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. 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 your children are learning new mathematic equations, diving into literature and testing the limits of the periodic table, it’s time for you to go back to school, too.

You heard me.

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, Mom and Dad, it’s time to turn on your monitors, pull out your earbuds, charge your 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 can tell you 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. Do you know what a SnapChat streak is? How about an Instagram DM? Are the Calculator and Whisper apps on your high-alert radar? If you have a child, no matter the age, those are questions you need to Google. Don’t fret, I’ve searched for them, too! 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, 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 in’s and out’s 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, or a margarita when necessary.

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, y’all. 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, not theirs.

Evangelize. Believe it or not, 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 United States—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 your children to reach, and be reached, by those who are authentically Catholic is possible.

As you surf these new uncharted parenting waters, know that you aren’t alone. If you need a buddy, I’m one social media click away.

Resources for social media. Integrity Restored podcast by Matt Fradd, Do Something Beautiful podcast by Leah Darrow and Covenant Eyes software for computer safety

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of The Catholic Spirit.

14 Comments

  1. Tammi McCarthy on September 9, 2017 at 10:00 am

    I loved this post. I have an “upcoming” teenager who is happily on Pinterest and texting her friends. However, she looks to me for advice on social media and I know that my Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook presence are just that….I’m on it…haha. I have no real knowledge of anything. Thanks for the shove to constantly be learning and being a resource for my children….time to hop in the saddle.

    • Kim on September 21, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      I wanted to share that even Pinterest has some really questionable material. I learned that the hard way when my young daughter and I were searching for recipes and for whatever reason, some really inappropriate material showed up, sending us into a conversation I didn’t think we would have for quite a while.

      I always tell my friends and some skeptics who think I am “too involved” in my teens social media life….you must MEET technology WITH technology. If they have access to such an invasive type of access to the world, then we have an obligation to be out there with them, navigating, reminding and throwing up road blocks wherever we see moral deconstruction occurring.

      A seemingly harmless relationship can turn embarrassing when one person shares an intimate message, truth, or photo and there are endless examples out there of teens losing their sense of trust before they have even fully developed it.

      One last thing….I am always telling my teenagers that they shouldn’t give money to the big losers of the world…the rap artists who promote sex, drugs and violence, the child molesters who follow trashy women on social media, and then go and act on their perversions with the closest available young child, or the athletes who are self-promoting and making money off of horrendous acts against women, careless and reckless activities and all that goes along with the “thug life” that they promote.

      WE are paying THEM when we purchase their songs on iTunes, WE are paying THEM when we follow them on social media, WE are paying THEM to do these horrible things and they are getting richer and richer from US, while we are left with a sad sense of self, when we realize that after taking all of our money and our happy teenage moments, we are left with nothing and they are up for a grammy…or an ESPY… Something is seriously wrong with our culture and they are coming after our kids with steadfast aggression so that they can cushion their own savings accounts.
      MAKE A DEPOSIT INTO YOUR OWN bank account…your real one and your moral one! That’s when I get the eye-rolls from the teenagers in my home! But at least it’s a voice. At least it’s another voice.

      • Kathryn on September 29, 2017 at 9:05 pm

        Social media is a treasure trove, and a landmine. One must always be alert. Thanks for that reminder and for your additional comment about staying on high alert and watching where we spend our time, money and energy.

  2. Jessica Waltman on September 9, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    This is amazing. Thank you so much for continuing to write and share your faith!

  3. Kathy on September 9, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    I raised four children, youngest is now 17, without cell phones, without computer access (until they begin the college application process), needless to say without social media. That’s my advice for helping teens navigate social media. I know this sounds like we live on another planet, but we don’t. My three oldest have gone onto the best Catholic colleges and my dd is discerning a religious vocation. We just determined to raise our children away from the dangers modern technology affords and are very happy with the results.

    • Kathryn on September 9, 2017 at 10:09 pm

      Kathy, I can appreciate and applaud your family choices. Our oldest is 17. 5-10 years ago social media wasn’t a thing. Today it is. And I can’t, in good conscience send my children off to high school or college without educating them about cell phones, the internet and the finer points of social media. It’s a completely different landscape today, than it was even a few years ago. Every family has to choose what’s right for them and the direction we’ve taken is one that’s working for us, and our kids. Thanks for your insight!

  4. Kellie on September 10, 2017 at 5:34 am

    Our Catholic school just had Matt Fradd come and speak to middle school students and parents on this very topic!

  5. Denise on September 11, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Such a great post!!
    I am especially grateful for the sharing of your daily prayer. I loved what you wrote about the forgiveness of what Im lacking and the opening of my kids hearts to Gods will.
    Happy New School Year.
    Thanks a bunch!

  6. Nicole on September 11, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    We went ahead and got our pre-teen son a cell phone, but we have it pretty locked down for what he can do on it. However, he just asked for a Snapchat account a couple of days ago. I haven’t ever been on Snapchat. I don’t do Facebook, twitter, or Pinterest. I do have an instagram account, but that’s just so I can look at pretty pictures. I do agree with you that I need to educate myself and learn more. When the college interns in my office started talking about the social media platforms that they use (and SO many I hadn’t heard of – they aren’t really using Facebook), it was a wake up call… Your post drives that point home. New options are coming out every day, and we can’t live with our heads in the sand.

  7. […] 4 Way to Help Our Kids Navigate Social Media by Team Whitaker […]

  8. Anne on September 14, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    Timely reminder as school just went back in last week here. I have 1 preteen in Grade 7, and one high schooler, in Grade 9. My Grade 9er is the only one who has any social media, which is just Instagram right now, and just got an iPhone this year. Both of my kids cannot imagine a world without an internet, etc. I am the dinosaur of a mum who reminds them I do remember those days (I turn 41 next month). I pray every day for my kids, and have done my best, and their dad as well, to educate and inform, and their schools have done a good job too. It’s so tricky…even as an adult using social media and the internet, it’s a tricky thing. I do my best, and pray that God covers where I can’t…at the end of the day, He has them more than we ever can. Grace.

    • Kathryn on September 29, 2017 at 9:09 pm

      A-MEN.

  9. Amy Whitaker on September 23, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    Everyone is different and makes this decision for their own reasons- but out of curiosity, how old were your children before they got a cell phone? Each child get one at the same age? Or different ages for different kids? I laughed out loud when my 7 and 9 year old mentioned it. They know they will never be ahead of the game with electronics. They understand that, but I am just curious about how y’all made the decision for a phone:)

    • Kathryn on September 29, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Our kids get phones in high school (around 14). So far, only one of our kids has a phone. His first one was a dumb one (flip phone). Once he turned 16, and just before he got his license, he got a smart phone. But, it was not the newest model and we have total access to everything on it. It charges in a public place and he is not allowed to have it on him 24/7. One must part from the electronics 😉 He will soon be getting a job to pay for the data plan, along with his car insurance!

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