I’m a digital native. I’ve never known anything different. I got my first computer at 5 years old. I was typing on a keyboard before anyone could read my handwriting. My friends and I gathered after school on instant messengers instead of malls and parks as previous generations had. We considered cell phone covers to be accessories and, like everything else in our world, we personalized them to reflect our favorite teams, colors and cartoon characters.
Teens today are even more digitally native: texting, tweeting, mp3 downloads and video streaming are, quite literally, child’s play. This so-called phenomenon of technology is nothin’ new under the sun in the context of our lifetimes. That doesn’t mean Millennials automatically know the healthiest ways to use them. Whether it’s the comments on blogs or over-consumption, teens need to learn how to handle technology. More on that here.
One specific area of technology use your teens (or you) may need some help with is social media. As a social media professional (sounds fancy doesn’t it?), there are some questions I try to ask before I post for the Whole Wide World to see. They are four questions that were engrained into my childhood as the foundational Rules of Life: the Rotary Four-Way Test.
Yes, I was a Rotary kid. Both my parents were presidents of their chapters. Normal life included having dinner with Russian exchange students and cheering on the eradication of polio. Somehow all those years of repeating these questions at my parents’ meetings (and in our house as we were taught how to behave) stuck in my head. Now as an editor of a digital magazine, they consistently echo each time my cursor hovers over the “post” button:
Of the things we think, say or do
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
For social media, we might say:
Do I know what I’m posting is true (not just an internet rumor, exaggerated statistics or a made-up quote)? Is it a personal opinion masquerading as a universal truth?
Does the post include stereotypes or name-calling? Will I be willing to listen with an open mind if someone disagrees with it?
Is it going to lead to greater unity and understanding or is this going to burn some bridges? (And are those potential bridges worth burning for the good that could come of this post?)
How would someone else who doesn’t know the context interpret the post? How will people with other life experiences respond?
Just like we might do with commercials in this gotta-have-it culture, social media can be a great place to play the Truth-or-Lies game. Whenever you see a “truth claim,” check it with Scripture. Perhaps the fifth question for Christians could be:
Is it something Jesus would tweet?
Go ahead, make fun of me for being your 90-year-old Sunday School teacher, but seriously, isn’t that what all these other questions are saying? We are called to speak the Truth in love, bring Good News to the lost, make disciples of anyone and everyone, and lead them back to their Creator’s love through Christ. These callings aren’t just for one or two days a week because the world isn’t just watching us a few days a week. They watch what we tweet, what we post on Facebook, the videos we share on YouTube, the photos we take on Instagram, the pins we are Pinterested in… 24/7.
Use the Four-Way Test for social media next time you hesitate over that button asking “is this OK to post?”
P.S. In fact, they make pretty good questions for offline life as well. I’ve kept them on a gold coin medallion thing in my wallet since high school. Not bad principles for a teen to use to make decisions in any arena…