by Virginia Forste
Now that school has started back this fall, it harkens me back to my teaching days. I still get really excited by sharpened pencils, shiny new folders, and bright crayons. Although my class did all the “right” things: Creating a class contract of the rules; practicing being kind; and rehearsing appropriate ways to respond to unkind people, disrespectful speech seemed to be the unsolvable problem. And it often happened in places that were not patrolled by adults, such as the bathroom and the school bus. Now, that’s even more the case as kids spend much of their day online completing homework, gaming, or socializing.
It is somewhat comforting to remind myself that rudeness has been around since the dawn of time. There is a pretty humorous example of this in the Bible in 2 Kings chapter two. Elijah the prophet had just passed on the spiritual baton to Elisha, who traveled from Jericho to Bethel. On the way some hooligans (more than 42 children!) mocked Elisha, calling him a “baldhead.” In a satisfying end to the story, Elisha called two bears out of the woods to eat the boys. Moral of the story: Watch your mouth, or you might end up being a bear’s dinner!
“I Triple Dog Dare Ya!”
As with money and food, the Internet is simply a tool. It was invented to make our lives easier. We can use the Internet to find a great recipe, create travel plans, meet a special someone, and start a business. Unfortunately, we can also use this tool to make people feel inferior, get them in trouble, and harass them for the sole purpose of entertainment. Our culture commonly uses a term that describes someone being rude on the Internet. According to Wikipedia, “a troll is a person who posts inflammatory, insincere, digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog), with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses, or manipulating others’ perception.” Dehumanizing a person is easier when there is distance and anonymity involved. In 2004, psychologist John Suler invented the term “online disinhibition effect.” That’s a fancy term that means people tend to act more aggressively online than when they are face-to-face with their listener. You’ve probably noticed this behavior in all social media platforms. Sadly, this is a common occurrence today.
If Jesus had an Instagram account, I bet there would be a lot of sunset pictures with #nofilter and #thatsmyFather. I do not believe Jesus would shy away from controversial topics online. However, his motives would be pure. Our motives are key to what and why we post. Jesus talked about many controversial topics including us ingesting his body and blood (ewwww, if we took that literally), and hating our parents. These Scripture verses can be pretty shocking—especially when taken out of context. Jesus’ motive for everything he said was to glorify his Father and protect his flock. He did not defend himself as he was being crucified. Wouldn’t we agree that he had this right, above any person on Earth? And yet he did not. He knew his resurrection would speak for itself.
Be a Social Media Superhero
Kids and teens today do not need more rules for social media. They need to see better examples of its usage. Here are three ways you can provide such an example:
- Post as if Nana were watching
There are many things Nana might not approve of. Even if you delete that slightly salacious comment you made back in 2002, people today are quick to judge you based on a comment you made in the ignorance of your 20s. The Internet is forever, and your unflattering posts will find you. No one wants to kill a future opportunity through a careless comment in the present. Wise King Solomon reminds us to closely guard our reputation in Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” (ESV).
- Phone a friend
American writer Ambrose Bierce once said, “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” No need to rail online at some policy, post, or person you disagree with. Responding negatively or aggressively will only escalate the situation. This will sound crazy, but I want you to pick up your phone. Next, find a friend in your contacts list and press the phone icon. No, we’re not texting. We are actually going to use our voice to talk to a friend. Radical, right? Your friend understands your perspective based on your background; an anonymous stranger does not. Bonus: you won’t leave a paper trail. The beauty of the online world is that you can choose whom you interact with. Even the Bible recommends this method in Proverbs 13:3: “The one who guards his mouth [thinking before he speaks] protects his life; the one who opens his lips wide [and chatters without thinking] comes to ruin” (AMP). Don’t waste your 140 characters on negativity and insults.
- Don’t respond
Proverbs 17:28 wisely instructs us, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (ESV). Save sensitive topics for in-person conversations. Our role as believers is to engage and inspire others. In Colossians 4:6, the apostle Paul encourages us to use conversation that is “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (NIV).
You can set the proper tone for your kids or grandkids by the way you respond on social media. Like so many other areas in our lives, this is more “caught than taught.” Which of these strategies can you implement this week to be a social media superhero?
Virginia Forste is a former elementary teacher. She is excited to be involved in the Moms’ Group at Christ’s Church in Mason, Ohio.