Friday, May 26, 2023
It's Friday, May 26th, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Social Media Preys on the Young: The Federal Government Sounds the Alarm on Dangers of Social Media Use Among Adolescents
Just about every intelligent person knows that social media now represents an enormous challenge, if not a direct threat when it comes to individual wellbeing, social health, you just go down the list, let's just say public and private morality as well. We are watching American relationships speaking here just in this country to take an example, become extremely problematic, to use a contemporary word problematized, by the emergence of social media. Social media came with the promise of increased sociability and relatability and there are dimensions of social media that can still function that way. It's easier to keep up with an old high school buddy in terms of Facebook. It's easier to keep up with some of the latest happenings and say your friend or network of family just by looking at Instagram.
But when it comes to most social media and when it comes to the greatest consumption of social media, it's not evenly distributed and a lot of it's just profoundly not social. And the problem of social media as an individual in social challenge is not evenly distributed. Yes, there are older adults who have problems that emerge from social media, but we know that the most vulnerable are the younger among us, and any sane society recognizes that one of the chief responsibilities of that society is to protect the most vulnerable and particularly to protect the young.
There is not a surviving society on planet earth that has not treated children and adults differently. And furthermore, there isn't a successful society that hasn't understood that it's the responsibility of adults to care for young people and children and not vice versa. Now, an interesting issue related to young people in social media emerged this week and it came from the Surgeon General of the United States and from the U.S. health authorities.
A 19-page advisory was issued by the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and this was about the effects, particularly on American adolescents, of extended exposure to social media. Now, sometimes you look at a government report and you say it's something we can just ignore. Sometimes you look at a government report and you say, this is actually something we should ignore.
When you look at this government report, it is actually something we should not ignore. Christians should not be less concerned about the moral effect and the social effect and the relational and spiritual effect of social media on adolescence than the United States Surgeon General is, we should be more concerned and Christian parents need to understand that this is not just a matter of a concern being expressed to America's parents, most of whom are likely to ignore it. This is the kind of concern raised by the chief medical doctor in the United States government about our own young people, and this is something that Christian parents had better pay a great deal of attention to and had better think about very fast.
And for that matter, not just think, take action. Now in the language of a government report, there's a lot here, but a lot of it sounds pretty plain, pretty expected, pretty common sensical. For example, this quote, there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents. And to some extent certainly we knew that, it's sheer lunacy to deny that.
But the point is that the Surgeon General has issued this report in order to sound a very significant alarm, and the Surgeon General is making very clear that the use of social media and in particular the obsessive exposure to social media that marks many adolescent lives, this is a threat to adolescent health. It's a public health threat. That's why the government is paying it attention. The government doesn't usually offer to come alongside parents and say, oh, here are some helpful parenting advice, tips.
No. Instead, the federal government in this case is sounding an alarm because this is a problem that is now so large, it has escalated to such a huge proportion that the federal government cannot ignore it. And again, if this is of concern to the federal government, of how much greater concern should it be to Christian families and to Christian churches, to local congregations, the Surgeon General's report also cites a report from the American Psychological Association in which that group issued recommendations to parents that parents, according to the Times report, closely monitor teens usage and tech companies should reconsider features like endless scrolling and the like button.
But one of the things you see in the media coverage about the Surgeon General's report, and it comes by the way as a report with a lot of very specific information and with some very specific detail on the challenges that America faces, particularly with the problematic exposure of so many children and adolescents to grave dangers from social media.
We'll talk more about some of those dangers in just a moment, but the point is that the government is also calling for social media companies to reform themselves and respond. But here's what you need to recognize. There is no financial incentive whatsoever for these companies to limit exposure when it comes to social media, to teenagers or children or adults or anyone else for that matter because it is the attention of those eyeballs that alone creates the context for the business model of these social media platforms. They don't make money and they don't gain ground by adopting policies that cut down on their use. Instead, there is every reason to understand that these companies have an incentive to capture and to keep the eyes of children and adolescents as long as they possibly can. And by the way, when you say as long as they possibly can, how long might they possibly?
Well, the Wall Street Journal releases information from this report indicating that according to self-reporting, 95% of American teenagers say that they use social media and 30% self-reported that they use it virtually constantly. They would do so every minute of every day if they could and for that matter into the night. One of the frightening statistics that came in a previous report is how many teenagers and for that matter, just middle schoolers sleep with their smartphones on their pillow or right there on their bed so that the light can come on and they can wake up and at least insofar as they are capable, not miss anything. We also understand that when you look at the age spectrum, risk is not evenly distributed. Again, a 75-year-old man is not likely to face the same kinds of vulnerabilities that might be experienced by a 14-year-old girl.
And if you think that's sexist, just understand it's profoundly true. The fact is, that even if you're looking at adolescents, adolescent boys may find many things problematic in social media and it might have a negative effect upon many of them. And by the way, one of those effects is often exposure to rather toxic ideas that can quickly take hold in a teenage brain. But the social part of social media tends to expose a greater vulnerability in women and in particular in teenage girls and particularly in the stage of adolescence when many girls are afraid they might be missing out, they are overly concerned about body image and they are constantly being drawn into a social contest that is nothing less than a rather ruthless competition. The arrival of ubiquitous social media just makes that ruthless competition all the more ruthless and very in injurious to young people.
The Surgeon General said in the report, "We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis, one that we must urgently address." Now that statement's pretty morally clear, but it's also fairly bureaucratic. How exactly might we address this?
I'll simply say that when it comes to something like the clear and present danger represented by TikTok, our politicians even acknowledging national security threats, they're not taking any real action to limit TikTok. You have TikTok being banned in the state of Montana, but it's not clear exactly what that means in one state or even if the state has the legal authority to do so. I say, way to go Montana, but the fact is there are 49 other states and let's face it, this is a national problem, not just a state problem.
Specific mental health problems are made very clear in this report, particularly anxiety and depression and depression's a massive factor in the lives of many adolescents. Many teenagers are self-reporting depression at the very same time they are self-reporting anxiety. At the very same time they are reporting this extensive use and exposure of social media. Another way to look at this is that it represents a cry for help on the part of America's adolescents, even you might say, directed at the adults who are supposed to be after all, acting like adults and protecting them, and many of them are quite sophisticated in understanding that this is indeed a problem. There was an absolutely fascinating article that appeared as a response piece to the Surgeon General's report and his statement. This one appeared in the New York Times and it had to do with conversation between reporters and teenagers in New York.
The subhead of the article is this, mixed reactions to top doctor's warning. The headline is this, New York teens resent social media and efforts to officially take it away. That sounds like a very typical adolescent quandary, but boy does this get interesting. The article begins this way, In Manhattan, one high school freshman said he's trying to cut down on scrolling through TikTok, but question whether the age restrictions on social media use could ever effectively stop tech-savvy teenagers. Very interesting to hear these teenagers talk about themselves. Almost every teenager cited in this article brought up the fact that exposure to social media is very, very problematic and individually, they more or less acknowledge it is personally problematic. But they did come back to the basic irony in the headline here. They said they resent social media, but they also resent any effort to keep them from it.
Yeah, that's a quandary that I think adults can recognize is not limited to teenagers. Speaking of social media as social media, one 15-year-old boy said this, "I resent it a lot actually. I can rant all day about why I don't like social media and why I think it's one of the great cancers of our generation." But he went on to say, "I just don't think the government should have that type of regulation over our own social lives." Now that's an interesting statement. It reflects both sides of the issue, but did you catch the fact that that young man is 15 years old? How many 15-year-olds do you know who talk this way and who talk this way to reporters? They must have hit a gold mine here. Another 15-year-old boy named Bradford told the reporters, "We're kind of in a pickle here."
He went on to say that the tech companies have zero incentive to make meaningful changes. A 15-year-old boy is not only insightful about social media, but also about the realities of corporate America. Maybe at least part of this comes from living in New York. Some teenagers also resent the fact that adults are very concerned about teenage use of social media when they don't actually admit that they're spending a lot of time scrolling themselves. One young woman said, she's also 15, by the way, "Social media is just something that you have to have in our generation." She went on to say according to the times that she finds the intense political focus on young people to be kind of funny. "I know my grandma spends her days sitting on her phone watching funny cat videos on TikTok". Yeah, I think we know some people like that too.
But in a far more serious vein, these young people also articulated many of the problems they face on social media, much of the anxiety that has caused their concerns about themselves and their own inability to limit their own use of social media, their own scrolling of endless videos on TikTok. Indeed, as the one 15-year-old young man said, "We are kind of in a pickle here. We're in a big pickle here." Some of the teenagers spoke openly about the experience of being cyber bullied and we all know from having been teenagers that bullying is a big problem. It's a very real problem, and the reality is it's a problem on both sides of the gender divide even though the bullying may take different forms. As we draw our thoughts to a conclusion here, the Surgeon General's report offered some practical guidelines for families, and one of them, by the way, is that families maintain mealtimes without social media.
Now, who would've thought that might be important? Here's where Christians need to understand that if we need a correction on something like that, shame on us. We understand that God has given us family and the opportunities for the socialization of the family, the conversation of the family over meals, the fact that social media would invade that kind of space, it's just a warning to us that our priorities can get wildly out of whack here.
It's one thing for a very confused secular society to have to confront this kind of warning and even these kinds of very simple recommendations from the U.S. Surgeon General, it's sheer tragedy if for Christian parents, these thoughts are new thoughts. It's an even greater tragedy if Christian parents don't think fast and do the right thing when it comes to their own children.
How is Jesus God’s Son? How Can He Be God and Man at the Same Time? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 12-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing
Okay, now let's turn to questions. And even as I talked about some of the statements made by young people in that New York report, I have to say I'm even more astounded by some of the questions I get from young people who listen to The Briefing.
One of them is a young woman named Esther who wrote in. She's 12 years old. She said this, "My name is Esther and I'm 12 years old. I have a Muslim friend and can't answer her question, how is Jesus God's son literally thinking?" And another question of hers is, "How can he be man but also God, may you explain the Trinity. Thank you."
Well, Esther, I'm so thankful for this wonderful question or actually this set of wonderful questions. I'm so thankful that at age 12 you have a Muslim friend with whom you're having this kind of discussion and wow, are the two of you having a really serious theological discussion. Makes me very proud of you, just proud of Christian young people who want to know how to speak and how to defend the Christian faith. And this is a great place to start. And by the way, when your Muslim friend says, how is Jesus God's son or how could Jesus be God's son?
That is the most direct point of contradiction between Christianity and Islam, and we don't have to just make that as a guess. That is actually something told to us by Muslims. For example, in the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem, which is built right there on the Temple Mount, one of the first statements made even in the calligraphy on the dome is there is no God but Allah and Allah has no son. So that's just stating right up front that to be Muslim, at least in a classical Islamic sense is to deny that God has a son. And that means specifically of course, that Jesus is God's son.
On the other hand, that's the central claim of Christianity. That's the central truth upon which Christianity is based. It's on the fact that Jesus is none another than the Son of God. He's the Son of God in human flesh. He is the Son the Father sent for our salvation.
Now Esther, when your friend asks, how is Jesus God's son? We have to say in every way, he is God's son. And when we talk about Jesus, of course we are talking about God's son who was God's son before he took on human flesh and was born as a baby in Bethlehem. The Bible actually tells us that the Father created the world through the Son and we're also told that Jesus is the power as the Son who holds the entire cosmos, the entire universe together.
And so to answer the question of your friend Esther, we have to say, how is Jesus God's son? He's God's Son in every way. When we talk about Christmas, we talk about the great good news that God's son has come in human flesh and remember that we are told that Jesus was conceived within Mary by the Holy Spirit.
Now that's a mystery beyond our understanding, but you know Esther, the Bible just says that's what's true and a part of being a Christian is understanding that our responsibility is just to believe exactly what the Scripture has revealed. You ask a couple of other questions that follow from the fact that Jesus is God's son, you ask, how can it be man but also God?
Well, that's a great mystery. That's a mystery that is actually beyond our understanding. But God has given us a lot of information in the Bible to tell us how he is both truly God and truly man. Theologians have worked for centuries to try to know how we can most faithfully speak of the truth that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity is the Son of God who is truly God and truly man. He is just as truly God as he is truly man and just as truly man as he is truly God.
A part of what it means to come to Christ by faith and to be a Christian is to affirm everything the Bible teaches and about these truths the Bible is so clear and then to seek to understand them more fully. But Esther in this life, we're never going to understand these things as fully as we might like, even just in conversation with the 12-year-old friend. But on the other hand, I think it's wonderful that you would just share the biblical truth, that Jesus is the Son of God and that he is truly God and truly man. And of course he came to die on the cross for our sins. He did just that and then was raised by the Father on the third day.
Why Did You Not Mention the Connection of Satanism to The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on The Briefing? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But you know Esther, you finally ask how do we explain the Trinity? And I think there are many Christians who have been struggling with that issue for a long time.
Who could wonder how in the world could that be answered succinctly, shortly? How can I give a short answer to that question? So let me tell you, Esther, here is what I believe is the easiest way to describe the doctrine or the Trinity. That is that Scripture tells us two things. And because Scripture tells us these two things and Scripture is unerringly true, then both of these things are true and we have to affirm both of them simultaneously. That's the doctrine of the Trinity. What are the two things? Number one, on the one hand, the Bible says that the Lord our God, the Lord is one. On the other side, the Scripture also tells us the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
Now, to be a Christian is to understand that both of those statements are absolutely true, that they don't contradict one another, they're not even actually in contention with one another, and at least a part of what it means to be a believing and obedient Christian is to say both of those things together. God is one, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. All of those statements made together basically amounts to the doctrine of the Trinity. There are thousands and thousands of books amounting to what must be millions of pages written on these doctrines.
But the point is, Esther, that they are presented in the Scripture just straightforwardly. And since they're revealed in Scripture, we know they're true. I want to thank you so much for your questions and I'm going to tell you there are a lot of people listening to the briefing today who are going to pray that God will bless your conversation with your Muslim friend and open her heart to hear the truth of the gospel. By the way, I had a listener for the briefing this week right in to mention my discussion about the LA Dodgers and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and he said, you didn't mention the group's tie to satanism.
Well, I didn't mention it because I'm not exactly sure how much to speak of it as indicative of the group and how much is actually indicative of members. Now, that's a very thin line of distinction, but often on the briefing I have to be very careful about those very thin lines of distinction. I want to make certain I know if I'm talking about a group, if I'm talking about individuals, I want to make certain that I'm speaking with accuracy.
Looking into this issue a bit, I think it is certainly accurate to say that the public profiles offered by many of the persons involved in the group known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are indulging in at least satanic or demonic influence, if not an outright identity.
How Would You Respond to a Christian Couple Who Argues They Can Cohabitate So Long as They Do Not Sleep Together? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Now, it's really interesting that questions come from so many different directions, Will wrote in to ask this question. He says, "I was wondering what your response would be to a Christian couple who is not married yet lives together and claims it is okay because they're not sexually active."
Well, that's a fascinating question Will, and I'm tempted to respond a little say sarcastically, but I'm not going to do that. Instead, let me just respond seriously and soberly from the wealth of the Christian tradition and Christian teaching and biblical understanding about marriage.
And that comes down to the fact that the conjugal rights of marriage, I'm just going to say it that way, the sexual rights of marriage actually come with the establishment of a home and the domestic context together. That domestic context and almost every case at least implies a much closer relationship than what's being described here. And even if it doesn't get down to individual conjugal acts, quite frankly, it implies a conjugal relationship.
And that's the problem. Or to put it in another way, let's just think of it like this. Living together implies a certain level of intimacy. That intimacy, just living together, that intimacy implies a relationship that requires that intimacy. And let's face it, it also implies the conjugal relationship of marriage. Even where that might not be the case, the fact is the situation still implies it.
And for Christians, that means that our responsibility is to avoid what implies what is undoubtedly unbiblical. And in this case, I think any sound pastoral advice would be, don't do this. Throughout the history by the way, of moral discourse among Christians on this, the sin has often been described as cohabitation. Just think about that. It is simply cohabitation because cohabitation implies exactly what this couple is denying. Would I go so far is to suggest that there are biblical grounds for church discipline against a cohabiting couple?
And in this case, it's very clear is what you're talking about. The answer is yes, I would suggest that this is an appropriate, indeed, very necessary ground of disciplinary concern and disciplinary action on the part of the church. In explicitly Christian terms, it's just not acceptable to imply the conjugal without the marital.
To What Degree Do We Legislate Morality Without Creating a Theocracy? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Finally, a great question on moral terms coming from a medical doctor, he says, "A constitutional lecturer whom I follow is fond of saying that liberty is not equal to freedom. Liberty is freedom plus morality. Freedom alone is anarchy and morality alone is theocracy." So he says, "How do biblical Christians blend freedom with morality but not to create a theocracy?"
Well, that's actually an interesting melding together of terms here. First of all, the distinction between freedom and liberty. And that might be a very appropriate distinction, but just even given the English language in different places, I think the definitions might fall along different lines.
But the question here is actually very basic and it's important, to what degree do we say legislate morality but not create a theocracy? And it comes down to the fact that a secular society increasingly appears to be incompetent to legislate morality. There are people who say you shouldn't legislate morality. But the reality is that the history of Christian thinking on this is that it's very difficult to legislate anything other than morality because the law says here is the rule, here is an ought. You break this, you are breaking an ought and an ought's a moral term. And you might say, well, how does that relate to everyday law? And just the entire statutory omnibus of the United States or even of a locality? Well just think about property law. It's inherently moral. It's a decision about who rightly owns what, you think about law saying you have to drive on a certain side of the road.
That's love of neighbor and respect for human dignity and human life simply made into an ought related to traffic laws. And let's be clear, you ought not to break that law. One classic distinction between say, historic Christian legislation on the one hand and what might be called theocracy on the other hand, is that theocracy has attempted, just take the ten commandments, to legislate both tables of the law, and that means to legislate religious and theological matters as well as moral matters.
Now, that's a huge discussion and it's arguable that you can't legislate the moral issues without the theological background. But there is a difference between the theological background and the theological foreground. You raise huge issues here, doctor, but the bottom line is that every single society limits liberty in some way. Even the most libertarian society has some laws that limit libertarian freedom. And freedom is indeed in the classic American, or for that matter, English-speaking expression, that freedom is always bounded by responsibility.
Furthermore, that freedom and this is increasingly necessary to say, and perhaps as a medical doctor you uniquely understand this. It's also grounded in ontology that is in being and in reality, which is to say we're not free to say what biologically, we are. And you know where that runs into conflict with the LGBTQ revolution. You might say that this is something of a libertarian conundrum, it's an unsolvable problem, it's a quandary because the libertarian might be parody to say there should be no moral rules whatsoever.
But the moment you say there should not be no moral rules, you're saying there should not, which means you're establishing a moral rule. I'm willing to debate any number of things with a libertarian, and I've done that before. But what I will not debate is whether or not both sides actually make moral arguments.
They do so. They ought to do so because they actually can't help but do so. And we as Christians, we as human beings can't stop asking questions. And I thank you for the questions you send in and week by week we'll try to take more and more.