Over the weekend our church youth group had an overnighter (not to be confused with an all nighter- 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. 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 am. Apps I’ve heard of, but didn’t see the need for (Vine, SnapChat and Twitter) are part of the everyday world of a modern-day teenager. Not only is YouTube popular, certain broadcasters reign supreme. It’s a far cry from the flip phone days.
Recently a ‘new’ (I use the term loosely, understanding that it has probably been known in the teenage world long before it was known in the adult world) app called After School has been making headlines. Its another news story about teenagers abusing their phones and believing that their activity is anonymous. 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 designed a platform. Initially this platform was unscathed and didn’t know violence or pain. Until the couple realized they had another option and selfishness crept into their hearts, they had every intention of doing good and being in a perfect relationship with their creator.
Like teenagers hiding behind a screen, 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 Adam and Eve were eventually exposed and so are a lot of teenagers who think they can hide. This has given law enforcement a new question-what kind of consequences should these teenagers face? As it stands, teenagers who share nude photos can be charged with possession and/or distribution of child pornography. This 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. They later reintroduced it 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. Apple made a platform, its users decided what to create within it. We can’t blame the app, its the users who are responsible. It would be silly to blame the fall of man on the garden wouldn’t it?
As adults we need to remind adolescents of the choices they can make, clearly explain the consequences (because the teenage brain has a hard time seeing them coming) and when necessary set limits. In this case, Apple set the limits, but frankly its our job to do that.
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.
We can’t afford to be out of touch with technology or our kids. Its not Apple’s job or the government’s job to determine your child’s maturity level. Apple doesn’t (shouldn’t) know your child better than you do.