3 ways to use social media (for good)

When it comes to social media, I think many of us have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. There are so many positive aspects about the connectivity it can generate, the relationships it can develop, maintain or strengthen and the exposure it can bring to many forms of information and inspiration. But there are also well documented aspects of social media that lead some to avoid it. Here are three redemptive uses of social media that I believe could make it one of our greatest assets in making the world a better place!!

1. Advocate & support

Social media provides a powerful platform to raise awareness, profile and funds for deserving people and causes.

Through social media, we are connected with needs and opportunities that might not otherwise come to our attention. From the comfort of our own couches we can donate to worthy causes, support individuals in their world changing efforts, sponsor research initiatives, support small business, petition governments and change agencies, and shine a spotlight on need and injustice. We can also share stories of courage, inspiration and hope.

The simple act of ‘liking’ a post increases its reach, ‘sharing’ or re-posting even moreso and our comments offer encouragement and support to the person or organisation – cheering them on to bigger and better accomplishments on behalf of those who need it most.

So whether it is the opportunity to support a friend’s child in the “Jump Rope for Heart” skipathon, or sign a Collective Shout petition to take steps to rid the world of sexual exploitation, or read a story that awakens our hearts to injustice, or sponsor a young person travelling overseas to understand more of the needs of the world, or donate goods to a prison or homeless ministry, or donate to aid men’s mental health, or like, share or comment on the activity of someone championing another worthy cause … or to utilise the platform to raise funds or awareness for those things God puts on your heart – do it!

A sure fire antidote for the draw of social media to be about self-indulgence, comparison, appearance management or complaining is to consider how we might use the platform to draw attention to what matters and use our voices on behalf of those without one.

2. Honour & encourage others

There are no shortage of places a person can turn to if they’re looking to be torn down. Even without trying we can find ourselves on the end of others’ (or even our own) criticism, judgement and exclusion. Social media offers a place to reverse that experience and to bring encouragement, affirmation and honour into one another’s lives.

Special occasions – birthdays, graduations, achievements, Mother’s/Father’s/Valentine’s Days, anniversaries, new jobs, farewells (etc) – are a great opportunity to publicly honour people of significance in our lives. Those we admire, those we are proud of, those we desire to champion and celebrate. And even on no-special-occasion-at-all days! What a great opportunity social media presents to say a kind word or two – to or about another person. To pause just a little longer to find words to articulate what you appreciate about them or how they are positively influencing your life and the lives of those around them.

I love the chance to share a photo and a ‘shout out’ to someone who is giving their all and living their best life. How grateful are we for people around us who do that in a way we can aspire to and be encouraged by!? Why wouldn’t we take the opportunities to share that sense of gratitude with others and give their spirits a boost in the process?

But even more than that, we can honour and encourage just in the ways we react to other people’s sharing. I often hear people talk about social media being a place they find hard because, for them, it breeds jealousy and discontent. What mental and/or heart shift might we make to see or hear of another’s success or enjoyment and choose to celebrate them rather than give voice to the negative or self-focussed emotions that might otherwise threaten to come to the surface? What we speak out to others we speak into our own psyche also – the choice to affirm or celebrate can do as much for our own wellbeing as it does for the object of our comments.

3. Spread joy!

If you have a bad customer service experience at the shops or on the phone to your insurance company. If you have opinions on the ineptitude of …**insert people of greatest annoyance here** (other road users, politicians, attendants at McDonald’s drive thru windows, people who misuse apostrophes etc). If you have a grievance about, well, anything or anyone – you will no doubt find some cathartic relief in bashing out a well-worded (or otherwise) rant on social media and then find a degree of satisfaction in the responses of others. People are very ready to jump on board with their own stories or deep empathy for your plight.

I’m just not sure it really helps much in the long run. In some cases, it does nothing more than rally people towards judgement and bullying. In most cases, it achieves nothing positive.

Social media platforms are perfectly poised to be a mechanism to bring joy, hope, life-giving encouragement and edification. To bring laughter to someone’s day (I find a story of your own epic failure is a great way to get people laughing!!), to acknowledge difficulty and share burdens, to speak words of peace, promise and potential into another’s circumstances. To give a cyber high-five to people who are succeeding at being an adult (you know, doing all the things!) or a cyber hug to those living through difficult seasons.

It’s a good question to ask of what you post yourself – and also a posture to adopt in your responses to what other’s post – does this spread joy? Does this perpetuate positivity? Does this point people toward things that are beautiful and creative and life-giving and hope inspiring and people honouring and smile inducing and motivating? When you could respond in jealousy, will you choose celebration? When you could dismiss or minimise the needs and hurts of another, might you choose words of empathy and compassion? When you could highlight the negative, would you choose instead to emphasise the positive?

Thoughts for action :-

Do you use Social Media in these positive ways? How might you change your online engagement to utilise these platforms to advocate and support, honour and encourage and spread a little more joy?

Guest Blog – 2 weeks screen free!

I invited Sharyn White (inset with husband Scott) to share some reflections on her family’s fortnight of no screens. Read on for her insights into the challenges and surprises of the process. Through this project her kids raised over $1600 for our church’s building fund by collecting sponsorships from family and friends.

From the first day I sat my son down in front of the television with the purpose to entertain him to now, 11 years later when I let him play on the computer for a couple of hours straight, I have wondered if I’m being a good parent by allowing him to do this, or a bad parent.  There is something about screens as a form of entertainment that leaves me uneasy.

So when my children decided to attempt two weeks of no screens to raise money for a project they are passionate about, I was excited and slightly terrified.

We have three children:  Harrison(11), Riley (10) and Alexandra (7).  Depending on homework or sporting commitments, they can spend up to two hours in front of a screen on a weekday.  On a Saturday and Sunday, that number could go as high as five hours if you include a game of football or an afternoon with a friend.  I’d like to think five hours is the exception, but in the footy season it’s probably not (and then there’s cricket in the summer!).

I am really aware that for some reading this these numbers constitute child abuse, and for others they might be small in comparison.  I desperately want to justify them to make myself feel better, but will restrain. They are what they are.

My biggest fear in attempting the challenge was what we were going to do with all those free hours.  How was I going to keep my kids entertained?  And by entertained, I guess I mean out of my hair and under control.

Surprisingly, entertainment was never an issue.  Screens were quickly replaced by a range of other activities, which the kids thoroughly enjoyed.  And other than some board games and a couple of outings on the weekends, the kids initiated their own play.  They never once asked to get in front of a screen. 

The kids didn’t struggle to find new ways to spend their time, but they did struggle.

The first week was tough.  The kids weren’t bored, instead they were very tired.  Every afternoon involved fights, tears and tantrums.  I could see that at the end of a school day, they just wanted to sit and switch off in front of a screen.  These meltdowns were so absurd, and the effect of screens so glaringly obvious that in these moments if I didn’t laugh I would cry.  It was really hard to watch my kids adjust.  It was so tempting to put them in front of a screen knowing that it was all that was needed to bring peace and rest to the house.  But it also made me more determined to see this challenge to its end.

I’ve always known that screens provide a lot of entertainment for very little effort.  It’s called instant gratification.  Screen-time can be both mindless, and stimulating.  But what shocked me most during the challenge was how conditioned my kids are for that type of activity; so conditioned that it affected their physical and mental capacity when it was removed.  Remaining pleasant, being creative and staying engaged took more effort than they were used to.

Fortunately it only took one week for that conditioning to change.  The second week was a completely different story.  Their capacity to positively engage in their surroundings increased, and the rewards were great.  They spent longer on homework, they settled into other activities for longer periods of time, and I think the familiarity with certain board games allowed them to find this form of entertainment relaxing.

I discovered through the challenge that if screens equal instant plus gratification, then removing or restricting a child’s screen-time doesn’t remove or restrict the gratification part of that equation, but the instant part.  My kids loved their screen-free challenge.  Harrison even spoke of extending his time because he could identify the benefits.  The entertainment and the enjoyment were there.  But they had to adjust to the effort it took and the character traits required to get these things in their different forms.

Harrison would identify the benefits of the screen-free challenge as better quality school work, learning new board games, and spending more time with mum and dad.  As their mother, I too enjoyed all those benefits.  But I also loved to see them grow in perseverance, their consideration of others, creativity, patience and the list goes on.

I would recommend taking up the screen-free challenge to any family.  Give it a go, and you might discover some interesting things.  But if that’s not your cup of tea, then can I encourage you to remove some of the ‘instant’ that invades your children’s lives; whether it be in the form of play, extra-curricular activities, dinner magically appearing on the table or a fresh pile of ironed washing. 

My kids are capable of more than I give them credit for.  And it is a joy to see them thrive on discovering that for themselves also.