either… sometimes with chores, in a book, and even just in my own thoughts!).

But I also know the Lord is telling me that, while it’s important for me to help my kids unplug from electronics, it’s even more important for me to be extra intentional about how I am spending my time. 

Over the years I’ve learned that when I am purposeful about when and how I’m going to get my “work” done (which may be business-related, or it may be prepping dinner, cleaning the bathroom, or replying to emails, etc.), it enables me to be present for my family the rest of the time.  

Full disclosure- I’ve done a pretty rotten job of this lately.

So, in addition to helping my kids intentionally structure their time and better organizing my own schedule, I am also looking through the list above to see which of these things I need to invest in with them. 

Which ones would be really fun if we did them together? If you’re a mom of littles, you may be asking yourself, “Which of these things are they able to do by themselves or at the table with me while I do something else, and for which ones should they have my focused attention?”

 Then finally, how can I remind myself to stop and be fully present when they want to share their thoughts and creations with me or when they want me to join in the action?

Believe it or not, we only have ONE month of summer left (I am not even going to think about pandemic-schooling yet, so Shhhhhhh!!!). Let’s challenge each other to unplug a little -or a lot, whichever the case may be- from electronics and spend more time truly plugged in to our people.

If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments! I figure after a week or so, I’m going to need some more suggestions…

Let’s Celebrate Easter Like Never Before. Oh, wait…

Friends, it finally dawned on our kids last weekend that we would not be able to go to church this Sunday. 

“Wait, you mean we’ll be stuck at home on EASTER SUNDAY?? Mom, it won’t be Easter if we’re not at church! That’s never happened before! This is not okay. We have to do something…”

If you know me well, you can imagine how excited I was about seizing this teachable moment. My girls say I have a “small group leader voice” that I use in moments like this…  umm, whatever. But if I do, I’m sure I pulled it out for this one!

“Well, guys,” I said (probably in my SGL voice), “that’s not exactly true. What are we really celebrating on Easter? Think back to what happened that first Easter morning…”

  • Where do we find the disciples? (hint: They weren’t at the temple, where they?)
  • Where do we find Mary? (hint again: Sshh! She wasn’t at the temple either.)
  • And where do we find Jesus? (okay, so they got the point!)

The reality is we have never had a better opportunity to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus more authentically than this year. After all, the first Easter happened outside in a garden and inside a living room and wherever else people happened to be when they heard the good news. The life-changing news.

“I have seen the Lord!”

Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw the Lord?

I mean, when you truly realized what Jesus had done for you- that He loved you enough to die for you, suffered unspeakable pain and loss for you- and not because you and I were worthy, but because we are worth it to Him?

I was a teenager when someone shared with me that I wasn’t here by accident; that God created me and loved me and had a purpose for my life. For the first time I began to understand how much Jesus willingly went through for me and what it cost Him. It still overwhelms me to think anyone could love me that much!

And then I found out the rest of the story… He is alive! He rose from the dead, appeared to a bunch of people, and went up to heaven, leaving His Holy Spirit here to live within us and guide us. Wow. 

He didn’t just love us in the past, but He loves us now, and He wants to love us forever!

That’s pretty good news! And it changed me.

Friends, have you seen the Lord? I mean, really seen Him? Have you seen Him working in your life, changing your heart, guiding you in wisdom, transforming your perspective, bringing beauty from ashes? When you do, it changes everything.

He changes everything.

So this Easter, as we gather in our homes with our children, let’s make the most of this opportunity to tell them the Good news. Let’s not just read them a story from a Book (although we should!), but also share the truth of a God who is alive today, who loves them unconditionally and is active in their life. Let’s help them connect the dots between His story and their story, so they too can tell others, “ I have seen the Lord!”

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Easter 2012

In case you’re looking for some ideas, here are a few things the Heath Fam is planning to do over the next few days to celebrate Easter and Holy Week at home:

(Btw, you should know I always have A LOT of ideas… and we usually only do about 20% of them! But I figure 20% is better than 0%, right? #winning)

  • Talk about what was important enough for Jesus to do and say in His last week of life.
  • Thursday morning: Read/discuss how Jesus washed the disciples feet (John 13:3-17) and think of ways our family can serve others, then do it- make cards, give to the Food Pantry, etc.
  • Thursday evening: Remember why they were celebrating Passover Feast (read about Moses and the plagues from a Children’s Bible or watch The Prince of Egypt) and make the connection between Passover & Easter, then read Mark 14:12-26 and take Holy Communion together. Maybe take the kids outside to pray, as Jesus did, for God’s Will to be done here on earth, even when it comes at great cost to us.
  • Friday evening: Recount the events following the Last Supper leading up to Jesus’ death. Maybe watch a reenactment from a Jesus movie? We are hoping to do an informal Good Friday service with our kids using readings from the events preceding the crucifixion and Jesus’ last words from the cross. If we do, I’ll try to video it and share it on Facebook in case it’s helpful to some of you. *Editing to add a link to an on-line Good Friday Service with Chris Tomlin and Max Lucado!
  • Saturday: Discuss how sometimes God is silent and it feels like He’s not working, but it’s only because we can’t see what is happening behind the scenes…
  • Sunday: Time to celebrate!! Lots of ideas:
  • Wake the kids up with some jammin’ praise music!
  • Read about that first Easter morning when Jesus appeared to His friends. 
  • Worship online with our church family (First Redeemer) and… possibly have a cul-de-sac worship service with everyone in their own driveways.
  • For littles, use Resurrection Eggs or make resurrection rolls. 
  • Download The Chosen series and/or watch the Jesus movie from Sights & Sounds theatre.

Your celebration can be simple or extravagant; do whatever works for your family. And feel free to share more ideas in the comments! But don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate Easter like never before. Oh wait…

Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part 3): Crafting Your Teen Technology Contract

CONGRATULATIONS!! If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a milkshake or something! The posts in this series have been quite a bit longer than I usually write, but the information on this topic is just so important, I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it. So thanks for sticking with me! Hopefully, you have found it helpful.

If you are just joining us, this is the last in a three part series on Parenting Teens in a Virtual World. Click HERE to read Part 1 and HERE to read Part 2. This post will make a lot more sense once you have all that information!

Today we’re going to talk about what to include in a teen technology contract. But first, I want to give you three reasons WHY creating and signing a technology contract with your teen is so important. 

  1. First, it makes your family expectations clear up front. It’s hard to argue with something you signed.
  • Second, it makes the consequences clear so they don’t have to be negotiated in the heat of the battle. 
  • And third, it gives you and your teen some accountability to help you both stick to your guidelines.

So now that we all agree on why we want a technology contract, where do we start? 

If you have used the first two parts of this series as conversation starters with your teens, you should have a pretty good idea by now of which boundaries are important to you and what guidelines you want to set in place. 

Just to recap, here are a few things for you to consider:

  • Time limits
  • Privacy settings
  • Approval before making new accounts
  • Parent phone checks and sharing passwords
  • A family charging station
  •  “Turn in/Off-line” times
  • What they may not view or post (bullying, profanity, porn, pics of others without permission)
  • What they may view and post (“Anything your mom, nana, and pastor would approve of”)
  • Social Media breaks (both scheduled and spontaneous)
  • Technology-free zones (ie. No tech in bedrooms, Face-time only in family rooms, etc)
  • What to do when you receive unkind, unwanted, or inappropriate messages
  • Video game restrictions- ratings, content, private chats, time limits
  • Deleting texts, screenshots, etc.

CONSIDER YOUR FAMILY VALUES

Your guidelines should be based on your family values. For instance, our girls are not allowed to post a photo of themselves in a swimsuit unless they clear it with us first. Obviously, this is not a rule most families have, but we feel very strongly about teaching our girls to see themselves as more than just the sum of their “parts,” and this is one of the ways we enforce that value. They also agree to only Face-time with boys in family spaces and not in their bedrooms, which we hope will help them learn to set boundaries in their relationships. You certainly don’t need to copy our guidelines! But I encourage you to create a contract that enforces the values you have spent so many years investing in your kids.

KNOW YOUR TEEN

Know which areas will pose the greatest temptation to your teen and which dangers put them most at risk. Use your contract to provide some accountability and protection for them. Take your responsibilities as their parent to heart; set your boundaries and guidelines accordingly and commit to enforcing them so they know they can count on you. 

DISCUSS APPROPRIATE CONSEQUENCES

No matter how awesome your teen is, there is a good possibility they will break the contract at some point. Don’t freak out- just expect it… and then if they don’t, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! In the meantime, discuss appropriate consequences for various guidelines and include them in your contract. That way, when it comes up, the consequence is easier (okay, less difficult) to enforce because they already agreed to it.

REEVALUATE THE CONTRACT OVER TIME

As your kids get older, they will have either proven themselves trustworthy or untrustworthy. Either case will likely require some adapting of your contract. If they consistently represent themselves well, treat others kindly, and maintain healthy time (and place) restrictions, you may want to honor them by changing or being more flexible with some of your guidelines. Likewise, if they are continually disregarding time limits or other boundaries, you may need to revise the contract with clearer expectations or more effective consequences.  Whatever you do, don’t be like us… we have gradually relaxed our boundaries without ever revisiting our contract and are now finding it difficult to enforce anything because we don’t remember what the contract says!

***ADDRESS PORNOGRAPHY

If you have not talked with your teen (guy or girl) about pornography, do not put a device in their hands until you do. I cannot emphasize this enough!! Your kids WILL see things, hear things, stumble across things, and likely even search for things at some point. It is not a question of IF but WHEN. And once they see it, it will call to them- forbidden things usually do. 

Once you’ve covered the basics and opened the door to conversation, here’s the bottom line you want to communicate: Don’t view it and tell someone if you do. This is super important!!  Bad things grow in the dark… your teen needs to feel safe bringing it into the light. They need to know they will NOT get in trouble if they tell you, it is normal to be curious (even about same gender), and they will likely be tempted to do it again. They will need an accountability partner and you want it to be you, or someone you trust.

I love how Scarymommy.com addresses it in her teen contract: 

“I agree not to view pornography. I understand that sex is a wonderful and healthy part of an adult life, but that pornography is a different thing than sex, and not healthy for a young person (NOTE: I would delete the phrase ‘for a young person’). I understand that I cannot control the images I see once I start looking at a pornography page or video, and those images will never leave my brain, and that can be harmful to my emotional and spiritual health. I agree that if I accidentally stumble across pornography or a friend shows it to me, I will stop watching (NOTE: I would add ‘and tell one of my parents’). I understand that pornography is a complicated reality and that many of the young women and men in the videos that pop up online are hurting and being treated badly. It’s natural to be curious” (but I agree to do what I know is right instead of what I feel like doing.)

Just FYI, I stopped there because she goes on to say that they can make their own choice about viewing pornography when they are a young adult, and I strongly advise against including that. After more than 25 years in ministry of various kinds, Jeff and I have seen way too many lives and marriages damaged and destroyed by pornography addictions. I do not believe it is healthy, respectful, or beneficial to anyone, male or female, young or old. It is harmful to those who are involved in making it, those who watch it, and those in relationships with them.

Moving on, here are some sample contracts to give you ideas:

SAMPLE CONTRACTS:

A Cell Phone Agreement for the Christian Teen

This one by yourmomhasablog.com really focuses on the teen’s heart and relationship with Christ. I love how she includes Scripture to go along with each of the guidelines, and that she calls it an “agreement” versus a contract. Whatever you decide, it is wise to have each point start with “I agree…”

My Teen’s Social Media Contract

The pornography quote from above comes from this contract by scary mommy.com ; it covers a lot of important areas, but has a less spiritual perspective.

A Social Media Contract for Teens and Parents

This contract by Jennifer O’Donnell with verywellfamily.com includes a portion of the contract for parents to agree to and sign, which is fantastic!

Family Media Agreement

This contract by commonsensemedia.org is more generic, but also covers some areas that aren’t mentioned in the others.

Hopefully, this will help you develop your own contract or agreement with your teen and enable you to better navigate this journey into the digital world with them. There is some scary stuff out there, but we don’t have to be afraid! As I mentioned in part two, our best weapon against the enemy is prayer. 

Social media and technology offer a great opportunity for our teens to grow in the areas of kindness, respect, purity, character, integrity, forgiveness, and boldness, among other things. Let’s agree to walk this journey with them- prayerfully, consistently, and with wisdom- and trust the Lord to direct their paths. 

**If this series has been helpful to you or created good conversations in your family, will you please share that with me, either in the comments or in a private message? I’d love to hear about it! Thanks for stopping by!

Ode to the Science Fair

It is the year 2020. The coronavirus has taken over the world.

School is cancelled. Church is cancelled. Birthday parties and weddings and doctor appointments- all cancelled.

You know what isn’t cancelled?

Science Fair Projects.

Yep, some of you are out there scrounging for toilet paper, but not us! No, the Heath Fam is over here scrounging up construction paper and taping together poster board. While you are loading your cart with chicken breasts and Clorox wipes, ours is filled with an assortment of baby foods, citrus fruits, jellybeans, spinach leaves, and baking soda. 

Did you send your husband to the hardware store to buy materials for all the home improvement projects you plan to do while you’re under quarantine? Awesome! I sent mine there, too- to purchase three varieties of light bulbs in order to simulate the process of photosynthesis on the above mentioned spinach leaves. 

And you want to make masks for the doctors and nurses at your local hospital? I love that idea! Bless you. Hey, when you stop by JoAnn’s to pick up your fabric, would you mind grabbing me some markers and tape and a bandana we can use for a blindfold? (The display board is worth 30 points after all!)

Oh, I saw that sweet video you posted of your daughter’s sidewalk art and your son’s new song! Did he really teach himself to play the guitar in 3 days from a YouTube video? What a gift to have enough free time to be creative. 

We have actually spent a lot of free time being creative around here, too! It only took us two hours to design an “easel” that could hold the appropriate sized tri-fold board in proper view of the computer for a Zoom presentation. The lighting was a little trickier, but hey- what a great opportunity to learn a new life skill! And on top of that, I have a whole slew of innovative new words to describe my feelings about the Science Fair! But I probably shouldn’t share those here…

So, friends, you go ahead and enjoy binge-watching on Netflix and making creative meals out of your freezer. Be sure to practice “social distancing” with your neighbors and enjoy the great outdoors. Get take-out from a local restaurant and plan a family game night; make the most of this time, for sure! 

Don’t mind us. 

We’ll just be over here working on our Science Fair Projects.

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(Now, y’all don’t go hating on our teachers or our school… we love them and really do understand their decision to continue on with the Science Fair projects! I just personally happen to HATE the Science Fair, and couldn’t miss the opportunity to seize the irony that out of all the things that have been cancelled, THIS could not be one of them! LOL! Oh well, such is life. We are finished, actually; and we have had plenty of time for family game nights and baking cookies along the way, I promise!)

Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part 2): Guidelines for Staying Safe, Steady, and Sane On-line

(Note: This is the second post in a three-part series on parenting teens in a virtual world. Click here for the first post on 8 things you can do before giving your teen access to social media. The next post will be about developing a Technology Contract with your teens.)

Do you remember what it was like when you were having your first baby? If you were anything like me, you read all the books and talked to all the people and bought all the stuff, because that’s what good parents did. But the reality was, we had no clue what we were doing! 

I will never forget the first night we brought Sarah home from the hospital. She was screaming her little head off and then doing this weird gagging thing, like a cat with a hairball. As her face turned purple, we panicked and called the nurse line, and all I could think was, “How in the world am I supposed to keep this little person alive?!” 

Parenting teens in the technology age can feel a lot like that.

It’s scary and dangerous and there are so many unknowns. It can be hard to know where to start and even harder to control. We want to protect our children and give them independence at the same time, all without causing World War III in our homes. Is that even possible?

In Part 1 of this series, we covered some things you can do before your teens enter the digital world (you can read about that here). Today I want to share some things we have learned as we’ve navigated this challenge with our teen girls over the past few years. Much of this wisdom was passed down to us from people much wiser than we are. Some of it we have figured out on our own, and some of it we are still trying to implement. 

Notice the phone in her hand!!

Please do not think we have mastered any of this! On any given day (including today), you will find us either confronting or ignoring any number of these suggestions in our own home. We have loosened our boundaries in certain areas where our girls have proven themselves trustworthy (and also, let’s be honest, where we have gotten lazy), but many of these things really are essential for the well-being of our teens. 

So I encourage you to read through this and discuss these suggestions with your teen. Hopefully this conversation will help you as you develop boundaries and expectations for your family and put together your Technology Contract (more on that in Part 3!).

The following bullet points are written as though addressing your teen; there are some additional details in the talking points section directed towards parents. This is obviously not exhaustive- feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comments!

SAFE: (Safety/Privacy)

Keep all maps & locations turned off. Always keep your privacy settings as private as possible.

Never give out (or post anything which will give out) private information, such as your full name, age, address, phone #’s, school or activity locations, etc.

Only “friend” and “follow” people you know personally very well.  Ask permission before following famous people, etc. Be careful about who you are allowing to influence you!

Never block your parents from seeing any of your posts.  If you feel the need to block them (other than for a surprise party!), chances are you shouldn’t be doing it.

NEVER agree to meet someone in person without your parents knowledge, even people you think you know well. Online traffickers are sneaky and manipulative; it just isn’t worth the risk. 

STEADY: (Integrity/Accountability)

Always ask people’s permission before you post a photo of them or tag them in a photo.

Before you post anything, stop and THINK: Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind?  If not, don’t post it! And don’t post anything your parents, grandparents, siblings, and youth pastor would not approve of. This includes profanity, bullying, humor at someone else’s expense, naked or “sexy” pics, etc.

If you see something inappropriate, tell your parents immediately, and DO NOT DELETE/UNFOLLOW/ETC it until your parents have seen it.  This includes negative comments, images, bullying, and more.  Please care more about doing the right thing than protecting your friends. (NOTE: Most teens don’t know you can be held legally responsible for images you receive that are not reported, not just what you send.)

Keep an updated list of all your accounts and passwords where your parents can access it. Understand that having your parents “follow” you and occasionally check your phone provides some accountability to keep you safe and help you make wise choices. 

Stay away from temptation. Don’t use the “Search” and “For You” features unless you are looking for someone specific. Don’t Facetime from your bedroom. The Bible cautions us again and again to flee temptation for good reason; just stay away.  And if (or when) you do accidentally see something you shouldn’t, tell a parent or trusted adult. It may seem like it’s no big deal, but trust me- bad things grow in the dark. Bringing it into the light will help you process your feelings and provide some accountability. 

Remember Social Media can be used for “good or evil”… be the one who uses it for good! Make the most of your opportunity to be a Light in a world that needs hope.

Sane: (Stress/Emotional Health)

Have a central charging station (not in bedrooms) where all family members, including parents, charge their phones overnight. Set a time (9pm?) for all phones and devices to be put away each night.

Limit your platforms. The temptation is to do all the things, but no one can really manage more than one or two platforms well anyway.  Choose one or two which are most useful to you and keep it at that. 

Limit your technology time. It is so easy to get sucked into the digital vortex, where 20 minutes somehow turns into 2 hours! We need time and space to rest, to be creative, and to connect with physical people. Decide now how much of your time you are willing to give away to your phone or video games, and set restrictions to hold yourself accountable.

Don’t confuse important with urgent. You don’t have to immediately answer every text/snap/DM, join every game request, or reply to every comment (even if it shows that you read it). Nor should you expect others to be at your beckon call. Respect yourself and your friends enough to give each other space without constantly taking things personally.

It’s okay to stay silent. You don’t have to tell the whole world how mad you are or how much that person hurt you. You don’t have to confront every lie or engage in every argument. Learning when to speak and when to stay silent is an important life skill- social media offers a great opportunity to develop discernment.

Know when to step away. Social media and technology affect everyone differently; if you feel stressed, angry, or sad and you don’t really know why, try getting offline for a few days. The constant comparison and desire for “likes,” “followers,” “wins,” or “kills” can create pressure without you even realizing it. Stepping away for awhile gives you a chance to breathe and reset yourself. Do this occasionally, even when you don’t feel like it is necessary, just to make sure you are mastering it instead of letting it master you. 

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Here are some additional talking points for parents, explaining some of these guidelines in  more detail. If all of this is new to you, take a few minutes and read through the rest of this.

Talking Points for Parents

  • Our girls started with Facebook. Since it is a platform used mostly by adults, it helped them learn not to post anything they wouldn’t want their parents, their friends’ parents, youth pastor, etc. reading. It also gave them a safe place to get their feet wet without embarrassing themselves with nerdy posts, etc. This is especially true if they are gaining access during their middle school years. My girls look back at some of the things they posted when they were 14 and are mortified (and grateful it was on FB and not Instagram where all their friends would have seen it! Ha!)
  • Encourage them to use their platform for good. There are so many ways they can be a LIGHT: texting friends who are struggling, sharing verses or encouraging posts about what the Lord is teaching them, making sure their words are kind and uplifting, confronting false ideology in love with Truth, etc. Make sure you notice when you see them doing this and encourage them!
  • Keep an eye on their followers and the people they follow. If you take the time to show them how easy it is to gather information on people with a public account, they should not argue too much on this point. But teens often feel like a friend of a friend isn’t really a stranger, and neither is that guy or girl they talked to for 3 minutes at their theater competition or baseball tournament. The people they follow have a voice in their life (this includes the “famous” people they follow). This is a great opportunity to talk about choosing wisely who we allow to influence us.
  • Hold them accountable. Just knowing their parents are going to see what they post (and what their friends comment) will provide a level accountability which helps keep them out of trouble. Require them to give you all their passwords; “like” their posts and talk to them about what they’re doing so they know you’re paying attention. 
  • Our kids know that we will both follow them on social media AND monitor their social media and texting activity from their phones. THIS IS ESSENTIAL. I don’t care how great your kid is or how much they love Jesus, follow rules, etc. It is imperative that you check on them occasionally. There is no such thing as a perfect kid, and there are all kinds of things that happen that are difficult for them to talk to us about. They need us to walk alongside them in this journey.
  • ***NOTEThis is not an opportunity for you to spy on your kid or learn all their secrets. It is more about scanning to make sure you’re not missing anything… are there signs that they are depressed or anxious, lying to their friends or you, being bullied or bullying others, etc.? And if you find something, try not to freak out! We have had to have multiple conversations with our daughters about things that we have found, and it has rarely been as bad as it seemed. Take time to pray about it before your confront anything. Often you can approach it in a way that doesn’t relate back to their phone; just bringing up the topic creates an opportunity for them to share what is going on. We need to choose our battles wisely. If we are constantly confronting them with things they post and text, it is likely they will eventually shut us out and hide their online activity from us. That is definitely not what we’re going for.
  • Limit their platforms. Seriously, as an adult I have a difficult time monitoring how much time I spend on social media. This is an even greater challenge for teens! They don’t need access to everything. Help them determine which one or two apps will best serve their purpose and limit it to that. Snapchat is extremely difficult for parents to monitor, so I don’t suggest starting with it. We showed our girls an article interviewing the creators of Snapchat in which they share how they created the app for the sole purpose of “sexting.” This was eye-opening to our girls and helped them understand why it was not something we wanted them to use. Our oldest daughter does have it now, but that came after several years of earning our trust in how she handles herself online and in real life. She shares her snaps with us… mostly they just send each other pics of half their face or with the camera looking up their nose. Not sure why that’s fun, but apparently it is…
  • Help them recognize when their connectivity is stressing them out and let them know it’s okay to step back for awhile (or for good). Some people cannot handle the constant comparison to other people’s lives or the pressure that comes with waiting for “likes.” They might find themselves feeling anxious or left out or angry; they may start being tempted to do things they don’t want to do or become someone they are not in order to fit in. If so, they need to step back. One of our girls would bring us her phone on her own every few weeks and ask us to keep it for a few days so she could have a break. She knew she needed a break, but she also knew she wasn’t strong enough to step back on her own. 
  • Beware of the Search Feature: the “Search” feature is one of the most dangerous parts of Social Media. A friend told me this was the reason her boys wouldn’t ever have Instagram, so we checked it out… within the first five minutes we saw a man expose himself, as well as a college-age girl “vlogging” in her car, who then ended up masturbating on camera! WHAT???? So we basically just explained to our girls the kinds of things they would see, that they couldn’t “un-see” those things, and that our expectation was for them to not use the Search feature (or videos/people you might like, etc) unless they were searching for a specific friend. Protective software (like Covenant Eyes) does not monitor inside apps, btw, so we basically just had to trust them. Again, we know them well enough to know that they would not really be interested in that, just like they are not interested in viewing the trash on Tik-Tok. But we still monitor and try to keep on top of whatever they ARE watching.
  • Parents, we must follow through! If we say we are going to follow their accounts or check their devices, we must actively do so. If they agree to set time limits, we must enforce them. Our teens have enough friends; they need us to be the parents!

Above all, pray. Pray for your teens- for their protection, their safety, their purity, their influence, their relationship with you, their friends, and their relationship with God. Ask the Lord to reveal anything hidden that needs to be brought into the light, and to prompt your heart when something isn’t right. Every single time I have found something in our girls’ digital life that needed addressing has been a direct result of a prompting from the Holy Spirit. Of all the things we do, prayer is the most effective tool we have in navigating these digital waters with our teens.

Do you have anything to add (to this very long post!!)? Feel free to comment! And click HERE for Part 3 on developing a Technology Contract with your teens…

Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part One): 8 Things to Do Before You Give Your Teen Access to Social Media

A sweet friend recently asked me for some advice about how to introduce her 16 year old daughter to the world of social media. Yes, you read that right- her daughter is 16 and does not have social media. Obviously, I should be asking my friend for parenting advice!

But it got me thinking about things we’ve done both right and wrong when it comes to technology use in our family. I am going to break this topic into three different blog posts since there is so much information to cover. In this first one, I will share eight things we did before we ever gave our teens access to social media. Consider this the foundation that everything else is built on. The second post will cover how to navigate the various issues that come along with social media (click here to read Part 2), and the last post will be about things to include in your social media contract (click here for Part 3).

Jeff and I spent countless hours reading articles and talking to friends with older children before our teens ever entered the virtual world. We took our responsibility as parents seriously- and that is where I think we need to start when discussing this topic.

YOU are the parent.

You ARE the parent.

You are the PARENT!

Whichever word you want to emphasize, the fact remains that you are the parent and it is your responsibility to guide and protect your teen through the virtual world. Surely you would not drop them off in a strip joint or at a club with a bunch of strange adults and assume they could handle themselves. (If you would, you can stop reading now because you are not going to like anything I have to say!

That sounds ludicrous to most of us, and yet those are some of dangers- among many- that await our teens in the virtual world. If we pretend they don’t exist, we are putting our head in the sand and our teenagers in danger. This is not an area in which we can afford to shirk responsibility. If your teen wants social media, please, PLEASE commit to being involved, setting limits, watching things you don’t want to watch, keeping communication open, and saying no when necessary. Your teen needs you, even if they won’t admit it. Your role is so important!

Also, I should be honest with you. If it were up to me, our kids would never have gotten phones or texting or social media. Ever. Between the danger and drama and addiction, I would have been happy to pick us all up and move to the Amish country. Fortunately for our kids, Jeff is way cooler than I am, and he was able to convince me that technology- and social media- are likely going to be a part of their lives forever. 

“We have a choice,” he told me. “We can deny them access now and risk them sneaking it behind our backs or having to figure it out on their own in a college atmosphere, or we can choose to navigate this road alongside them, allowing them to make their mistakes with us by their side to guide them, and if necessary, protect them.”

Yeah, I married a good man. I think I’ll keep him.

So anyway, here are eight things we recommend you do BEFORE you give your teen access to social media:

1. WAIT until they are 13… and then wait a little longer.

This is by far the number one suggestion experienced parents give, and many older teens actually agree- delay it as long as you can! Almost all social media platforms require users to be at least thirteen to set up an account, and there are reasons for this. The virtual world has the potential to expose your child to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges that require great maturity, integrity, and self-control. The older they are when they face these challenges, the less at risk they will be and the more likely they will be to avoid them altogether. 

One friend shared that, of her three children, “the one who waited the longest (before getting social media) is the one with the least amount of social anxiety.” This, by far, is the best thing you can do to protect your teen.  Care about them enough to say NO and wait until they are really ready for what they are getting into.

2. Look at their TIME.  

Since our girls were among the last of their friends to get access to social media, one of the best things we did was talk about how they saw it impacting those around them. Social media seems so glamorous from the outside, and it is easy to feel excluded, like they are the only one who doesn’t have it (validate those feelings; they are very real!). However, if your teen looks a little closer, they will notice how much TIME their friends spend on their phones and how quickly they stop actually talking to one another. Staring at a screen together is not the same as experiencing LIFE together. Use this time before your teen is on social media to help them notice what others are missing out on.

One of my 12th grade small group girls gave up social media over six months ago as part of a challenge by our student pastor. She shared with me that it was surprisingly freeing to let it go- she was less stressed, happier, and suddenly found herself with a lot of free time. The hardest part was actually being around her friends because even when they were all together, she often had no one to talk to since they were all on their phones. It’s ironic that the thing they desperately want in order to connect with friends often keeps them from doing just that.

This probably is not going to stop your teen from becoming attached to his screen, but it might delay it and make it easier for you to step in and reestablish boundaries when he gets out of control. After all, it is always easier to see things in other people than it is to recognize them in ourselves. Having this conversation now will give you something to refer back to down the road.

3. Find out their WHY. 

Talk with them about why they want social media. What are they hoping to get out of it? How do they see themselves using it? What are their expectations and fears? What boundaries do they think are reasonable and important and why? Having this conversation will help you both better understand what areas may create temptations and where to set boundaries. 

As a parent, pay careful attention to their why. The biggest lie of social media is that our worth is connected to what other people think of us. We must constantly, continually, lovingly remind our kids that they are more than the sum of their parts or the sum of their “likes.” Their worth lies in their identity as a child of God and nowhere else. Our teens WILL get sucked into this trap without even realizing it. It is up to us to stand guard, watching for the enemy’s lies, whispering (and sometimes shouting) Truth to our kids. Their “why” helps us know where their insecurities are so we can help guard against them.

4. Show them the Dangers. 

One of the most impactful things we did was to spend 15-20 minutes on several different occasions showing them how easy it is for strangers (and future employers, etc) to gain information about us through social media.                   

  • I started with a “friend” who had private settings, and we scrolled through her posts, pointing out information she was unknowingly giving- where she works, where her kids go to school (based on a sign in the background or a logo on their shirt), what time she picked them up (from the time stamp on a carpool post), what restaurants she liked to eat at (from “locations” or a photo), what her hobbies are, etc. I made a list of what we had learned in 5 minutes and we talked about how easy it is to accidentally give away information we are trying intentionally not to post. 
  • Next, I clicked on a “friend of a friend” (who I didn’t know) and showed them how different privacy settings either allowed or restricted me, as a stranger, access to their information. I chose someone with public settings and we made a list of how much information I was able to gather in 5 minutes just from what they were posting. It was pretty eye opening for all of us! 
  • We also used this as a tool to show how what you post can lead to certain impressions of yourself and why it’s important to be careful. I pulled up profiles of different people they don’t know and asked them to tell me how they perceived them based on the photos they posted. I intentionally picked some of my friends who post selfies of workout pics or suggestive poses so they could see what it really looks like when they don’t actually know the person (I found this didn’t work as well with their friends- they were quick to defend them and see it as attractive and trendy rather than desperate). We looked at photos of married friends who post as though they are single and talked about what impression they are giving off. We looked at teens who shared “emotional” or “rebellious” posts and discussed how that made them a target for predators. 
  • We looked at posts from some of our high school and college-age friends who were using profanity, complaining about a job or teacher, or sharing “funny” (but offensive) memes. We discussed how that might hurt someone’s feelings or affect them being offered a scholarship or a job one day when someone checks their social media to help determine their character. Sure, they were just posting for their “friends,” but what were their posts really conveying? A picture paints a thousand words…
  • If you have Snapchat, it’s great to show them how you can take a screenshot of a “snap” before it disappears, making it no longer “temporary.” If they already have a phone, select an embarrassing photo or scroll through their private texts and screenshot something “personal” they sent (or use yourself as an example), and show them how nothing they send is ever really private or personal. This is a great way to help them see why it is so important not to post or send anything they don’t want the whole world to see. They will forget this lesson (don’t we all?), but it still lays a good foundation.
  • It is also important to address the issue of porn, which unfortunately is prevalent and easily accessible through social media. It will only take you about five minutes using the “Search” tool on Instagram to get an eyeful of things you can’t un-see (and it’s likely some of their friends will post inappropriate things as well). We’ll address this more in the next post, but it must be included here, especially if you have a boy. I don’t recommend actually showing them images, as that just invites temptation. But don’t avoid the topic, either. They need to know they likely WILL encounter it and what to do when that happens, as well as specific ways they can limit their exposure.
  • As I mentioned, we did this on a few different occasions and it definitely made a greater impact than any lectures we gave them about being safe and cautious online. 

5. Talk about HOW.  

What will social media look like in your family? How do they want to represent themselves? How can they use their “voice” for good? How can they avoid attracting unwanted attention? How should they handle it if they receive an inappropriate message or a friend posts something that makes them concerned? How can they keep themselves from growing attached to their phone or drawing their worth from their followers? How can they know when they need to step back?

6. Work on Communication. 

Actually, all of these ideas lay the foundation for great communication! Doing this before they get social media will help you be able to better guide and protect them as they navigate this new virtual world. Be intentional about keeping this communication open- which may mean watching a bunch of stupid videos or making a fool of yourself doing tik-tok videos with them- but it is well worth it! Whatever it takes to keep the lines of communication open, just do it! This is your most valuable tool.

7. Discuss Guidelines and Boundaries. 

Be specific. It is important for your teen to understand that the guidelines and boundaries you put in place are for their good and because you love them. Hopefully you have some of these same boundaries in place for yourself- that will make it a little less painful! In any case, it is extremely important to have boundaries set in place before they begin using social media.  You will use these guidelines to form the basis of your social media/technology contract. We will cover this and suggestions for the contract in the third part of this blog series.

8. Sign a contract. 

Have them sign a contract and be part of choosing the consequences (in advance) if they break their word. There should also be expectations for you- what you agree to do to keep them safe, how you agree to not overreact if they come to you for help, etc. The contract is not an attempt to control them or punish them; it is created for their protection and benefit. It should be signed by both of you and kept somewhere where you both can see it (we put it in a file, and I find myself not enforcing things because I can’t remember what the contract said!).

Hopefully this gives you some things to start thinking about. Feel free to share any other ideas in the comments!

Ready for the next step? Click here for Part 2: Guidelines for Staying Safe, Steady, and Sane On-line!