What God Wants Teens to Understand about Social Media1
My first social media experience involved a late night at a friend’s house, a 56k modem (if you don’t know, ask your parents), and a chat room, which we were probably not supposed to be in. So, what did we do: lied about our age, pretended to be someone we were not, and essentially turned the chat room into a prank call. It was the mid-90s, and no one had told us how you were supposed to act in a virtual room meeting strangers from across the globe. Not once had I been taught or even wondered, “What does God want me to do with this kind of technology?”
Twenty-three years later and the technology has drastically changed, social media is the constant buzzword and an all-consuming force in the modern age, but our penchant as a society to continue to embrace without questioning it or God’s place in it remains largely the same.
So, what should we know? What would God have taught me back then and what does He want to teach you, the 94% of teens (as well as adults), who are engaged on social media right now?
Four Truths God Wants You to Understand about Social Media
1. God Sees You
The error of my generation of social media users has been over-posting: too much information and too many photos put out into the void without a real sense of the permanency of the platforms. That’s why today have taken more to platforms with vanishing posts and even fake accounts – no more permanent record, no more digital trail to haunt a future job application. However, with less fear, perhaps come less responsibility. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind; if its anonymous, then it can’t be linked to me. Therefore, I can do whatever I want.
But this idea forgets the God who sees all:
“Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 23:24
“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” – Luke 12:2-3
Every word, every post, every picture, video, and meme not only has the very real possibility of still making it into the hands of those you didn’t want to see it, but more importantly, God is always there, always taking notice of what you do.
Now, I recognize that this has a sort of Big Brother, Eye in the Sky, or The Police’s creepy song, “Every breath you take, every move you make, … I’ll be watching you” kind of vibe. But while it is supposed to be a word of caution for the unbeliever, and a safe-guard for the Christian to remember – it is actually so much more than that, it is also part of the very reason you’re on Social Media in the first place – to be noticed and to be known.
David understood this well about God in Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. – Psalm 139:1-4
God knows everything about him. His thoughts, his path, his habits, and the things he does. Even before he speaks (or posts, or texts, or snaps) God knows what it is. Now, that might feel overwhelming to you. And you could be in good company, as David seems to have times he wishes he could hide (Psalm 139:7,11-12). But ultimately, it’s not overpowering or fear-inducing for David, it is exactly what he knows he needs: more than anyone else in the world, he wants God to completely know Him.
Which is why he finishes by writing this request:
Search me, God, and know my heart;test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.
– Psalm 139:23-24
You see, it’s not just what God has done, it’s what David wants him to continue to do. God doesn’t just see what you post, He sees you. And maybe that fact, the fact that the God of the universe takes notice of your thoughts, your ideas, your words, your likes, dislikes and funny little fishy-kiss faces that you like to make into the camera, maybe His attention could be enough.
2. You Have the Power to Heal
You’ve seen it done: the subtle comment that makes a friend feel excluded, the little bit of sarcasm that harasses how someone feels about their looks. But I don’t have to tell you what can be done that’s bad, you’ve likely done it, or been a victim to it. Rather, God’s word wants to remind you of the choice that you have in what you do.
There is one who speaks rashly,
like a piercing sword;
but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Proverbs 12:18
The Bible has much to say about our speech, and really you can think of it in terms of addressing most forms of communication. There’s the thoughtless piercing sword way of doing it, but what would it look like to use your social media presence to bring healing? Or as Paul writes:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29
It’s far more tempting to be the funny one, or the hot one, or the brutally honest one online, but what if you were the one that actually built other people up and made them feel better. God wants you to know that you have that power heal, and He wants you to use it.
3. Your “Likes” Can’t Increase Your Value
Whether you spend an hour trying to pick the right photo (lighting, angle, background), right caption, right hashtags or you are just #unfiltered and post whatever is happening as it’s happening; the moment you hit the final okay to send it “out there” there is a bit of a “hold-your-breath moment”.
That’s when the adrenaline starts, wondering, “When will someone respond? When will the first…” Ding! “There’s a like!” Ding! “There’s a like.” And as they start to pour in: more likes, a comment, “Oh it’s from that cute guy,” or “That girl in English class,” and you start to feel good, you start to think, “I’m noticed. I’m liked. I’m valuable.” And an hour or so later as you check back in to view your stats you get a cold-hard facts reality of how valuable you are. That is, until you check a “friend’s” account with double the likes and way more comments than you. And now you feel like nothing.
Have you gone through the ups and the downs? Have you had a good day just because your social response? Have you ever deleted a photo because ten minutes in and you only had two likes? Articles tell us that “children as young as nine “are becoming almost addicted to ‘likes’ as a form of social validation that makes them happy.” And yet, the cold hard stats link increased screen time with increased unhappiness and depression.
And God’s message for you, caught up in this roller coaster, is this: it is impossible for Social Media to make you more valuable. It’s impossible for it to fix the problem of a broken, sinful soul. To paraphrase Jesus:
What value would it be for you to gain the most followers and attention, likes and social media prestige, if you lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:26)
And the answer is: None at all.
So where do we find it? Well, he was no social media expert, but Paul had figured out how to win at a similar game – with the first century equivalent of status, followers, and prestige, and yet he says this:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. – Philippians 3:7-8
As good as those "likes" make you feel, it won’t solve the actual problem of your soul. But by being dissatisfied with yourself and chasing after new ways of validation, maybe you are actually beginning to recognize the true issue: we are not as great as we were created to be. The problem is that you’re not looking in the right place for the answer.
4. God Has Real Life for You
When I say that God has real life for you, I don’t just mean that the social media life is inaccurate (Photoshop, filters, and carefully curated feeds), I also mean that it is incapable.
Just like before, where social media can’t increase your value, it also can’t give you the identity that you long for or the rescue you need. And that’s not even a slight on social media, but anything that we try to find our identity and our life in – grades, girls, guys, jobs, sports, humor, money, success, pleasure.
So, what does God have to offer that’s better?
Jesus. Jesus, fully God and fully man who lived TRUE LIFE perfectly so that he could die in order to trade His life for yours, through faith.
- In Jesus, you are born again to a living hope. (1 Peter 1:3)
- In Jesus, you are loved and adopted by a perfect Father. (1 John 3:1-2)
- In Jesus, you free from the slavery of sin and death. (Rom 8:1-2; Gal 5:1)
- In Jesus, you are secure, nothing can take you from Him. (Rom 8:39; John 10:29)
- In Jesus, you will never alone, left behind, or forsaken. (Hebrews 13:5)
- In Jesus, you have a new people, and a new purpose. (1 Peter 2:9)
- In Jesus, you get to become the you, you were always meant to be. (2 Cor 5:17)
- In Jesus, you have LIFE, REAL LIFE. (John 10:10)
So please, stop trying to find it OUT THERE, because if you do it will likely try to make you think you are either the center of the world or worth nothing at all. It will try to kill, steal and destroy, but Jesus came to give you much more:
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10
God has real life for you.
A Final Word
A few years ago, my dad gave me a gift for Christmas. An incredible thing that everyone needed to have. I immediately sought to figure out the best ways to use it and carried it around everywhere, so I didn’t miss any perfect opportunities.
First, I set out to dig with it, but it was far too slow. I tried to write with it, but it just tore the paper. I thought washing the dishes would be great, but the cups and plates kept breaking. Next, I tried to sleep with it as a pillow, and I woke up with a crick in my neck. I tried to give back rubs with it, but it just made my wife mad. It wasn’t good for getting stains out of clothes, putting paint on our walls, slicing up apples, or combing my daughter’s hair. Then I thought for sure it would be great for brushing my teeth, and I’m pretty certain I chipped a tooth.
And when I was on the brink of tossing it out because it had brought me nothing but pain, my dad visited and said, “So, have you put any nails in with that hammer I gave you?” And it was then that I discovered that this tool, a hammer, was actually pretty great for putting in nails, and even for pulling them out. So, I kept it, not with me always, but in its place so it could do its job when I needed it.
I know, I know. It’s a ridiculous, made-up story, but here’s the thing, your phones and social media are tools; communication tools that can serve a real purpose. But there are a lot of things that they were not made to do: they weren’t made to replace friendships, cure loneliness, tell you who you are, give you value, become your master or your god.
They can do a lot, but the question you have to answer is: should they? Have you ever really thought about what they should be doing? Or are you essentially just brushing your teeth with a hammer, wondering why it keeps on hurting so bad?
Or maybe that’s not really what these sorts of tools are for, and maybe, just maybe, instead of using it constantly, simply because everyone else is, you could take some time away to figure out how you should use it, instead of letting it just use you.
Derick Zeulner is an associate pastor at South Shores Church. He has a M.A. in Theology from Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA and he loves the wacky adventures of doing life with his wife, Rebecca, and 4 kids.
 Warren Murray, The Guardian, “Friday briefing: Social media hurting teenagers’ mental health”, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/04/friday-briefing-social-media-hurting-teenagers-mental-health
 Jean Twenge, The Atlantic, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/