Over the weekend our church youth group had an overnighter (not to be confused with an all nighter as we did eventually sleep) and for the first time working with teenagers I felt out of the loop Ok let’s be honest, I felt like I was getting old. The kid (another term you use for teenagers when you start getting older) told me about an app called Wattpad. Wattpad is a social platform for writing and sharing stories. I was surprised I had never heard of it before because up until this point I thought I had kept up fairly well with social media.
I’ve had a Facebook for several years, blog inconsistently and even insta (I’m told its no longer necessary to add ‘gram’ to the end.) Yet, as the conversation continued I realized how out of touch I really was. Apps I’ve heard of but didn’t see the need for such as Vine, SnapChat and Twitter were part of the everyday world of a modern day teenager. Not only is YouTube popular but certain broadcasters reign supreme. It’s a far cry from my flip phone days and its why anyone working with youth who has spent more than two years into their adulthood needs to realize they’re detached from youth culture.
Recently a ‘new’ (I use the term loosely understanding that its probably been known in the teenage world long before it was known in the adult world) app called After School has been making news headlines. Its another story about teenagers abusing their phones based on the belief that their activity is anonymous, untraceable and impossible to bring about unwanted consequences. One news organization reported that the app ‘featured porn and bullying’.
But here’s the thing.
By itself, the app doesn’t feature anything. The only thing the platform offers is an opportunity for its users to use their free will to create information.
It’s the same situation Adam and Eve were presented with in the garden. Through six days of creation, God created a platform. Initially this platform was unscathed and didn’t know violence or pain. Until they realized they had another option and selfishness crept into their hearts influenced by that serpent, they had every intention of doing good and being in a perfect relationship with their creator.
After the fall, Adam and Eve were hoping to remain anonymous too.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:8-9
We know that they were eventually exposed and so are a lot of teenagers who think they can hide. The exposure has given law enforcement a new question-what kind of consequences these teenagers should face? As it stands teenagers who share nude photos can be charge with possession and/or distribution of child pornography. This kind of charge carries a hefty sentence of years and years in state prison.
Apple’s reaction to the news that teenagers were abusing the app was to temporarily remove it from the store only to re-introduce it again with a 17+ rating and small purchase fee. Not outright removing the app angered many parents and professionals.
But here’s the thing.
I think apple did the right thing. In fact, I think they did what parents and professionals should be doing. As I said earlier, Apple created a platform, its users decided what to create within it. It’s users are responsible. We as adults need to remind adolescent’s of the choices they have to make, clearly explain the consequences (because the teenage brain has a hard time seeing ahead) and when necessary set a limit for them. In this case, Apple set the limits but frankly its our job to do that. Apple doesn’t know your child better than you do.
Ever since the fall of man, there is an innate curiosity or sinfulness that shows itself especially during the formative years as it is coupled with the teenage brain that is rewarded for thrill seeking behavior and convinced ‘nothing bad can happen to me’. I remember learning how to use a dictionary in school and my first thought was to start looking up every bad word I could think of. It seems as if there is something dark to discover the mind will thirst to find it.
In the same way guns dont kill people, phone apps also have the potential be used for good or bad. We dont give guns to the mentally impaired so why do we freely and without limits give powerful, society impacting, life altering digital devices to teenagers whose brains have yet to fully develop? Unless they have early onset maturity which usually stems from excellent parenting (something so rare these days) a phone with internet access might just be too much for a developing teenager to safely handle without limits.
And its not Apple’s job or the government’s job to determine those limits. It’s ours and we can’t afford to be out of touch with technology or our kids.