Family Reflections: Helping our kids navigate social media

By Kathryn Whitaker
Columnist

Gone are the days at the pool, mornings filled with singing Vacation Bible School songs and evenings eating ice cream and chilling with neighbors.
Summer is over and no one is sadder about that than me. It’s like a vacation from my real life. It’s time to buckle down, though. School is in full swing and my planner tells me I’ve got lots of places to be.
It’s so easy to get lost in the never-ending to-do lists I make for myself. Please tell me I’m not alone? As our children are learning new mathematic equations, diving into literature and testing the limits of the periodic table, it’s time for us to go back to school, too.
God and the Internet are calling and it’s time to dive in with both feet. I believe we can raise kids who manage their online presence when parents learn and walk the path with them. So, for us parents, it’s time to turn on our monitors, pull out our earbuds, charge our phones and get down to the business of learning social media. Every family’s approach looks a little different, reminding us the “right way” looks different to all of us.
As the mom of six, teen to toddler, and an active user of social media, I believe we owe it to our kids to learn more, guide more, pray more and evangelize more, for the sake of their souls. We can’t simply shut down the Internet from our homes, stick our heads in the sand and declare, “Not our kids.” Social media is here to stay; let’s learn, guide, pray and evangelize, shall we?
Learn. What is a SnapChat streak? How about an Instagram DM? Are the Calculator and Whisper apps on our high-alert radar? We need to Google these things and learn as much as we can because our kids are using them. As parents, we worry when our kids don’t hit developmental milestones, like reading, talking or walking. We spend countless hours poring over our kids’ course schedules and making sure they’re taking the just-right classes for college admission. How serious are we about researching the Internet, social media and how it affects our children? I’d say, not enough.
Guide. My mom has always said, “Ski with people better than you, it’s how you grow.” That advice rings true for guiding our children to learning the ins and outs of social media. Finding moms who are just a few years ahead of me in the motherhood game has allowed me to make fewer mistakes with my own children. We’re teaching our children how to write safe profiles, what to do when something morally questionable pops up in their feed and how to identify and address cyberbullying. That approach has also allowed me to form a tribe of moms who I can turn to when I don’t have the answer. It’s likely one of them has been through it and can provide faith-filled counsel.
Pray. St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Pio of Pietralcina and St. Gianna Molla are recent examples of the importance of a robust prayer life. A praying parent is a powerful one. I have no false expectations. Every day I fail my kids in some way. I’m human and imperfect. But, God? He fills in the cracks. I pray each morning he gives me the wisdom to navigate the hardest parts of parenthood with grace and for a heart filled with forgiveness where I’m lacking. Most importantly, I ask him to open my kids’ hearts to his will.
Evangelize. Some of my most powerful and life-changing friendships were discovered via social media. I connected with these women because of a shared love of our Catholic faith and I am better for it. They have encouraged me to share my faith, boldly and without abandon. I praise God for their entrance in my life for they span the world — Australia to England — and the U.S. — Virginia to California. Our lives intersected because we desired to connect, and God saw fit to use social media to do it. Fear not parents, the opportunity for our children to reach, and be reached, by those who are authentically Catholic is possible.
As we surf these new parenting waters, we are not alone. For those who need a buddy, I’m one social media click away.
Here are some helpful resources for social media that we have used in our home: “Integrity Restored” podcast by Matt Fradd, “Do Something Beautiful” podcast by Leah Darrow and Covenant Eyes software for computer safety.

 

Kathryn Whitaker is the mother of six, and shares life as it happens on her blog at www.TeamWhitaker.org. She can be found on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest at @kwhitaker96 and on Facebook as Team Whitaker. She and her husband, Scott, are parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin.