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  • Stacey Sumereau

Discerning Your Social Media Use: How Much and What For?

The Catechism doesn’t say anything about how to know when you’ve been spending too much time on Insta or when you need to walk away from Pinterest. Like many other areas of life, social media is morally neutral; however, you, being a smart cookie, are mindful that this doesn’t let you off the hook to stare at your screen for hours. Social media can be a wonderful tool or a menace to our spiritual lives.

What we feed our eyes, and for how long, changes us.

I don’t have all the answers. I really enjoy posting and reading others’ posts. I don’t believe screens are evil. I struggle to put down my phone. I’m not seeking to give you hard-and-fast rules: “no screens before bedtime.” “No more than one login per day.” Rather, providing thought-provoking questions that will help you get really honest with yourself and discern how much and for what purpose God is calling you to use social media.

1. Why would God ever call me to use social media?

This is a really good question I never hear asked or answered. The average American spends 2 hours and 22 minutes per day on social media! Many of my friends admit that they hardly ever post; they just scroll. What is that time for in God’s plan? I really do believe that anyone who has a profile can use it for good. However, just like I think too many people go to college, I also think too many people have profiles. I encourage you to take this one to prayer and ask “God, do you want me to have social media platforms? If yes, how can I use them out of love for you and your plan?”

2. Is there someone to whom I’m called to be present instead?

As a mom, I have gained huge insight into the value of my attention. My children go crazy when I pick up my phone, even to send a necessary text or email. I’ve learned that they want and need my nearly constant attention and that we’re all better off if I keep phone usage to an absolute minimum when they’re awake. (Hence, I end up with 44 unanswered texts at the end of the day. Sorry friends; I am prioritizing my family and I want to see you in real life! I'll get back to you eventually...) Sometimes during my kids' awake hours I have to make a call, but social media is pretty much always unnecessary. Unlike adults who don’t want to look desperate and will rarely say “pay attention to me!” my small children aren’t afraid to show me how my lack of presence makes them feel. They throw things, kick, or sit on each other til someone cries. Hard as it can be to give them my full attention, especially when they insist on dumping out every single box of toys rapid-fire, I have learned that I miss so much when I abandon my real life to watch someone else’s life.

Saints are made in real life.

Giving someone your attention is one of the greatest compliments. It tells them “you are important and I value you.” I want my children to learn through my example that they are more important than my iPhone.

Even if you don’t have small children, who could use the compliment of your attention right now?

3. Am I using social media to build up or break down?

I think you, the smart and well-formed reader, already know that viewing pornified images or bullying others on social media goes against God’s plan for respecting ours and others’ dignity. However, social media use can break down our dignity and relationships in subtle ways too. I know from firsthand experience that I can take the morally neutral action of scrolling my newsfeed and twist it into something evil. “She can’t pull off that dress. I’d look better in it.” “Oh my gosh, he looks horrible.” “I wish I could get that number of likes. I’ll probably never be that popular.”

It’s amazing how even a picture of two friends chatting on a coffee date can lead to comparison, competition, fear, anger, jealousy, etc. If I choose to react these ways, I am using social media to break down. If I scroll for an hour and afterward feel desolate and worthless, I have chosen to put myself in a situation where I am letting Satan roam free in my heart.

On the other hand, as my use of social media has grown and changed, I’m come to see how valuable it can be. I market the SALT mission program I run with the Carmelite Sisters almost exclusively through Facebook and Instagram. I consider myself a “digital disciple,” posting reflections on discernment and self-image a few times a week and using my platforms to spread visibility for my podcast Called and Caffeinated.

When I do these steps I DON'T feel a comparison hangover:

1. log in

2. post

3. scroll for max five minutes

4. Walk away

God will hold us responsible for how we spend our time. (Reality check!) I’m betting your hour would be far better spent reading a good book or talking with God than scrolling. Life is short. Choose well!

4. Do I try to use social media to fill a void it can’t?

Are online friendships replacing real-life friends? I know, I know. It’s hard to find community. I also know that it’s possible to develop meaningful friendships online. I’ve connected with wonderful people through searching for fellow Catholic podcasters, authors, and influencers whom I then invite on my show. I consider that community to be real. (I even met my husband online!)

However, nothing beats real life. When I was struggling to find friends after my most recent move, I went in front of the Blessed Sacrament and said, “I surrender myself to you. You know what I need- please send me the support and friends you want me to have.” That afternoon, I met a mom who introduced me immediately to her entire community and now I have seven friends who come consistently to a women’s group at my house. I know that it’s tempting when we’re feeling desolate to try to satisfy our lack online. However, God wants to turn to him for the affirming love we need. A love emoji is a love emoji is a love emoji...and it doesn't speak to my particular situation. Intimacy (into-me-see) is only satisfied rather through deep personal connection with God and others.

5. Why do I really want followers anyway?

This one is challenging. Is it to market my business, spread the Gospel, stay connected with distant family, or just feel popular? The first three make investing time in your social media accounts worthwhile. The last one…. not so much.

A good reality gut check for me is when I notice that I am either elated or disappointed over the number of likes a post gets. That’s when I know it’s about getting attention and that I need to slow down, pray, and remind myself that God doesn’t base his love on my number of likes.

6. Am I called to digital discipleship?

If you’ve never discerned social media use til now, consider using your platforms to become a digital disciple. What that looks like is up to God and your particular talents and interests. Whether you share explicitly Catholic pictures of your local adoration chapel or just illuminate the good, true and beautiful around you, you can use your presence to build up God’s kingdom. As with every other area of discernment, surrender your will to God and see what he inspires you to do. The Holy Spirit is endlessly creative and may have ideas of how you can be a channel for grace, truth and love starting here and now!

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