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The Thing We’re All Failing At…Miserably

Every parent does it, yet none of us wants to admit it.

A thousand hours I have spent thinking, praying and pondering this subject.

That is not an exaggeration.

If you’re the parent of a tween or teen, then I suspect you have, too.

It seems as if our kids are growing up – fast – thanks to the information superhighway and social media. When I put on my rose-colored glasses, I will tell you that it’s great! awesome! fantastic!

Then, I take them off and realize that many times I feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway. I’m shouting to the world to please pay attention, and that damn soccer ball just looks at me blankly with nary a comment back.

I’m not here to shout the evils of social media or the internet. Rather, I’m asking parents to quit dialing it in. Because when you dial it in, we all fail. A few nights ago, I found myself wide awake at 1am. My son, Will, had forgotten to bring his phone downstairs to the community charging station, so I retrieved it and plugged it in. Then, a nudge of my conscience had me typing in his pass code so I could take a quick peek at his latest activity.

That’s a rule in our house. As long as we pay the bills and you live under our roof, we have the authority to spot check your electronics any time we choose. Initially, those spot checks happened frequently and we installed internet filter software, like this one. As our kids get older, those spot checks occur less frequently as we help our kids navigate life with less and less filters. I admit. That’s scary as hell.

As I dove into the deep abyss of Will’s phone, I saw nothing alarming that he had posted or liked. Then, I dove deeper, taking a cursory glance at his friends’ posts, likes and accounts on apps like Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat. And that’s when my heart rate began to climb. Some of the things I saw were just immature (hello, teenagers!) and a few, at least in our house, not acceptable. I had to wonder: do their parents know? And if they do, are they feeling paralyzed as to how to confront it or have they thrown their hands in the air with the proverbial, “kids will be kids” attitude?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I know this, though. We aren’t doing enough talking with our kids. And we sure as hell aren’t doing enough listening.

The following morning, Will and I had a good, long visit about social media, our family expectations, sexting, porn – you name it. It’s a conversation we’ve had a dozen times, but we keep having it. It all boiled down to this: every choice you make has consequences. It starts out with a small lie here, a questionable post there. We shrug it off, or worse, we don’t engage enough with our kids to even know it happens. Then, we look up and we wonder how our kids got so far from home base.

I could give you a stacked pile of statistics on the roots of pornography, infidelity, spousal abuse and addiction. The bigger conversation, at least at our house, is back at home base.

WHEN you encounter those things, WHEN someone sends you an inappropriate message, WHEN Satan shows up on your doorstep, WHAT do you do? It’s not IF, Mom and Dad. It’s WHEN. Here, let me help you take off those tinted glasses as I remove mine, too.

The problem is we think we can filter, detach, disable and restrict our way out of this one. That only masks the problem. We have to teach our kids to recognize evil as they’re driving down the highway and make the u-turn, as one of our favorite podcasters reminds us.

Make no mistake, Satan can find a way into your kid’s heart lightning fast. I’ve seen that one happen firsthand. We have to teach our kids how to open the crack so God can shine His light in. I think it’s a three-pronged approach: listen, engage and educate.

LISTEN to your kids, not just about the big stuff, but all the seemingly insignificant stuff. If you aren’t listening to how the Spurs game went or who wore what at the Mets Gala (the small stuff), why would your teenager trust you with the big stuff?

ENGAGE on social media. As much as I would love to shut it all down at my house, deactivate every social media app I own and join Tom Hanks on that island, the reality is my kids use these apps to communicate with their friends. It’s their social currency. Do I think some need to dial it back? Absolutely. But I can’t quit it cold turkey. It would be like me turning my preschooler loose at the pool with no supervision. I don’t have to jump off the high dive, but I sure as hell need to have my feet in the shallow end, ready to swim. My kids are on social media, therefore, I am, too. {insert their eye rolls here}

EDUCATE yourself and your kids on all the things. Do you know what a streak is on SnapChat? You better. Are Insta-stories on your radar? Time to brush up. Confused when someone says to DM them or asks for your handle? Might want to get the 411. I won’t even tell you the things I’ve Googled in the last year. Trust me when I tell you there is no stupid question, I’ve likely already typed it into my browser. We Google our kids’ names all the time to see what’s out there. Colleges are doing it, too. Trust me. Keep up with what’s going on so you can help your kids navigate the landscape. I’m pleased to tell you it’s absolutely true that an old dog can learn new tricks.

Bottom line? Let’s all get our **** together and do right by our kids. They’re counting on us, y’all. They will eye roll all the way to the graduation door, but don’t dial it in.

Don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations.

Don’t be afraid to be the parent.

Don’t be afraid of the mistakes.

Our kids’ souls are worth it.

Resources for Navigating with Grace
Theology of the Body for Middle School and High School
Matt Fradd’s Podcast, Integrity Restored
Covenant Eyes
RescueTime (time tracking software)
Leah Darrow’s Podcast, Do Something Beautiful
Made to Magnify with Lisa Cotter
Chastity Project with Jason and Crystalina Evert

44 Comments

  1. Laura on May 4, 2017 at 1:38 am

    Thank you for writing this. As a young adult, I’ve seen first hand what an impact it has when parents dial it back too far and are clueless about what their kids are doing. It seems like so many have no idea what their kids are capable of. And capable of hiding. No shame in googling what things mean! Thanks for being a parent who has those conversations. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.

  2. Kristen Fussner on May 4, 2017 at 5:26 am

    Thank you for your honesty. My girls are only 4.5 and 2.5 and well to be quite frank I’m terrified at what social media will be like when they are older.

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      It can be terrifying, but it can also open a door of communication that is so beautiful. Lean into that!

  3. Beth Williby on May 4, 2017 at 5:26 am

    You are absolutely right, Kathryn, and I thank you for sharing this post. I know you went back and forth on it and it’s understandable why. We had a similar situation with our 15 year old son recently and I can’t say that we handled it with quite the grace you did. Like you, it wasn’t necessarily HIS behavior I had the problem with. It was stuff that I saw others posting with and to him that he didn’t seeem to take any issue with. And that’s what concerned me. Bravo, mama, on a job well done and on a great reminder to all of us parents of teens.

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Um, make no mistake. I have had way more ungraceful moments than graceful ones. It’s a learning curve and it changes with each kid. So hard! But so grateful there are lots of great moms in my tribe to keep me accountable.

  4. Sarah on May 4, 2017 at 6:37 am

    Is this the post you were debating and torn about putting out there? I’m glad you did. Thank you! One of the reasons I respect and admire you on social media. 😉
    I need to step up my game. Getting caught in the milestones and crazy chaos of my younger ones, my older kids may get lost on my radar at times. I need to change that!

    Thank you for the reminder, the challenge and the kick in the butt I needed.

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      It is! I put so much thought into this one, worried that I might come across too strong. It’s just been on my heart for so long and I felt it needed to be shared. So happy you agree!

  5. Maureen on May 4, 2017 at 6:48 am

    This was an awesome post. In particular – I love that you point out that we have to be engaged. I have had many frustrating conversations with people who want to simply ban social media. It is not going away. We must educate, engage, and listen. I agree wholeheartedly with you that listening is key. Please keep writing about these difficult topics. You have an audience. My kids are much older now and I think that I have been fairly lucky in keeping the doors of communication open but oh – there have been so many mistakes. In the blink of an eye, Satan worms his way in. The consequences can be devastating, We have to all bear this burden together.

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      When we ban it, they just go further underground. We learned that the hard way.

  6. Verdina on May 4, 2017 at 8:25 am

    Wow! I’m sure glad i didn’t have to deal with social media when my children were growing up!
    I am concerned about my grandchildren, though.
    I pray for them, of course.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    May God continue to bless you and your family!

  7. Teresa on May 4, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Our teens and cell phones, made parenting a challenge to keep one step ahead or hoping we did. Each one was unique in their social media challenges, so there wasn’t a one size fit them approach. We also did the things you mentioned in your post. At the end of the day, the more strong willed and defiant the teen, the harder the task.
    For my son though, he chose the help we offered. We found an online program that helped him change the lure and ultimately change his direction. The Fortifyprogram.org program seemed to turn the corner or maybe it was the wakeup call he needed at that time. For teens it is free and we let him do it privately on his time frame. The program took him about 5-6 months of 1-2 times a week of short amount of work. There are other programs but this one was recommended so we chose it.
    Your post helps us all know we have to continue to do the hard uncomfortable part of parenting and continually educate ourselves on the rapidly changing social media landscape and get help for our teen when needed. Thank you for writing it!

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Thank you for sharing such a valuable resource. What a gift your son must have in you.

  8. Karen on May 4, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Thank you Kathryn! I appreciate that you’re using your public forum to raise awareness. I feel sometimes like I’m swimming against the tide on my own – subjecting my kids to ‘more rules than anyone else has’. And honestly I think this may be the BIGGEST thing our kids are facing where they NEED us – not caring about what soccer team they make or what grade they make on their Math test. This is one where their hearts, souls and character are being shaped and we need to be involved. I applaud you for addressing it and for being a parent who is doing right by your kids.
    My personal challenge is TIME – time to stay up on the various forms of media, educate myself and especially to go through all their devices and accounts. I am failing on that front and welcome being part of any community where we can help each other navigate these foreign waters. Please keep me in your loop! Thank you!

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:03 pm

      I think the Holy Spirit has really given me the nudge at the just-right moment to check when I need to. I rely heavily on Him. You are one of the best moms I know. A warrior in the trenches 😉

  9. Nicole on May 4, 2017 at 9:05 am

    I am so glad you posted this. And I agree with you. I do feel that many parents are failing, but there are many that aren’t. I do hope that I can fall into the latter. My son is just entering middle school. He’s already so in tune with what goes on, it’s frightening. I admit that I shy away from many social media platforms, but I know that I need to be more active, just as you suggest. Thank you for posting. I appreciate the resources you sited. Also, I am glad you are opening the lines of communication among parents, as well as encouraging the same with them and their children.

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      You are always such an encourager, Nicole. Thank you!

  10. Dagmara on May 4, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Kathryn, I am so glad you posted this! For those of us who are ignorant of what our kids are doing on social media it’s a nudge to get involved. For those of us who are tired of monitoring, it’s a needed reminder not to give up. I only recently came across your blog but I am so glad I did. For all the negatives of social media I am grateful for how we can connect across thousand of miles and find likeminded moms and encourage each other on the journey. Don’t hesitate to speak the truth! Thanks once again.

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      There is grace in all of this. Here’s to fighting the good fight and helping our kids grow up with morals, values and the wisdom to know when to ask for help.

  11. Candy Hartmann on May 4, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for baring your soul and hitting the publish key. While mine are grown-31 and 29, I see first hand the consequences of dialing it back. Not that my kids turned out badly, at least according to society’s definition. They are loving, giving, productive adults, but they no longer go to church. If I had to do over again, I would change so many things. But I wasn’t really “there” myself. I see all you young moms now-a-days and how I wish I would have done the things you do with your children-home school, more prayers besides dinner and bedtime, really celebrating all the feast days etc. I can only pray that My husband and I planted the seeds and set a good example to bring them back to the Faith someday. So, even though mine are grown, I’m glad you shared this for all the other parents of younger kids. God bless!

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      Candy, I think all of us have moments of “wish I would’ve done that.” Thank YOU for sharing so openly and bravely yourself.

      • Eleonor on May 5, 2017 at 1:22 am

        Dear Candy,

        I am 31 and stopped going to church for a long time even if my parents tried hard to give us a catholic education. I’m back now and much more convinced than I was as a teen. We all need to go other paths, but in in the end Christ always triumphs.

  12. Lisa Hallman Briggs on May 4, 2017 at 10:57 am

    So glad y’all are confronting this head on. It’s one of the hardest topics in modern day parenting.
    We were given a heads up by a friend with an older son about online porn and sure enough it was
    happening right in our home! Kids need to know the zero tolerance is for their on good – we’ve seen
    men taken out of their offices/jobs by corporate security because of it. Satan is targeting young minds
    like never before so, VIGILANCE is required. Thankful that the church is actively addressing social
    media issues. If you know anyone in Dallas this is happening:

    Josh McDowell is speaking at Truth & Lies this Sunday
    For parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, mentors, coaches—anyone who regularly interacts with children or teenagers and wants to better understand the challenges they face because of social media, technology, and addiction in a sexualized culture.

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Lisa!

  13. Jackie Bratton on May 4, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for writing this! I am 27 and have four month old twins and I think about how social media will impact them almost everyday! Currently, I think about how my time and actions are affecting them. Do they notice what I do already? When they’re older – how can I teach them to be smart? I think I’m young enough to have caught the early onset of this communication transition… so I know how it feels to think what you do on your device feels private – and it is far from that.

    I love that you encourage parents to participate and engage in their children’s lives and not just watch. I also love that you have a community charging station! What a great way to keep kids (and parents) accountable with their devices!

    I love your blog. I came across your page while flipping through Pinterest looking for Mom advice.. and now have seen you several times on Blessed is She. I’m thankful to have found you.

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Oh, I’m so glad you’re here Jackie! Glad to know Pinterest thinks I have good advice (ha!). That community charging station has been so good. It’s in a public place and there’s no sneaking it off the stand. It’s been a great solution for us.

  14. Shandra on May 4, 2017 at 11:59 am

    This is such a timely post for me. Thank you for sharing. It’s nice to know we’re not alone in dealing with this stuff. I’m exhausted with the whole thing and some days I just don’t want to deal with it but I know we have to be vigilant.

  15. Cecilia on May 4, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Yes! Camilla showed me a SC or Insta post this week. She was so disappointed in a peer’s selfie post. We talked about the ONE peer, who commented to ask where the clothes were; how brave of this peer! Of all the reasons why we disagreed with the post, the most affective was :”If this is what the person is posting in middle school, then what will they post in high school and college?” That reason turned on the lightbulb!!! On that note…I am the Mom who wants to hear about any inappropriate posts by my daughter. Pass it on…

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 2:58 pm

      How GREAT that y’all talked about it Cecilia. That’s the most important. I am that mom, too. Got your back, sister!

  16. Maria on May 4, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Hi, I’m not sure how old your son is, but I guess my question is, why does he have a phone capable of getting on the internet? I don’t understand why parents give kids smart phones- when there is so much garbage out there, and when the phones/internet/social media are so addictive. I hear over and over the dangers of allowing our kids to have access to these things, yet also hear parents who give them these phones to carry around in their pockets. As you testify, while your son may not be on anything bad himself, his friends probably are- and by association he is seeing these thing. If the parent feels they need to have a phone for emergencies, or to be in touch, why not just give them a phone that just makes calls? Definitely speak to kids about what is right and what is wrong out there but, why allow them to become immersed in it with their own phone?

    • Kathryn on May 4, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Valid questions, Maria. Our oldest is 16 and he’s the only one with a phone. In our house, kids don’t get cell phones until high school and smart phones don’t come until 16-ish or when we see a track record of responsible behavior. But the bigger concern is this: I can’t keep my kids in the proverbial bubble, sheltering them from all social media and the internet. I MUST show them how to spot the dangers, see the evil and know how to turn it around. Otherwise, I’m doing them a disservice. In two years, our oldest leaves the house and if we haven’t given him the tools to survive the social media and internet landscape, then I have failed him. I believe that with all my heart. So, we gently enter into those waters here at home, guiding, making mistakes, correcting and learning in hopes that he will navigate those waters gracefully when he sets sail.

      • Nicole on May 4, 2017 at 3:16 pm

        Great response. In our social circles, I am amazed that many kids are getting smartphones at age 10. Yes – 10! I feel that is much too young to have a smartphone, but my son’s friends are all carrying them around. We are the “uncool” parents that aren’t following that trend. Your comment is a good reminder to make sure I talk to the kids about what their friends are looking at on their phones (whether sharing it with them or not) and about proper time/usage.

      • Maria on May 5, 2017 at 9:36 am

        Kathryn,

        To each his own, so the saying goes. To put a hand held computer in a teenager’s pocket seems to put them in a position of constantly having to work against unnecessary temptations. Social media is addictive, and, while much good is found there- it is so full of things that damage the soul and mind. Keeping them away from these things, or people, is not necessarily putting them in a bubble. I wouldn’t allow my kids for instance, to read certain books, which would be keeping them in a certain ‘bubble’, separate from the mainstream culture. Can’t teens be taught about spitting dangers and evil via a family home computer? The reality of today’s secular mindset of rampant relativism permeates so slightly but constantly throughout the culture that kids- and adults- seemed to be lulled into accepting them. I have many nieces and nephews, who having been raised in the Catholic faith, Catholic schools, and then public institutions, have all left the faith- well, maybe one hasn’t yet- but she is now attending a Lutheran college. The bulk of them have completely been turned around- upside down, from the values they were raised in, and have fallen into the relativism bubble. It seems unnecessary to hand a smart phone to a teenager, whatever their track record of responsible behavior.

  17. Melissa Franco on May 4, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    As a mother of a senior daughter, I have seen a lot! Not all, we haven’t seen it all just yet. I anticipate college will fill in the remaining blanks. Her phone still isn’t allowed in her room (a little more here and there but not at night). We always say, we wouldn’t have set a computer up in there (if that was still a thing). I stay logged in to her accounts on my phone to help monitor…bless her heart, she’s never put up a real fight. I suppose because long ago, she was just happy to have them. I realize I sound like a helicopter mom in the worst sense so this is a great reminder to go back to basics and discuss good and evil and the temptations out there. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kathryn on May 8, 2017 at 1:28 am

      You sound just like our house!

  18. Claire Rebecca on May 4, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    I think if my college-aged friends and I were able to give a talk to parents of kids 5-15 years younger than us, our go-to topic would be social media and computers. In addition to all of the appropriateness issues (and there are so many, and I’ve seen so many parents who just don’t pay attention), I’ve also seen so many issues with managing time and being addicted to devices (to the point of 15 year olds having meltdowns if they can’t be on a screen 24/7) where I suspect it happened because parents just didn’t know how much computers/phones/iPads were being used.

    College students: we will come to your house and tell you what we wish our parents had known in exchange for food!

  19. Kathy on May 4, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Teens don’t need smart phones. I’ve raised 4 children, now ages 27-17, who’ve never had one. I don’t have to worry about what my kids do on their phones–they never have them until they are able to afford them. By the the time my two older boys were able to afford them, they just got the cheapest they needed to get along at college (and my oldest two have gone to a top-tier college). Too many parents have capitulated to the culture and refused to keep their children apart from it. None of my children have been allowed to be on a computer until they started applying to colleges, and after they took a course I wrote, “The Christian Student and the Computer”. Life is a lot easier if we just don’t throw ourselves and children into the culture.

  20. Sandy on May 4, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I worry all the time about what my girls do on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, & Instagram. Especially my 17 year old because of Snapchat with her boyfriend. I try to have the hard talks with them. I also try to keep them involved with church & their faith. Sometimes I think I worry too much but yet I don’t want to not worry enough.

    • Kathryn on May 8, 2017 at 1:28 am

      Story of parenthood! Keep on keeping on, Sandy.

  21. Karen Houk Webb on May 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Wow. Just wow. Thank you I am curious as to whether your catholic grade school did TOB or you did yourself. What age? I have a 10 year old boy as my oldest. And trying to figure what to do when. Our CGS does not seem to do much.

    • Kathryn on May 8, 2017 at 1:27 am

      We did TOB ourselves, however the middle school is just starting to incorporate it into the curriculum this year. Hooray!

  22. Joanna on May 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    I get so confused about all of this. My oldest is going into 6th grade. We homeschool. She has no need for a cell phone yet. I want to put it off as long as I can, but I don’t want her leaving for college completely lost. She knows that I use Facebook, but doesn’t even know about other social media platforms. I don’t know how or when to introduce all of this!

    • Kathryn on May 8, 2017 at 1:26 am

      We found that delaying social media until they’re of legal age (13) was helpful. But well before that we introduced internet safety and talked about it, a lot. Our kids don’t get cell phones until high school (just dumb ones!) and smart phones until 16 or later.

  23. Sarah on May 7, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    AMEN! AMEN AMEN AMEN! While my own kids are still pre-social media use, I teach 5th graders and I try to explain this to their parents every year. I will be sharing this amazing post. THANK YOU for writing this!

  24. Karen Houk Webb on May 19, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    I thought of your post and when my school hired Jesse Weinberger from http://www.overnightgeekuniversity.com/. I made sure I was there. Oh my goodness. She spoke for two hours and was amazing. She spoke with kids earlier by grade and then shared what they told her. 65% of my sons fourth grade class has their own iPads or cell phones. Many have their own instagram or Snapchat accounts (which is illegal if you are under 13). And I need to get tape to cover the cameras on computers.

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