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Back to School #4: Making Friends in a Social Media World

Are smartphones and social media the new cul de sac? Do our children need to be online in order to have friends? In today’s podcast we take these questions head on and talk about what it takes to make a friend, be a friend, and keep a friend.

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Hello everyone. And welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast. My name is Nathan Sutherland, and this podcast is dedicated to helping families love God and use tech. Today, we are on episode 135, talking about friends in a social media and a smartphone world.

This idea that our young people are growing up in a different environment than we grew up. And we need to have this conversation. Does friendship look different now, when our children tell us I have to have this game or this app or this device in order to have friends? Is that true? And if it is, how do we navigate that? If it’s not, how do we have that conversation? So, that’s our hope for today is that you’re gonna walk away from today with a win in that category, and the confidence to be able to go and love your child well in these conversations that are gonna be happening as your children go back to school. So, that is our focus for this morning. And with no further ado, let’s get this conversation started.

Welcome to the gospel tech podcast, a resource for parents who feel overwhelmed and outpaced as they raise healthy youth in a tech world. As an educator, parent, and tech user, I want to equip parents with the tools, resources, and confidence they need to raise kids who love God and use tech.

Thank you to everyone who has made this podcast possible. Thank you for listening on wherever you stream this device. Thank you so much. Thank you for telling your friends because that is helping us grow. I can watch it as new listeners joined. It’s super cool. Thanks, digital technology, but we’re watching in the United States, Washington State, which has been my home base, it’s where I live up here in the Northwest. It’s gorgeous. At least this time of year when it’s not raining all the time. We’re watching, I mean, groups like Ohio, we can watch Ohio grow or Texas. We can watch Texas grow. And that’s so cool and encouraging because it means that people are encouraged by this. They’re being equipped to love their kiddos well; to talk about tech; to understand the gospel; to apply that gospel their daily tech lives; and their town; their friends. So, thank you for doing that. Thank you as well to everyone who’s leaving reviews. That’s the little five-star thing wherever you stream. So, like under iTune or excuse me, apple podcast. If you scroll down, there’s five little stars. If you click the far right one, it’ll give you a five-star rating and then you can leave a review, which is a one or two sentence line of how’s it helped you? And basically, when people find it on the internet, in fact, just this week, someone contacted me from Texas said, “Hey, I found your podcast through iTunes, through the apple podcast,” what do you call it? “scrolling the feed.” So, they were listening to a podcast. It popped my podcast up. It only does that because people are listening, and people are rating and reviewing. So, thank you for doing that. If you have not yet, and you enjoy this podcast, would you please leave us a review? We ask for five stars, cuz I’m trying to make five-star material. And if it’s not, let me know, and I would love to improve this resource for you. But thank you guys for being a part of that.

So, last episode we talked about what do we do when our kid asks for new tech? You should go back and listen to it, if you have not heard it. That was well, it was two parts if you remember.

So, it’s episodes 133 and 134, but it’s all one conversation. The second episode dropped on Thursday, because what I thought was gonna be a 12-minute addition ended up being a 30-minute edition. But what we talked about is simply, does this tech add benefit to our family? Is it safe? Does it line up with our values, which in this case we’re talking the gospel. So, does this help our family live out what we’re committed to? And does it line up with our child’s purpose and potential? The second part then goes, all right, how would this actually sound if we did this for smartphone, social media, video games, and I, it was in an extra episode. So, apparently, I just went nuts. But building on that idea, is two important points.

The first is that we need to remember that when we talk technology, we need to come to this humbly, because it matters to our children. They’re not asking us just to be difficult. They’re not asking us because they’re indifferent. They’re asking us because this matters and they’re taking a risk and asking us. Therefore, this now has value. Doesn’t mean we say yes. It doesn’t mean that adds into the conversation. If it’s, this is bad, bad, bad, bad. Well, but you asked me and I wanna support. No, no, we’re just saying, take this conversation seriously and humbly because we understand what it means to take a risk, and we love our children. We want to give them good things. So, we’re starting with that.

And the second is, every tech conversation is a chance for a parenting win. We get to Proverbs 22:6 in these conversations. So, it’s not about getting the tech right on the first try. It’s about helping our children see the conversation and see the motivation for our choices, which is why we talked about, well, first of all, like I’m your parent. So, is it safe? Cuz God’s put me here to help you be safe. Right? I wanna give you good things. Not things that are dangerous or harmful. Second is, does it line up with the gospel? Our family values dictate the things we do, even in our fun and our quote unquote free time. And the third is, our child’s purpose and potential. Does it line up with who they’re being called to be? Does it leave more of our child and accentuate and leverage their abilities and their talents and interests, or does it SAP their energy and their focus? So, that’s what we did last conversation. And we’re extending that into this week because we’re talking friends in a digital world.

Our kiddos are going to want some good friends, and as loving parents, don’t we want that for them? I have three kids, eight, six, and three, and I don’t need a lot of friends for my kids, but I want one. I want one kid who knows my kid’s name. I want one kid who’s gonna be in my kid’s corner. I want one kid that they can go and find on a rough day when I’m not around. Right? When they don’t want, it’s not something you need to go tell a teacher about, but they just want somebody in their corner. And we want that for them. And I just, I wanna start this conversation with a common, it’s almost an argument. It’s never brought up as an argument, but at basically every talk I’ve done in the last three years parents come up and say, yeah, but I hear what you’re saying. I hear tool tech and drool tech. I hear healthy tech. I hear, you know, reset in these intentional steps we can take. But if my child doesn’t have, insert the device, cuz it’s never the same device. It might be a smartphone. It might be social media. It might be a video game. They’ll say if my child doesn’t have this technological thing, then they won’t have any friends.

And I understand the logic on that. Right? It’s the kids aren’t in the cul-de-sac. They’re not, they’re not playing the school sports. They’re on this video game. They’re on this device. They’re on this social media resource. And if my child doesn’t go where the kids are, then my, my child won’t be around the kids. And I would say two things about that. One, it’s a little bit of a cyclical argument, because if everyone is doing the same thing and everyone goes there to be around everyone else, then everyone will always do that. And if that’s not the best option for our children, then that actually isn’t what we should be doing. So, we need kind of a different frame on that is all right. Who’s gonna be the first kid back in the cul-de-sac? Would be kind of one way to think about that. But on the other side of that saying like let’s talk about friends. If your friends are only there when it’s convenient. Like if your friends aren’t willing to step away from their digital space to be with you, is that a friend? You’ll hear the argument, the video games or social media or the streaming services, whatever the digital space is, they’re just the new cul-de-sac for children.

Right. So, and I said, well, who’s gonna be the first kid in the cul-de-sac? They’re just digital cul-de-sac. So, we need to go there. And I would say yes and no. there are lots of kids out there on those systems. That’s true. But not every interaction on there is positive. It’s not every one of those is desirable for our children. In fact, I would make the argument that if you imagine that cul-de-sac, imagine now that it’s butted up against a freeway, And an open-air penitentiary, and a popular drug use corner, and the red-light district, and it’s all happening at midnight. That changes the flavor of whether our children should go to that cul-de-sac. And really when we talk about. Technology smartphones and social media. We need to understand that smartphones are the superhighway to the internet, and the internet is that cul-de-sac I just described. It’s designed for easy use and convenience, but not all the users are healthful or friendly.

So, let’s have that conversation. What does it mean to have a friend? And in fact, I wanna, I wanna say, what does it mean to make a friend is where we’re gonna start. So, a friend is just this individual we have a bond with, right. That idea that someone’s in our corner, someone knows our name. Someone knows our story and that we can go to and have these shared experiences with. They’re a wonderful thing. We see them in the Bible. Jonathan, David are one of the best examples of friends that we have outside of Jesus and His disciples. And he says, I no longer call you servants. I call you friends. Right. And that’s this beautiful picture of, of what we become, become friends with God when we become Christians.

So, what’s it mean then to make a friend? We’re gonna start with this idea that we’re gonna want to be the kind of person we’d want to have as a friend. Meaning, if I want a friend who’s trustworthy, who’s warm, who’s welcoming, who’s sincere, who’s honest… Then I wanna go be that person. I want to exemplify that and exude that and be that to other people. Both because I’m hoping to attract that person, sure, but because I wanna be that person. Like that person needs to exist in the world and that’s actually who God’s calling us to be. So, we get to go be that person to someone else, because it’s not all about us just magically attracting friends. Like, that friend is needed in the world and you’re not the only one who needs it. So, you can actually become that friend and go find someone who needs that friend and be their friend. And now you’ve got a friend and they’ve got a friend and it’s all going the right direction. So, I think that’s the first piece. And the second is figure out what you’d want that friend to do? What are you passionate about involved in? What gives you life and energy? It doesn’t have to be perfect but go try it out. Go make some pottery or paint that thing or join that sport or what make a club at school, right. Be part of creating the space for these friends to exist. And there’s a really good chance someone’s gonna come who also wants someone in that journey with them.

I would caution just a little bit here. Sometimes we see sports as the go to, and this is true with video games and many other things that are super specialized. There is a point where people are joining these activities just to be good at the activity. And we do need to recognize fairly that that’s, that’s an okay thing to do. It’s okay to join an elite sport, just to get better at the sport. So, if your child says, Hey mom or dad, I wanna join this traveling sports team because I wanna make friends, just maybe add the caution that son or daughter of mine, like those kids are there for the sport. So, we can go if you wanna be great at volleyball. If you wanna be great at baseball. If you wanna be a great wrestler. We can do this. Just know that the friends that you make there are there to be excellent at the sport. So, for instance, we can’t continue next year, or a family tragedy happens, and you have to drop out, there’s a really good chance these friends aren’t gonna drop out with you. They’re probably gonna stay with the sport. They’ll probably bring someone on to fill your spot and the team is gonna keep moving forward for the sport, because they’re not really built for social and, and friend connections. If you wanna make friends like join the Y near your house. Join, join the local community center because those people live near you, and they’re there probably for more than just getting excellent at a sport. They’re there for the social and the connection and the community aspect. So, just a word of caution as we talk about making friends. And I don’t believe I said this next one, invite someone to join you on these activities. So, you have the in activities, you’re being the person that you want to be, and then you can invite someone along. Because we don’t have to be passive in this making a friend process. We can bring people along and get this journey started for both of us. Right? I feel, especially, in middle school and elementary, there are times where lots of people in the room are waiting for someone else to take the first step. And they’re wanting to be involved and they’re wanting to be known and they’re wanting to have a friend on this journey… Be the person to start the conversation.

So, that’s how to make a friend, which brings us to the, how do you be a friend then? And I, I broke this down to three specifically and parents, I think the applies in our lives too. But let’s talk about it with our children. How do you be a friend? If, if we know what a friend is, is this person that you have a mutual affection for that you are moving through life with. We can make them by being the kind of person we want, planning activities that we want to be involved in, and inviting others to come along with us, then how do we be a friend? First is we have to respect this individual. This is where humility comes in. It allows us to be kind, but respect means that we see value in them. Not value that we can get from them, but value is an equal. There, there are lots of wonderful people out there, but when it comes to respecting someone, it means that I’m gonna really ask them questions. I think this is a wonderful litmus for if someone values you, and whether you value someone. Are you asking them about them? Are you asking them how their day was and what their high point was and how that made them feel? And giving them the space to speak about what matters to them. Cuz if you’re not, there’s a really good chance that they’re just an accessory. They’re someone that you’re using for convenience or they’re just an individual. They’re fine. Right? They’re an acquaintance, but they’re not a friend. They’re not someone you’re going through this journey with.

So, respect is gonna be huge. You have to see them as equal or greater value than yourself. And I would say equal value, and it needs to come from, you understand that despite your flaws, your foibles, your issues, you’re both made in the image of God. And you’re both striving to be more like Jesus. So, that is a foundation point for your friendship.

The second would be, do you love them? And I don’t mean romantic love. I don’t mean do they give you warm fuzzies? I mean, do you choose the highest good for them? I love that definition of love because when we choose the highest good for another individual, we can become a friend unilaterally. I’ve been friends with people who don’t like me, but that’s, that’s not my job to make them like me. It’s my job to love them and to choose the highest good for ’em. That doesn’t mean giving them what they want. In fact, you can have somebody in your life that you want to be a friend to. You respect them and you see their value and you see them doing things that are harming themselves or others. So the most loving thing to do is getting that person help. In fact, with bullies, one of the things I love to tell my middle school students is, “Hey, a bully is actually hurting themself more than they’re hurting the people they’re bullying. Maybe they’re saying mean stuff. Maybe they’re doing mean stuff. Maybe they’re posting untrue stuff on the internet. When bullies do that, they’re actually more likely to suffer from depression, and ideas of hurting themselves. Ideations of self-harm. They’re more than twice as likely to struggle with that than the people they’re bullying. And the people they’re bullying are more than twice as likely to struggle with that than people who aren’t bullied. So, the bully themselves are actually at the highest risk of future harm. And if we look at this from a big picture, that means they need someone to choose their highest good. To put an into that, to tell someone with the authority, to get them the help that they need.” we need to love them. We need to respect them.

And the third thing is we need to have boundaries. I’ll give you a couple areas where I believe they’re at boundaries. I think without boundaries, we quickly can step into not being a friend or an equal. We become an accessory. We become a thing that’s added on, because the person doesn’t love us or respect us. They’re just using us, either because they’re bored, or they just feel like they need someone. And so, we’re the current thing around. So, we can teach our children as they’re walking with their friends to talk about. Alright, What does it look like to respect our friends? Like, are we listening to their story?

Are we asking them questions? What kind of questions could we ask? All right. And just pick one, like how’s your day? What was the high point of your day? What was the hardest part of your day? How’d it make you feel? As a nice follow up. And then to love them when friendships start rolling, especially when our friends start dating other people and making these other choices. We can be a friend by choosing their highest good. Sometimes that means planning an event to make them feel loved. Sometimes it means celebrating their victories, even though we didn’t get the victory. Sometimes it means intervening in a hard space. So, being intentional with that.

And then we need to have boundaries around our time, around what we’ll do, what we’ll watch and listen to, how often we’re willing to be available. We’re not just gonna be available 24/7. We have things to do. By the way, even if you have nothing to do, you have something to do, right? You, you are an individual who’s a child of God before you are this person’s friend. And so, you have responsibilities to your family. You have responsibilities to your own personal character, growth, and development, right? Before you have this person. And if this person is absolutely requiring you for survival, that’s a chance to lovingly point them to professional resources who can help them, or other caring adults who can help them and be there for them. Cause that’s not a middle school or high school or an elementary school’s child’s job to save and keep a friend safe.

How often you’ll hang out where you’ll hang. Who is spending the money and what you’ll spend your money on, and who gets to pick stuff. So, that’s not saying that one person can’t pick all the time but making sure as we talk to our children about being friends, we’re like, oh, it’s interesting. It doesn’t seem like you ever have any say in what’s happening. Have you thought about that? Have you brought it up? How was that received? Like, it’s just how to be a friend. Having boundaries is really important. And it’s both important for our young people to learn and their friends to learn, because their friends need to see what it looks like to have loving boundaries set, and to understand that friendship isn’t about simply consuming the humans around us.

Third, then when we talk about friends is how do we know if someone is a friend? Which is just what we just covered. So, we just take those same questions and go, all right, well, does this person respect me? Do they treat me as valuable as an equal? Do I have a seat at this table with this conversation? Do they love me? Are they choosing my good or am I constantly getting pivoted into whatever’s best for them, and most convenient for them? Which sometimes in digital spaces, this one comes up a lot. Well, this person likes me. Like we have a common interest in this game or this discord or this whatever passion that we’ve got, but they don’t care about me. Like when my life hits the fan, they don’t stop what they’re doing and come pay attention. They’re like, all right, well, just like join up when you can. Right? And then they go about their life because they didn’t care about me. They cared about themselves and I’m just accessory to their events. And so, I think keeping that in mind is gonna be important when we talk about it. And then do they have boundaries? Right? Do they love me? Do they say no? Not because they have better plans with another person but because they simply have expectations of themselves. So, they’re gonna do their schoolwork. They’re gonna spend time with their family. They’re gonna be involved with their church. Not cuz they don’t love us, but because they do love us, and they’re being a great friend, cuz they’re gonna be a whole person who loves the Lord. And that’s going to leave a whole person for us to be friends with, which is amazing. So, that’s how we can know if someone is our friend.

And finally, how do we keep a friend? Simple idea, little bit longer concept, but one word, investment. In order to keep friends, we’ve gotta invest in them. If you think friends of like plants. So, we have, if you plant a seed and it started to sprout, how do we keep that seed growing? We’re going to give it time. We’re gonna give it sunshine and or warmth in this case. And we’re gonna give it water. And I think it’s a, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but walk with me on this, because time it’s true. To be great friends with someone, it simply. We need time with them. I can meet someone an event and we can instantly hit it off and we become instant friends. We now are in each other’s corners. We know each other’s names. We wanna know more about each other’s stories and it continues into the future as we build this relationship with one another. But the friendship with that person, which I’m now friend with it, it can be a very real friendship, it can happen very quickly, but it’s a different friendship than say a friendship with a friend from junior high. And I’m blessed with this very unusual situation where I’m friends with multiple people from junior high. Not because we’re all still immature. These people have become amazing human beings, but because we still have the shared bond of Christ as our foundation, and we still love driving each other towards that greater purpose. And now many of us are married. Some of us even have kids. All of us are doing, like, work and life and busyness. But when we come back together, Those long-term friends, the ones that have the investment of time, two things are true; one, they don’t take as much time to maintain. They’re sturdy friends. They’re more like the evergreen of friends, rather than like the orchid of friends. They are sturdy and they can survive long seasons of relational drought. The second part of that is not only are they drought resistant friends, there’s a part of me, so I’ll just speak from my experience, there’s part of Nathan that still is alive but only shows up when contacted with friends from that era. Anna’s not always a huge fan of this, but if we go out to dinner with a, a friend or friends from junior high and we hang out, like, the conversation goes from adult Nathan, who’s already a little, like all over the place, to very much junior high Nathan. Like I get really loud, and I do think that that’s the beauty of friendship. It’s the beauty and the importance of investments when we think about our kiddos and how are we gonna get them friends. There needs to be this time. This, this consistency, which when we talk about the sunshine of this metaphor. I would say those are like the warm, intentional events. This isn’t every part of friendship, but they do need, we need shared experiences. We need things that are fun. And I would say this is anything that takes planning beforehand. So, playing a sport can absolutely be this. You had to plan to be at the sport. You had to show up at the right time, show up at the right equipment. Show up with the right. Be on the team and keep showing up. And I think that is enough for a shared bond. I have a lot of these middle school friends I played; I’ve played sports with. We played high school football, for example, together. We weren’t good. I think we went three and eight every single year, but, or I might have been worse. It might have been like two and six. We weren’t good. But we have the shared experience of being terrible. In fact, two days, so back in like end of summer ball, you, we would all go to the local 7-11 and have Slurpee’s and we’d sit on Chad’s iron horse gate and, and bend it because I was a normal size person at like 170 pounds. And all of my friends apparently decided to eat their Wheaties and were, you know, 200 plus six foot plus, people. So, we destroyed Chad’s iron horse gate. Sorry about that, Chad. But we had this bonded experience arounds Slurpee’s, and the social aspect of just pounding carbs after a hard day of practice. And there’s that shared bond.

I can remember, I mean, if you just go through a list. I, a friend took me hiking. I was not raised to be a hiker. We went hiking on camp Mira. I almost died. It was lovely, but still terrifying. There are traditions, friends, and I got together and we’re like, Hey, let’s write down everyone’s birthdays. And then we would try to surprise those people for their birthday to celebrate. Which we’d always come up with new and creative ways of doing this, but there was this shared tradition together of like these events. They’re planned. We know everyone’s got a birthday, so let’s make a big deal of it and, and celebrate those and make that like a group thing, rather than just a, a singular thing.

And then my parents were very gracious. So, they let me plan a lot of Hangouts at our house where I would have more than three people at a time over. And we would just make regular Hangouts to that. Be like, great. What are you guys doing next weekend? Cool. Let’s all go hang out after the game, cuz we’d play football for example, in the fall and then go hang out. And we’d hang out on Saturday together. And these events could be as simple as we’re gonna play video games together. The Goldeneye was a game on the Nintendo 64, that got a lot of attention for me and my friends. But I mean it included, you know, going swimming or playing grudge match style wrestling, where you just form a ring of bodies and then have two people call each other out and wrestle. Which is a great idea on carpet. You just get rug burns everywhere. The point is that shared experience. These are these sunshine events that you can look back on and yes, 20 years later, can remember because they were things you shared with your friends. And that is going to be an important of how do you make these, how do you keep these friendships going?

But the real, I would say the linchpin of the, of the friendship is going to come down to the watering. That regular everyday stuff is what’s so valuable. It’s the stuff that you may not even remember. It’s kind of like learning your middle level math, where like, well, I can do this upper-level math. I don’t remember anything about the middle level. Like with our friendships, the watering is that. It’s the stuff that keeps the friendship strong and regular, that you don’t recognize. You don’t really think about but takes intentionality to do. To water, I think this is really where the digital world suffers the most, is that our watering turns all into sunshine and we just bake our friendships. Like they become so much effort because everything has to be huge. Like this friend won’t show up unless they feel like it’s gonna be worth their time. Like, that’s, that’s where friendships start to die. And the regular contact of just not choreographed, simple Hangouts, where we’re just together because they want it to say hi. It doesn’t have to be long. Maybe they knock on the door because they live nearby. Maybe they just drop a phone call, or they use something like Marco polo, or Voxer. Just to keep a conversation going. They don’t have any updates that are specific. They don’t need anything from you. They just want to be in your processing, in your friendship. And I, I will say in my life that makes me feel super loved. I have scheduled phone calls with some friends. They’re every other week, and they are just a quick update where we can talk about, I mean, silly life things. They aren’t huge updates; nothing needs to be exciting. And we just get a chance to like, hear the real odds and ends of life. And I think that is when we talk about how do we keep our friends? It’s gonna take investment in the form of time, the form of intentional events, and then the form of just regular consistent contact. Again, the longer the friend lasts, the farther apart that consistent contact can be, and you’ll still have that friend. But I think the plant metaphor kind of works here. So, when we’re talking to our young people about being friends, do they have to have a smartphone? No. They don’t have to have a smartphone to have a friend. In fact, it might be undesirable to have a smartphone. Do they have to have social media? No. Especially when they’re young. It’s, it’s going to have more downside than up. And if they feel like if your child is convinced that they need social media, or they need a smartphone, or they need that video game, in order to have a friend walking through this conversation, like, let’s talk about that. Like, what does it mean to be a friend, right? Are we being the kind of person that we’d want to have as a friend? Or are you just feeling alone and desperate, so you’ll take anything? Because that’s not boundaries, right? like we wanna be the kind of person we wanna go where they are when invite someone to be with us. Let’s be intentional in making our friends.

We can be a friend by respecting. By choosing their highest good, loving them, and by setting boundaries. Having intentional boundaries, even if it means we might miss a hangout because it breaches one of the boundaries. Let’s think about what, what do we want for our boundaries? How do we make sure that we are loving them well, and that we’re also being intentional with who we become?

I, I hope that this conversation was helpful for you, parents. That you hear this conversation about friendship and feel equipped and empowered to talk to your kiddos about friends. I hope it gives you the words to say, both about social media and smartphones, but about the friends your kids have and when they come and they, they start feeling like they’re in a hostage situation with these people that are convinced to their friends, that you can either help them delineate, Hey, you’re right. These kids are your friends. And we want you to be able to invest in that. Let’s figure out how. Or Hey, maybe those people, aren’t your friends. Like maybe they’re fine acquaintances. Doesn’t make ’em bad people, but maybe they’re not the ones you’re gonna be investing in long term. So, I that’s my hope for you. And that my hope is that it’s encouraging in life giving to you and to your kiddos and that you get that win for being able to be present in that and show empathy and knowledge in such a hard area. I hope that it, in being encouraging to you, would be something you’ll think through, about sharing with somebody. If this helped you at all, if this is something that, you know, someone else who is asking these questions, please share it with them, cuz that again is how we reach more people. And I hope that you will join us next week as we continue this conversation about how we can love God and use tech.

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