If you go by the popular stereotypes, a teen who doesn’t use social media ranks somewhere between dragons and world peace among concepts that would be awesome if real, but are most likely nothing more than a fantasy. Generally speaking, that assessment isn’t far off. The Pew Research Center reports that ninety-two percent of American teenagers go online daily and twenty-four percent claim to be on their devices “almost constantly.” Seventy-one percent use Facebook, roughly fifty percent use Instagram, and forty-one percent are on Snapchat. Pew found that a normal teen has 145 Facebook friends and 150 Instagram followers.
However, as The Wall Street Journal’s Christine Rosen writes, there are a surprising number of young people that have chosen to focus on the real world rather than the virtual, and they couldn’t be happier with the choice. They still use technology and routinely text or call their friends, but it’s often to choose a place to meet or to have a conversation that doesn’t involve clicking a “Like” button.
Jacqueline Nesi, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies teens and social media, estimates that “between five percent and fifteen percent of teens abstain from social media use.” While that number is low compared with those who choose to be on Facebook and its kin, I can honestly say that it’s higher than I expected.
Many of the teens with whom Rosen spoke say that being heavily involved in social media just looks exhausting and is less fulfilling than getting together in person. When asked if they felt like they were missing out, most were quick to offer that they still find out about the important stuff, and the occasional joke that they may not understand isn’t worth the price of keeping up with the virtual community.
The occasional joke isn’t all those who abstain from social media may miss though, and that can be a good thing. As Rosen writes, “Discussions of the impact of social media often focus on cyberbullying or online predators, but a more immediate and chronic danger is its tendency to encourage teens constantly to compare themselves to their peers. And not just to their peers but to . . . Instagram stars, models and YouTube celebrities whose exploits are relentlessly documented across social media.” Essentially, social media creates an environment where people are more prone to base their self-worth and identity on the number of likes they receive than on the qualities that really matter, such as their character.
None of that is to say that social media is inherently evil or that all young people—and adults, for that matter, as social media can have a similar effect on us, even if it manifests a bit differently—should delete their Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts or never tweet again. Rather, it’s just a reminder of the potential dangers that go along with letting anything or anyone other than God define our worth and identity.
Social media didn’t invent this problem, as people have compared themselves to others since the very beginning (Genesis 4), but it does make it more difficult. As Rosen notes, “What is new… is the speed with which peers can comment on each other’s lives, as well as the assumption that they should.” It gets a lot harder to block out the other voices and just listen for God’s when they flood in at the push of a button. That’s why it’s so important for us to be intentional about carving time out of our day to allow God to speak his truth into our lives and help us recognize his voice amidst the chorus of others.
God can do great things through social media—our ministry, for example, benefits greatly from it—but only when we remember that calling Christ our Lord means he’s Lord of our Facebook as well. God is the filter through which everything else in our lives must pass if we want to keep the garbage from crowding out the good.
So whether you’re on social media every day or wouldn’t know how to log into Instagram if you tried, remember that all of us face the temptation to let other voices carry more weight in our lives than God’s. Whom we choose to listen to in those situations will have a profound impact on the quality of our lives and our relationship with the Lord. Choose wisely.