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Parents today face challenges that their parents or grandparents would never have dreamed of. Let me be clear: the world is not worse than it has ever been, but the challenges of today are certainly different from those twenty-five years ago. I never would have dreamed, even though my children were born in the days of the ubiquitous home computer, that grade-school children would walk around with a device that would give them access to virtually everything (good and bad) without their parents’ knowledge. To watch video content, my children had to get permission to put in a VCR tape. To talk to their friends, they had to use the family phone or have Mom drive them to a friend’s house. No longer are these things true—and many parents are now rightly concerned about how they can cultivate and encourage godliness in their children in the midst of a loud, 24/7 social media in an electronic age.

There is no denying it—social media in its various forms has taken over our society. Real, physical friendships are cast into the background as “virtual” relationships take center stage. Most of the children in America get their information, opinions, and even values from TikTok and Instagram (yes, Facebook and X are for old fuddy-duddies like me). Viral videos, memes, and pictures shape the way that children view the world. And this is not simply a matter of misinformation or wasting time. Parents can be terrified of stories about children’s viewing the worst of images and material with the mere tap of a finger. Social media is filled with sexual images, messages of hatred and cruelty, and calls to rebel against authority. It is no longer necessary for children to wander out into a hostile world to come under attack—the world floods into our homes every day.

The first instinct of parents is to try to protect our children by closing the portal through which such material comes to them. Many parents delay giving phones and other devices to their children. Others set up sophisticated filters on home networks and place computers in a visible, open area of the home. These can be wise and helpful guardrails for children. But we should not mistake that for a complete solution. It has become impossible to shut the social media world out. Even if your child does not have a smartphone, it is likely that a friend of his does. You may not permit your child to be online, but his school, library, and friends’ homes do. As my children grew and got married, they regaled me with stories of how they had gone around the internet filters that I had so painstakingly installed and established. Thankfully, their technological hijinks were used to play rather tame video games instead of viewing more sinister things.

The world of social media is in a sense much like the “real” world—we cannot rely simply on blockading the door. Just as we cannot encourage godly thinking and behavior in our children by banning every mention of sin, we cannot make our children godly by attempting to keep them ignorant.

The safest course of action when tempted by the siren songs on social media is to flee temptation.

What can parents do to cultivate godliness in their children? What magic formula can I offer? The answer, in short, is nothing new. The Scriptures point us to follow the ways of the Lord that He has established: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16). Our hope for our children and their growth in grace is what it has always been: teaching them the Word of God and strengthening them to resist temptation. It is important that both of these truths be emphasized; it is also important that they be applied in a biblical order.

So often, we parents want to begin with telling our children what is wrong and how to avoid error. But just as Secret Service agents are equipped to spot counterfeit money by studying exactly what real money looks like, so children are equipped to resist the evil that is becoming more and more prevalent today by studying, memorizing, and living out God’s truth and commands in His Word. The ancient path of Deuteronomy 6 is an antidote to the self-centered, pessimistic, denigrating worldview of social media. Our children need to know that the Lord is God, and that He is our God (Deut. 6:4). Such knowledge vaccinates us against the lies of social media that we are self-important, that “likes” are the standard of value, and that we must craft a “perfect” social media profile to be loved. The truth of who God is, His great love for us, and His mercy and grace need to be our message to our children all day long. Parents must engage their children with God’s Word while sitting, standing, and walking (Deut. 6:7). Now more than ever, parents need to talk with and listen to their children. How will they know what God desires for their lives unless we teach them? How will they see through the falsehoods on social media platforms unless they see the beauty of God’s truth?

Second, parents must teach their children that their safest course of action when tempted by the siren songs on social media is to flee temptation. The example of Joseph should guide our children when they are confronted with calls to rebel against the Lord and seek their own way. The Apostle Paul tells us over and over again to flee sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), idolatry (10:14), and youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:22). This gives us great confidence and hope—we do not need to invent a catchy, newfangled method to rescue our children from the ills of the social media age. Instead, let us seek the old paths that the Lord has put before us and trust that by His Spirit He will form Christ in our children, allowing them to redeem their time.

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From the July 2024 Issue
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