THE BLOG
12/07/2012 03:42 pm ET | Updated Feb 06, 2013

Is Social Media an Angel or a Devil for Teen Development?

Remember those old cartoons that showed an angel on one side of someone's shoulder and a devil on the other whenever a character needed to make a decision? While we don't all have little dueling voices on our shoulders, I'm sure many parents sometimes feel that way.

You see, I've been counseling families around the country who understand we have a major parenting dilemma in front of us. Many parents I talk with are concerned with the amount of time their children spend texting their friends. "They just don't talk with one another anymore," one mother told me. "I watch my daughter's friends come to my house, and they text each other in the house."

Another family told me the obsession her son had with facebook. "I used to be worried about the television, but now I can't keep my kid off the laptop. It's like Facebook is raising my kid now."

All too many parents are feeling the squeeze from video games, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the variety of social networking mediums students have at their fingertips. "It's almost like we're living in an alternate universe." One Texas parent said.

Let me help...

I've got a few points I think will help start the social media discussion in your home.

1. Remember, before 2004, Facebook didn't exist.

I assume most parents of teens today lived through the invention of the Internet. We had backyard ball games; bicycle rides down the street and playground forts we used as we imagined storming the castle. Today is different. Although those things still occur, a large portion of a teenager's time is consumed with being online. They don't know a world without it. In fact, I would go so far to say they live most of their social life online. There's nothing wrong with it, but we need to recognize the difference in the way we communicate.

I remember my friends being on the phone with a cord for hours after school. Today, they can be online with ALL their friends at the same time. There's a need we all have to be connected with others, and today it's easy. So when you hear devil on your shoulder call for all electronics to be shut down in your home, take some time to understand the angel trying to whisper wisdom. This is how they communicate.

2. Texting is a way of communicating today.

Remember, the prolific use of cell phones only happened in the mid to late '90s. Before then, most people who used cell phones were considered drug dealers.

When cell phones really took off, no one ever texted. "Why would I ever do that, it's SO expensive. I'll just call someone and TALK." Well, those days have passed. I recently asked a student how many of his 1,200 contacts on Facebook would he actually want to talk to rather than receive a text and he told me, "20."

My kids text me during the day just to say "hey." Ok, so maybe our generation of parents would much prefer a phone call, but our students are living a life of communication through a text message today. It's not evil. There's no reason to be alarmed. But we have to teach our kids when it's good to pick up the phone and reach out to talk to someone. There is a time and a place where a real person can connect us to each other in a way a text may never be able to fulfill.

So when the Devil on your shoulder appears and asks you to take away the texting privilege from your kid, let the angel whisper some truth. It might not be the way you would live, but your kid is living in a world none of us ever lived in. We can teach them, train them, and help them develop deep meaningful relationships.

3. Be involved in your kids online life

As parents try to make sense of the online world, many just throw their hands up and say, "Well, I just don't know how to control it so I'll just let my kids handle it." I was recently interviewed on a major news outlet to discuss the onslaught of pornography in our student's lives. We see hundreds of students and young men who attend our resort in Colorado, KIVU, who are deeply addicted to pornography.

We now know how the brain interprets porn and drags participants into an addictive behavior. So how can parents help?

We must be involved in our kid's online life. don't mean we need to censor all they do, but we need to help our students understand the power of the technology they hold in their hands. I'm an advocate of making sure our philosophy in our home is to help raise our kids to adults who can make good decisions. It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of energy. But in the end, our responsibility isn't simply to protect our kids until they grow up, but rather, to help them develop into people able to think about behavior. They're going to make good choices, and bad ones; but as we parent, we have a duty to be involved.

So when the devil comes and entices you to shut down all the computers in your house, let the angel whisper truth, "Help your student understand the consequences of the decisions they make online. Help them make good choices." After all, it's the world they'll live in for the rest of their lives. It's time we take a proactive role to be sure our kids are choosing well.

4. Teach them how to develop meaningful relationships.

Finally, in the online world it's going to take an active effort to help our kids understand how to make good, strong, trustworthy relationships. It's what I enjoy doing more than anything else. When I see a kid succeed with his friend to accomplish something, or watch as they enjoy the beauty of the Colorado mountains around them; there's nothing quite like it.

When I help a student understand how to work through hard times, when I can connect people to support during life's guaranteed tragedy, real relationships begin to form. They learn what the meaning of friendship is, and they understand it's more meaningful than simply "clicking" and "liking" to be friends.

So when the devil comes in and tells you to throw your hands up in defeat, let the little angel whisper in your ear, "Help give your students places where they can learn how to make real friends." Whether it's athletics or a youth program in your community, you don't have to do this alone.