Oh, the wonders and horrors of social media… If you’re not a gen-z’er, you’re probably more likely to consider the horrors before reflecting on its wonders. Social media is killing brain cells, squashing productivity, people don’t know how to be social in real life anymore… all valid thoughts and things even I’ve considered! And I’m a millennial — you know, one of the ones to blame for all the great rise of social media use and development.
Although I’m personally a lover of social media, I too have developed a disdain for its negative effects and often, find myself wishing we could do the impossible — reverse the irreversible damage and ubiquitous existence of social media and go back to those good ol’ days when folks connected in person, cyber-bullying didn’t exist, and humor existed beyond memes and gifs.
That is, until, something magnificent happens. In my line of work, doing primarily social media production and engagement, I get to see this “something magnificent” on a fairly regular basis when I see or share something on social media that cuts through the noise, challenges, convicts, and inspires the human heart.
I got to see this happen when Life Teen shared a prayer in response to the tragedy of the Las Vegas shooting last year. This post was shared by over 1,000 unique accounts inviting social media users, who were being bombarded with conspiracy theories and political agendas, to take a moment to pray for the victims and trust in God’s victory over evil.
I get to see this happen when we share highlights from our Steubenville conferences over the summer and users are invited to enter into prayer with us throughout the weekend.
Even on a personal level, I get to see this when I share my own experiences from my account, giving glory to God, making it known to all my followers (many of whom are not Catholic) that I love the Lord and truly do believe that a life with Him is one of complete happiness.
For as much bad that social media can generate, there is incredible potential for good. I always say that one can never underestimate the power of social media and I say that in regards to both its positive and negative features. I firmly believe, too, that social media is where evangelization needs to be taking place in this day and age.
Pope Benedict XVI shared about this at World Communications Day in 2009 when he referred to a “digital continent” where young people are called to proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm.
Evangelization in the digital world is a true missionary activity of the Church that can’t be ignored in 2018. And here’s the craziest thing about all of this — your teenaged son or daughter will be better at this than you. They’ve been called to this missionary territory in a unique way, by nature of the time and age in which they were born. Certainly, any person filled with the Spirit can proclaim the Gospel on social media, but teens will naturally be more fit for this missionary activity — they know the language and culture of social media, they can relate to the other hearts using social media, and they typically already have an interest in what’s happening on that digital continent.
As a parent (who may or may not be actively using social media) encouraging your teens to use social media in a missionary way is essential.
Here are a few ways you can do that:
Have open and honest conversations about the ways they have been influenced and evangelized on social media. Ask them which accounts they follow that help them grow in their faith and which accounts they look to for daily inspiration, motivation, or positivity. If they don’t have any accounts in mind, consider sharing these ones with them: Life Teen, Emily Wilson, Mark Hart, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Imagine Sisters, theoodlesofdoodles, and The Living Person.
Encourage them to reflect on their testimony and challenge them to intentionally consider why they believe in the Lord and want to follow Him. Help them to see that sharing their experience can inspire or even challenge their friends and followers in a positive way.
Invite them to think about the ordinary ways and moments they have in their faith life that they could potentially share with their followers. Remind them of the little things like Bible quotes they keep on their mirror, a favorite prayer they pray before bed, or a saint they try to emulate in their day-to-day. Help them understand that the ordinary things, when shared in posts, are just as “like-worthy” as their super colorful ice cream or overpriced coffee in a trendy spot. Evangelization on this digital continent doesn’t always require a dramatic testimony — the smaller things speak volumes to non-believers as they scroll through the seemingly infinite amount of user-generated content.
Clue them in on the Christian holidays and invite them to consider unique ways to share about those with their followers. Let them know that a post doesn’t need to be overly “Catholic” to still bear traces of the Gospel. This time of year we have ample opportunities for this such as sharing a post about patience during Advent, about gratitude for Christ’s love during the Christmas season, nor about their family on the feast of the Holy Family. All of the upcoming celebrations in our Church and culture easily lend themselves to gentle social media evangelization!
Encourage them to use their lock screens and mobile wallpapers as tools for evangelization. Teens are always on their phones, and their friends often see their phones too — the images they have for their backgrounds can also be a means for evangelization. Share these wallpapers with your teens, and even consider having them on your phone as well.
The missionary activity of the digital continent is a worthy task and your teens will be better at it than you will. Don’t make them share their faith from their accounts, but rather empower them to. Affirm the unique insights they can offer their generation, and share with virtually the whole digital world, simply by being bold enough to share the Gospel precisely where they are.