Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tik Tok, Tinder, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr...I don’t know to what degree your teenager is forthright about their social media musings. It’s not Facebook that has the real version of them, if you didn’t notice. Facebook has their grandma on it and teenagers are not going to reveal the interworking of their social life for their Mema to see. You may have already figured that out, so you wised up and joined “The Gram.” Only I call it that so don’t go throwing that phrase around as if you understand Insta...gram. You thought you could track their behavior on this platform and yet it’s as clean as a whistle, just as clean cut as their Facebook account. You heard about Snapchat being the devil so you made them delete that naughty app. You know your child isn’t dumb enough to put things on Twitter for the world to see, so you let that slide.
Here is the thing, teenagers have always craved independence and autonomy but we see that as keeping secrets. In the church world we call the remedy, integrity. Is your character the same at church, school and out on the court? If not than you are walking a fine line of hypocrisy. So it is with social media, are you the same person online as you are in person?
What do teenagers do when they want to keep up with the Jones’s via the World Wide Web? They create a secondary social media account, a fake one. A fake Instagram or Finsta, as it was once dubbed. They talk in code if they want, subtweet someone to make them the laughing stock of the next school day. “Don’t @ me bro!” Teenagers don’t actually say that, I do because I think it’s funny, but the idea is that you can insult someone by being sarcastic with their username that begins with the “@“ symbol.
Cyber bullying is almost impossible to trace because you can deny that fake account is even yours to begin with. Teenagers have wised up and don’t say their bent up anger using their real name. The occasional ignorant one’s due and quickly realize their mistake after getting fired for complaining about their job online or suspended from school for a photo that implied something questionable.
Teenagers have fake accounts, and with this new reality we have two options as parents or those working with teenagers. We can keep them off social media all together, which some families do. Not all teenagers are the same and a specific age doesn’t mean they are ready to be exposed to all that comes with the Internet and digital socialization. I’m practicing currently with allowing my young teen to talk to his friends with a headset while playing video games. It’s basically talking to someone on the phone but killing each other at the same time. “I just no scoped you in the head, bro.” He didn't say bro, I added "bro" for emphasis. It makes me laugh as I replay conversations I overhear to my wife.
Not all parents are as strict as I am and some are even more strict. Let me turn the conversation to the teachers, youth pastors, volunteers, coaches and other people in positions of influence of a teenager outside of the home. You don’t dictate the family boundaries so you have to figure out what battle is worth fighting. For a long time, I was on the, “No fake account” side of the debate because I saw it as hypocritical. If it says fake, then it’s not authentic and by definition not compatible with a Christian testimony.
That is until a teenager told me recently, “Mr. Diaz, I don’t use my fake account to do bad things, I just don’t want my Uncle Jeff in Kansas and my great grandma in Maine knowing what I plan on doing with my friends on a Friday night.” In essence this teenager was saying their “fake” account is really their friend account so they don’t have Aunt Marge commenting that it’s cute they are hanging out with their friends with a million emojis 💜❤️😉😉🙏🏼🙌🏼✋🏼💜✨😘🥰👏🏼👍🏼👌🏼💋!!!
It clicked, some teenagers have a fake account so that they can be a teenager without the world knowing. Would you have passed a note in class when you were a teenager and then mailed it to your second cousin Jethro to read? Of course not, you don’t even have a second cousin Jethro. But the point remains, sometimes all that teenagers are doing is passing notes along as we have done for hundreds of years in the school setting. Is it more public than passing notes? Yes, but the same rule can be applied in both settings. "Don't put something in writing you don't want others to see" (Thanks mother in-law).
"...some teenagers have a fake account so that they can be a teenager without the world knowing."
So what do we do? Do we tell our teenagers that having a fake account is evil and they are hypocrites if they do? No, we teach them to be like Christ and trust them to make those decisions. They can use their fake account for slander and evil or it can be amoral or it can even be used to build someone up. It’s a new world and just because we as leaders don’t do it or fully understand it doesn’t mean we should be so disconnected and the only answer is don’t do it. Telling a teenage not to do something without a good reason for why, degrades their desire to be treated as adults and the result can be rebellion.
We need to look to the heart of the matter. Why are you doing it? What are the possible consequences of your actions? It’s their “locker room talk” that needs to be challenged and molded, not silenced and suppressed.
Teenagers, if you are a mean person in life, then you are mean on your social media and probably super passive aggressive. If you have a kind heart than you will find ways to build others up. Just because it has the label “fake” doesn’t mean it’s not real, not you, or inherently wrong. It just means you want some privacy and that’s okay. Be wise in what you post, shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). You are living in a whole new world than those a decade before you and it will be different a decade from now. The advice I give you will always be the same. Seek the wisdom from above.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”James 3:17, NIV
In Truth & Love,
Matthew J. Diaz
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