Originally published in the quarterly ExplorerSpring 2014 edition.

Our youth ministry here at River Road Church seeks to be a community of teenagers where we are safe physically, emotionally, and spiritually and where we can share our laughter and our tears without fear of rejection. We have ongoing conversations about the role of social media in our lives – how it can be a very useful tool but, at the same time, can be something that works against our vision of ministry. Here, Michael Whitty shares his thoughts on the media and social media. ~ Michael Kellett

Social media is becoming more than just a part of our world; it’s becoming our world. We are spending more and more time online, usually on social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and our online life is not just staying on the computer at home. Most teens now have smart phones where we have access to social media networks throughout the day. We are constantly texting, tweeting, and posting pictures via Snapchat and Instagram.

All of this online social interaction can have a hyper-connected effect on teens. There are two sides of this effect, good and bad. Yes, there are some good effects. You can keep up to date with friends from far away, or how about the fact that you can message someone right away so there is no pain or hassle to mail a letter. Speaking of mailing, how many teens out there really send snail mail? None. Why? Because it is easier and quicker to just send them a text

However, there is a down side like the fact we are always connected. Today teens, don’t know how to “disconnect.” Social media has allowed us to take our life online and instead of saying goodbye to friends at school and waiting to see them the next day, we just go home and jump on our favorite social media network and interact with them for the rest of the day. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and all of the other networks are right at our fingertips the moment we get back home. This “always connected” activity is harmful because of the alarming trend of cyber bullying. Parents can remember when social media wasn’t an issue, and when you got bullied it stayed at school and on the bus, and when

they came home they were considered “safe.” What does this mean? If a teen is getting bullied, they cannot get away from it. The people bullying them simply continue their bullying via social media.

Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Demi Lovato are just some of the most popular women online. Zac Efron, Adam Levine, Ryan Secrest, Brad Pitt, and David Beckham are just some of the most popular men online. When celebrities have photo shoots for magazines or to promote something new, those photos are usually shared online for fans and media to admire. However, what people don’t realize is the editing process to create the flawless photo. They make them look “perfect,” and almost to the point of “unnatural” features. When teens see these photos it makes them think – Gee, why can’t I be that pretty? Why can’t I look like that? Why can’t I be as buff as that? This type of media attention creates a skewed perception in our lives about how everyone needs to be “perfect.” Nobody’s perfect. In Ecclesiastes 7:20 it states, “Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.” (NRSV). Therefore, proves the point that nobody is perfect.

Media has the potential to destroy and kill our social life, while we as teens think we are building it. Social media hinders relationships, friendships, and face-to-face interactions. In the direction social media is going it could potentially kill us all emotionally. “Focus on how to be social, not on how to do social” (Jay Baer). We all need to learn how to disconnect from social media and our phones and connect more to our spiritual relationship with God. Not only with him, but our friends and family too. You are what you tweet.