A Christian Teen’s Guide to Social Media
See what the Bible says about how we can use social media to the glory of God
Pretty much every teenager is on social media – and that includes Christians!
Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, which means a lot of the time our parents and even older youth leaders just don’t really understand the digital landscape where teens hang out.
That means it can be hard to figure out how, as Christians, we can best use social media to the glory of God.
In this Christian Teen’s Guide, we’ll take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of social media – and how we can wisely use it.
What does the Bible say about social media?
Hmm… nothing! Social media was still thousands of years away from being invented when the Bible was written.
But as always, there’s a lot in the Bible that we can look at that helps us understand how Christians use social media – because ultimately, social media is just that: social and media!
Friendship in the Bible
Social media is first and foremost about growing relationships online. Whether it’s effective at that or not is up for debate – but the Bible definitely has a lot to say about what it means to be a good friend.
The Bible tells us that we should seek to build friendships that…
- Are as close and strong as having a brother or sister (Proverbs 18:24)
- Are with wise people (Proverbs 13:20)
- Are sacrificial and loving (John 15:13)
- Help us to grow (Proverbs 27:17)
- Will endure through hard times (Proverbs 17:17)
- Are wary of bad influences (Proverbs 22:24-25)
- Allow us to help each other (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Throughout the Bible, countless examples of friendship teach us that our relationships with our friends ought to be other-person centred, loving, and committed.
Media in the Bible
When the Bible was written, they didn’t have social media – and they didn’t even really have newspapers!
But they did have people who wrote messages that were distributed around the towns. They had art. They had entertainment in the form of music and performances.
So there is definitely a lot in the Bible about what sort of media Christians should engage with – whether it’s social media, or other media like TV, movies, journalism, the Internet more broadly, magazines and more.
The Bible tells us that we should engage with media that…
- Is true, honourable, pure, and lovely (Philippians 4:8)
- Helps us to be thankful (Ephesians 5:19-20)
- Exposes and rebukes sin (Ephesians 5:11)
- Where possible, spreads the gospel (Isaiah 52:7)
- Is legal in our country and state (Romans 13:1-2)
And we would do well to steer clear of media that…
- Is deceptive (1 Corinthians 15:33)
- Is worthless (Psalm 101:3)
- Is evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
- Is full of gossip or lies (James 3:5-11)
- Causes us to be discontent (1 John 2:15-17)
- Causes us to sin (Mark 9:43-47)
- Is unhelpful for us personally, even if it’s fine for others (1 Corinthians 6:12-13)
- Is sexually immoral (Ephesians 5:3)
- Tears others down (Ephesians 4:29)
Let’s get practical
Now that we’ve drawn out some biblical principles related to friendship and media, how can we apply this to our modern world? Well let’s take a look at some of the top social media networks and see if we can figure out how best to use them.
Instagram is probably the most popular social network for teens – but it has a major problem.
As Faith Siler explains, on Instagram “We edit, whiten, clip, crop, and completely alter our pictures and captions so that we seem more interesting than someone else, just so that we can stay in the contest that we all subconsciously participate in, comparing our lives to one another. All the while, our hearts begging others to not reject us online, because if all our perfect friends knew how broken and imperfect our lives really were, they would banish us from the contest.
We spend so much time focusing on fleeting things like our hair, our clothes, our academic or athletic successes, etc. Instead, we should be focusing on how to be better at loving, better at sharing, better at being kind and respectful to one another. Comparison is one of the biggest ways that our enemy tries to take us off of the path that God has laid out for us.”
Remember the guideline above – we need to be careful of media that causes us to be discontent. Instagram can be great for enjoying beautiful images that help us to be thankful, but we definitely need to be careful that it doesn’t make is discontent.
Snapchat is designed to be tons of fun, with hilarious filters and features that game-ify social interaction.
But Snapchat has a bit of complicated reputation, because people often use the platform, which automatically deletes images, to send explicit photos to each other.
This is obviously wrong – but there are other pitfalls of Snapchat too.
As Gerald Koh explains, “There is a possibility that anyone could become hooked on the ‘selfie culture’ mentality by spending too much time on Snapchat. It can lead to the trap of placing too much emphasis on what others think you, rather than what God thinks of you.
For example, a guy could start streaks with numerous girls simply to feel good about himself, rather than to build meaningful relationships. Girls could get caught up in sending pictures of themselves in a vain attempt to convince others of how pretty or attractive they are. It can even lead to the sending of sexual pictures, which has the potential to do significant long-term damage.
As Christians, we must reject such a mindset from permeating our lifestyles. The glorious truth that our sense of worth is not found in achievement or other people’s opinions, but in Christ, should motivate us to chase after God’s will rather than a transitory social reputation or temporary feelings of self-worth.”
Facebook is becoming less popular with younger generations, but it is still one of the most use social networks in the world, so we’ll take a quick look at it.
Facebook is ideal for staying in touch with friends, and it has great features for things like organising events and creating groups to talk about shared interests.
Facebook obviously has the same comparison dangers of Instagram, but it has another major downfall – it can be a platform of great division.
Many people like to use Facebook to get into heated arguments – including theological arguments – and to push their ideas to their friends in unloving ways.
But as Lachlan Anderson points out, “The Apostle Paul says that we should “do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14), and Jesus himself exhorts us to show God’s love in our sinful world so that people might know we are his disciples (John 13:34-36).
Keep your use of social media positive and loving, people will notice your outlook and see the effects of God’s grace in your life.”
Think very carefully before you engage in arguments on social media or post something controversial – the whole world is watching and if you’re public about your faith, they will draw conclusions about Jesus based on what you do.
Twitter is an interesting network, because people tend to follow and be followed by lots of strangers, as opposed to Facebook where you tend to concentrate on connecting with those you also know in real life.
On Twitter, many users tend to feel they can hide behind their handles and get away with posting content that is far ruder or confrontational than they would actually say in real life. This also happens on other social platforms including Facebook and Instagram, but it seems particularly prevalent on Twitter.
Remember that even if others can’t identify who you are, or you’re not standing face to face with another person, your words still have impact. Words can really hurt others, and we need to be aware of the effect that our online behaviour has.
Even celebrities admit to feeling hurt and ashamed as a result of unkind anonymous comments on social media!
While social media is about relationships, it’s nowhere near as real as having a real-life conversations with a friend.
You cannot ever replace true friendship with online interaction, and it’s really important as a young person to learn how to build relationships offline.
Try spending a week without social media, engaging with your friends in other ways. Keep your phone in your locker at school and practice interacting without just sharing memes and talking about each other’s Instagram photos. And maybe even consider deleting your accounts if you’re finding that your real-life relationships aren’t as deep as you’d like. Then you’ll be forced to interact offline!
IMPORTANT: Follow the rules
As Christians it’s important that we respect the laws and rules that govern the use of social media sites. That means if you’re under 13 (on most sites) you shouldn’t be using social media.
Even if you’re over 13, it’s probably best that you seek parental permission before jumping online, because of the risks that can come with exposing your identity in the digital space.
Questions to think about
- What social media do you use?
- What do you think is good about social media?
- What is bad about social media?
- Does social media ever cause you to sin? Does it ever make you feel discontent? Does it ever pull you away from real relationships with God and your friends?
- How can you manage your social media use so that it doesn’t negatively impact your life?