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Digital relationships and embodied love (with Chelsea Boes)


WORLD Radio - Digital relationships and embodied love (with Chelsea Boes)

Parents and politicians question the impact of social media on kids and teens. We’re joined by WORLDkids Editor Chelsea Boes to talk about the positives and negatives of digital relationships.

KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. At Concurrently, we approach the news through a discipleship perspective. We tackle the challenging topics in culture and current events as learners and fellow laborers with parents, educators, and mentors of kids and teens. We consider the whole person, promoting growth in knowledge, attitudes, and action in the world. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes, and we welcome you to the conversation. In fact, we’d love to hear from you. Please send in your questions or comments by way of voice recording or email to newscoach@wng.org.

JONATHAN BOES: Absolutely. So we brushed past this in our previous episode on dating and relationships, where we had a great conversation with Amy Auten and Rob Patete. But today, we want to focus in on this specific subject a little bit more. A few weeks ago, the CEOs of most major social media platforms—we’re talking about Meta, X, TikTok, Discord—they had to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And they had to answer for the way that their apps have allowed harm to kids and teens, things like exposing them to violent or sexual content, recommending content that encouraged self-harm or unhealthy habits, allowing for things like bullying. That was a dramatic hearing. You can actually watch the whole thing on YouTube, because it was a Senate hearing. But it really got us thinking about the nature of online relationships. So we have this digital ecosystem where so much interaction is now taking place. And we’re not just talking about romantic relationships, like we were in our last episode, but even friendships, and we even see, you know, the sort of acquaintanceships of commenting under a stranger’s post or sharing something from somebody you don’t really know. We see this mixture of online relationships and personal relationships, relationships that cross over. We want to zero in on this idea of digital relationships, kind of using this social media hearing as our cultural touchpoint. But definitely, this will go into other areas as well. And once again, it’s not just Kelsey and me. We also have a guest.

KELSEY: In fact, this special guest is making Jonathan smile the biggest smile that I’ve ever seen him smile. And just because we are welcoming his wife, Chelsea Boes, to join us today. You heard her mentioned in a couple of our podcasts, including our discussion with Amy Auten and Rob Patete, and her thoughts were so wise and good.

So let me tell you a little bit about this lovely lady who is to my right today. Chelsea Boes is the editor of WORLDkids magazine. But she has been writing for WORLD for 10 years. Yeah.

CHELSEA BOES: Yeah, a little longer if you count internships.

KELSEY: And so you’ve been at WORLD a little bit longer than you’ve been married to Jonathan. So obviously, that other claim to fame, that she is married to my co-host and our producer of Concurrently. But her writing is not only within the bounds of our WORLD family. Her writing has been extending into our local newspapers. She’s an excellent writer and excellent thinker. We’re so thankful to have you with us today.

CHELSEA: Thank you. You know, I have been trying to get on this podcast for so long. And I was like, man, if only I knew a guy, wink wink.

KELSEY: We are so glad. Because as we’re walking across this in-person and online bridge, kind of back and forth, some of the things that you were saying not only to Amy, but even to me and Jonathan this morning—they’re so applicable to this marrying of, in our minds, this understanding of the fact that our online behavior is an extension of our personhood, of ourselves. It doesn’t live in this other box. And so everything that we do that is related to our in-person relationships. It absolutely has fruit, bears fruit, and really is an extension of what we know and what we do in person. So I’m just thankful for you to be able to share your thoughts. So glad.

CHELSEA: Thank you for having me!

KELSEY: So let’s start with a little bit more of our observations about maybe what was going on in the Senate hearing and some of the other things that have been a part of our experience of this online phenomenon, and how that pertains to us as relational creatures. And I want to actually pause there. We cannot help but be relational creatures. So everything that we do is going to be relational, or turn relational in nature. So just want that to be in the background of our thinking, in the background of your thinking, listener. So just keep that there in your thoughts as we discuss some of these observations of what we’re seeing in the Senate, what our experiences have been of relationships online.

JONATHAN: So starting with that cultural touchpoint of the Senate hearing—I’m going to press pause here and make a plug for our Play-by-Play episodes that come out every other Friday. On those episodes, we go through three different articles from our God’s WORLD News publications and raise discussion questions and themes to help you kick off conversations with your kids and students. On a previous episode of the Play-by-Play, we actually talked about this social media hearing and brought out some questions. And I wrote about this for WORLDteen as well. And what really jumped out to me is the theme of responsibility, of who takes responsibility in these instances. That’s one of the things I observe here, because you have the senators, and remarkably senators on both sides of the political aisle coming together in a rare instance and foisting all the blame onto these CEOs, people like Mark Zuckerberg. At one point, Josh Hawley actually had Zuckerberg stand up and apologize to the parents in the Senate room, which was just a really dramatic moment. If they ever do a sequel to The Social Network, maybe that’ll be a scene in that movie.

But I’m struck by this idea of, who really is responsible? Because you have these social media companies who are hosting these ecosystems. But then, you know, there’s the parents who are, in some sense, allowing or monitoring the online activity of their children. Then, you know, as children get older, into their older teenage years, there’s increasing agency on their part as well, a certain responsibility for the things they do online. And even, in a sense, the government itself, the senators themselves, what sorts of regulations and safety nets are put in place by the government? Obviously, depending on what you believe about the role of the government, that might be different. But there’s all sorts of angles to this. And I think it gets really complicated when you start to look at, who does bear responsibility for the real harms that were brought out in this hearing?

KELSEY: I think that really allows us to open the door for this question that we like to use at Concurrently, about what we can challenge and what we should affirm? Both of these things being through a biblical perspective. And I actually like to start it this way. I say, what can we affirm about what we’re hearing, through a biblical perspective? And what maybe should we challenge in this question of who is responsible?

It seems to me, from what I’ve heard and read of this Senate hearing, that the inclination is to put the vast amount of responsibility on the shoulders of these CEOs. And as I was even thinking about this morning, who these people are, and what their purpose is in their corporations, in their companies, you know, they are not thinking of the same mission that a parent is thinking about, or that an educator is thinking about. Their mission is obviously to sell their product, and to get it into as many hands as they possibly can. The question I would have is: Do we even really want to make them the ones who are responsible for thinking like a parent thinks? Do we think that they have the ability to think like a parent, or an educator thinks? And that was actually drawn out, as I was listening to the Play-by-Play driving into work this morning, you know, wrestling with that question of, how do we think about responsibility? How do we think about agency? I want to highlight that term, again, that was such a great term. So I affirm what you’re saying about agency here. And that, I think, really was something that you began to talk about agency as well, this morning. I want to turn that to you, Chelsea.

CHELSEA: When you think about responsibility—I of course, am a mom of young kids, and I feel like I’m always at war with the screens. And it’s always—I feel like Wendell Berry lives in my head and he’s very mad, “I don’t own a computer because I don’t want to be dependent on anything . . . ”

JONATHAN: He has that poem fantasizing about shooting a drone out of the sky.

CHELSEA: Right. So I feel like, in my mind, there’s like a little conservative and perhaps crotchety piece of me, and whenever I see a kid on a screen, I’m like you know, “Go live in your body! Go live in the real world!” You know? And that’s a really heavy weight to bear as a mom in a world of screens. And I think moms—and I’m sure dads too—just deal with a lot of guilt about that. So I want to be able to be responsible without bearing a crushing weight of responsibility when it comes with screens, if that makes sense.

KELSEY: That’s so helpful, and actually gives me some categories for thinking about, we can affirm that there should be some responsibility taken by these leaders of these companies. It isn’t just falling on the shoulders of either a mom or the moms and dads in the room. This is a product that, just as if you were, you know, creating something for somebody to consume, to eat, you have to take great care that you are producing nutritious food, right? There’s some responsibility that does need to fall on their shoulders. And I appreciate the posture that you’re taking here. And thinking about the perspective of and the experience of a mom as, of course, you and I both are. I can feel helpless in the face of technology. At the same time, I want to reinforce that, in that helplessness, it can be easy for me to give up, and to maybe turn more responsibility over into the hands of those who should not be taking all of the responsibility. And maybe I want to use the word empower, in juxtaposition with helplessness.

JONATHAN: You’re also opening up, I think, an important category for me that I didn’t really think about until you brought up our personal experience of the battle against the screens. We’re talking about online digital relationships. My brain immediately goes to those more teenage years where the child is on the phone or the computer somewhat by themselves, interacting with other people and having that reciprocal back and forth. But there really is a sort of para-social relationship nowadays that can develop between even younger children and influencers on YouTube. For example, one of the YouTubers that our older daughter enjoys—in moderation, we attempt in moderation—is this woman who makes these hyper-realistic cakes on YouTube. And she’s great, like super wholesome. But even that, without moderation, can start becoming a sort of substitute for a relationship, where it’s totally one-sided, but it’s still a form of relationship. I’m reminded of this anecdote I heard, which was somewhere online a while back, I don’t even remember where this came from—but of a toddler whose parents were putting them to bed. And this toddler said to them, instead of “good night,” said, “Remember to like and subscribe.” Because she had picked that up from the end of so many YouTube videos that it registered in her brain as that’s how you say goodbye to people, right? And that is a one-sided screen relationship taking the place of that sort of development that’s supposed to happen in one-on-one relationships, where you’re saying “goodbye” and “good night” to real people.

CHELSEA: The thing that keeps coming up in my mind—and you can tell me if this is insane—is the word plus flesh. You know, when Jesus was incarnate, is incarnate. He took on a body, and we are embodied. And the online experience is definitionally disembodied for us. But when I look at my kids, and when I see them on screens, I think the part of me that hurts is the part of me that is seeing all the things they’re not doing that I did when I was a kid. Like, go play in the woods with no one looking out for you, you know, like—I grew up in the country, and we went out and fed the heifers and had a picnic by the creek. And that’s what I see my little girls not doing. And that really makes me really sad. And I think we’re all a little lonelier than we admit right now. And I think that extends to our kids, because they are not as embodied as they’re made to be.

KELSEY: I hear kind of a theme to go along with this idea of helplessness, almost of hopelessness. And I’ve already introduced this idea of being empowered against being helpless, and of, you know, finding that joy that comes maybe in that being empowered to take baby steps of embodied faithfulness. And so I’ve named some themes, but how do we hang some practical things on there? I mean, we’re already going to be dabbling a little bit in some response, as we recognize the attitudes that would cause us to be frantic, anxious, feeling helpless, putting the responsibility on somebody else, because we really cannot fathom what to do. There are things that we can do. And I do see, in yours and Jonathan’s lives, this great intentionality with your children, where you are relationally present with them. You build a relationship with them in person. You say good night to them, you tuck them in, you pray with them, you sing with them, you read with them. You know, these are things that we were saying—his anxiety seems to be most in tension in that place with the teens, that we’re worried about teen interaction online. But we’re laying a foundation in those years, like what I’m describing right now. And I’ve used this term when we’ve talked about some of these ideas, maybe even brought it up in the episode on dating, that we are inoculating our children against some of the harms of online. They might even still get exposure to some of those harms. But it’s not going to be that devastating thing that it has been for so many, because we are practicing presence with them, and we are showing them what healthful, wholesome relationship looks like, so that they can have those categories in place for when they’re engaging with those disembodied relationships. Your parents gave you such wisdom in this area.

CHELSEA: So this is what we were talking about this morning. I had a childhood that was much more unconventional than I realized until I grew up and started talking to people about it, and they were like, “What?!” My parents both worked at a boy’s home, a residential boy’s home for teenagers who had committed sexual crimes. So that was a normal thing that was discussed in my childhood as a little girl. And both of my parents were childhood sexual abuse survivors, but they had both been healed. They had gone through counseling. They had been in group settings where things were said and brought into light, and they weren’t allowed to be in the dark anymore. And so when my parents went places, they took that power with them. I think my dad in particular taught me, you know, if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you get out of there. If someone does something to you that’s inappropriate, you say something. And he would, you know, we’d be out in the park, and he would point to someone and say, “Hey, stay away from that guy.” Because of his past pain, he had a radar. And of course, we all know now how prevalent childhood sexual abuse is. It is crazy, statistically insane. And it doesn’t matter your demographic, it does not matter whether you’re in the church or outside the church. I went into conservative Christian settings with this really unusual facet to my character, which was that I knew how to talk about sexual abuse from the time I was a child. And my dad would also tell me what kind of person a perpetrator tends to look for, like this—he’s looking for the little girl who has her eyes to the ground, because she doesn’t have internal confidence. I left my house with the armor of knowing that we could talk about anything, and knowing that if we faced something, mom and dad were a place we could come back to and say, “Hey, I saw this thing.” And I truly believe that I was probably protected from abuses because of that radar. And I never was abused. And I was very sexually innocent, basically, until I was married. What a gift, right? And I didn’t carry a lot of shame into my marriage. And all of those things were gifts, because of my parents’ healing. And when I was a little girl, there was a blue book, a book with a blue cover, called The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender. And that is what my parents had read through and they said, “Oh, well, Chelsea will read this when she’s old enough.” So I read it right before college. But there was a joke in my family, like, you can buy The Wounded Heart, but you’ll never keep it, because you will always find someone else who needs it. And I have given that away to people. But anyway, just all that to say, that’s a gift. That is a gift to give a kid. And if they’re going to find something explicit online, they can bounce back from it. They can say, “Oh, I know what that is, and no thank you.”

KELSEY: You know, the themes that you brought out, they bear repeating, I want to start with the resource, The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender. I want to supply another resource that is along very similar themes. If you’re not a reader, The Place We Find Ourselves by Adam Young is a podcast that is along very similar themes. I think that he might have even been trained by Dan Allender. So I want to recommend those resources, in case this is a part of yours or your children’s stories.

There has been, in our own family, experience of explicit content before we knew what was happening. And a part of that healing process that is required is to bring what was hidden—and here’s that other theme—bring what was hidden into the light. When we think of rot, in like a cloth, like something that is getting moldy or mildewy, the way that we repair that, or bring that garment out of that place of rot, is bringing it into the sunshine. The sunshine is what kills that bad mold. And so it brings that healing process to the garment. We are made that way. What has been hidden needs to be brought out into the light. So that’s another theme that I was hearing. You talk about that—we even mentioned a little bit in our episode on dating. The other theme that I want to draw attention to—and this is for girls, this is for boys, because as we’ve seen, and as you touched on, this is not merely something that girls experience. What we do to inoculate—I’m going to keep using that word—to inoculate or to best serve and prepare our children for the brokenness of this world, is by talking to them of their value, boosting that confidence in them, helping them to understand that they are beloved of God, that He looks at them with delight. I think of Zephaniah 3:17—He rejoices over them with singing. They’re covered by this grace and by this record of righteousness. We can see, in scripture, all the brokenness that happens in these varied relationships. And there is a lot of sexual brokenness in scripture. And that we see a redemptive process that unfolds, that is the true story. That is their true identity. And we talked about it before. They experience these things that are troubling and wounding. We talk about it through the things that are troubling and wounding, and we talk about it again after we surround them with the gospel.

JONATHAN: Bringing that into this realm of digital relationships, there’s two things that stand out to me. One is having that openness in your family to talk about those things, that abuse, that there’s not this taboo where you’re afraid to bring it up. That’s so huge, especially because, frankly, in the age of digital relationships, it’s easier than ever for that stuff to happen in the dark, for somebody to send your child a message with, you know, exploitive or manipulative content, explicit sexual content. Of course, there are all sorts of—this is something that came out in the Senate hearing—there are all sorts of settings that you, as a parent, can enact to shield your child. But one, none of those are perfect. And two, so many parents don’t even know where to begin with that stuff. And so it’s easier than ever for this stuff to happen in the dark.

That brings out another part of this tension. We’re using this term “disembodied,” which, yeah, when you’re in this pure digital interactive space, you’re interacting in a way that’s sort of outside your body, in a digital realm. But you can start to forget, and one of the great dangers of online reactions is that you can start to forget that on both sides of this digital interaction are embodied people, right? And the things that you do, or that are done to you, will have an impact on an embodied person. And so that can be a force for good, because it means that there is a potential for a real positive relationship through this medium, because even if it’s through an imperfect medium, there is an embodied person and an embodied person. Much the same way that you can communicate via the mail in a written letter in a disembodied way, you can communicate via a message in a disembodied way on Facebook or a text message. But it also means that those harms can happen. And it means that, because of how disembodied it feels—and this is something lots of people bring out, but it bears repeating—it’s so easy to forget that your words and your actions online will have an impact on a real person. People who probably would never have the—I don’t know what word to use here, I want to say confidence, but it’s not a positive confidence—the guts, maybe. People who wouldn’t have the guts maybe to bully someone or abuse someone in person might feel empowered, because they’re behind a screen, and it feels anonymous. And maybe even it salves their conscience that they can’t see the immediate effect of it on another person. But those effects are there, because it is another embodied person on the other end of that line.

KELSEY: We’ve heard the same thing related to romantic relationships, that people who might not have the guts to pursue somebody in person, they might reach out online to try to, you know, ask that person out or flirt, or that there seems to be—there’s this false sense that there’s lower risk in online interaction. And I really appreciate that you reminded us all that, it seems like it’s this realm that we’re just only putting a part of ourselves and, you know, dipping a toe into it. And so there’s lower risk, and you know, we’re really not hurting anybody. No. There are actual persons, individuals. But I like the word persons better, actual persons on either side of this interesting online space. This digital space is just a representation of something much more real that is definitely fully involved and affected by the space, and what is done in that space. I think it’s really interesting to think about what Dr. Finch has been saying to us, about the very real reality that romantic relationships are going to be carried out between persons and AI. It’s already happening through an app, and we’re going to link this resource—

JONATHAN: I thought you were going to say we’re going to link to the app, haha.

KELSEY: Haha, no, no. We’re going to link an article that discusses that there are huge developments on this front. And I see that same touchpoint of risk in relationship, only in this place there doesn’t seem to be any risk in relationship with, you know, somebody who’s not embodied, just this AI, right? We’ve completely taken all risk out of the equation when we’re having a relationship with AI. I wish you could see my facial expression. I know Chelsea’s responding to it. It’s interesting to think about what that does to our own wiring, that we’re living out of falsehood, and living something that is so contrary to the way that we were made, living that lie. And practicing a lie does great damage to ourselves, just as we’ve talked about all this other damaging experience.

JONATHAN: That reminds me of something from way back in our episode on video games. And I’m certainly not anti- video game. But one of the negative ways video games can be used is as a substitute for a feeling of achievement. So many people feel like they’re getting nowhere in their job or their personal achievements, and nobody praises them or gives them accolades. And they can get home from work and put on a video game, and it tells them how great they are, and they can achieve things. And I think there’s a similar impulse here with, if you feel frustrated by your inability to make that in-person connection, or even an online connection with a real person, here is a quote unquote “relationship” that you can succeed in the same way that you can get that you know, success—what’s the word I’m looking for? The dopamine, that success dopamine drip by playing a video game. You can get that same thing from, you know, “I’m having success in a relationship.” Well, not really. And what does that do? Like you said, what does that do to your heart and soul?

KELSEY: And we become much less resilient. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but another podcast I love is Being Known. I know I’ve mentioned it. Pepper Sweeney, Curt Thompson. One of the things that psychiatrist Curt Thompson brings up is the study that he made on rats, and resiliency in rats. And there was a group of rats that they put in basically rat Disney World—and they loved it, and it was wonderful—and then another set of rats that they took in and out of rat Disney World. And struggle, whether that was a disease they introduced, or maybe they made meager rations, I don’t know what all the different challenges were that they introduced—but when they then put both pools of rats together and introduced one major challenge to the entire group, the rats that made it through that challenge were the ones who had been brought in and out of times of flourishing and times of challenge. So their resilience was created not by just being in this cozy, dopamine drip “Disney World for rats.” Their brains, their bodies, needed the challenge in order to truly mature and become those that could endure.

JONATHAN: Whenever I see people substituting digital interactions for real things now, I’m going to think of it as “Disney World for rats.”

CHELSEA: Yeah, that’s good. There was another article about rats in The New York Times last week, maybe the week before. They had rats take selfies, and the rats loved it. And they just kept coming back and taking more selfies. And talking about technology—our oldest daughter loves to call people with the filters on. Do you know what I’m talking about? Like when you FaceTime or Facebook Messenger, but you can do all the filters. And she loves to do that with her grandma. And it’s like, okay, I love that you want to talk to your grandma. But I often tell her, “no filters, no filters.” Because when you’re using a filter, you’re just looking back at yourself. You aren’t looking at Grandma, you aren’t listening to grandma. So anyway, when that article popped up in The New York Times, she was kind of walking around the house and she was really bored. She was like, “Mom, I’m bored.” And I was like, why don’t you read this article in The New York Times? So our eight-year-old is really precocious, and she can read The New York Times. So I said, “Read the whole thing.” And she did. And I said, “So did the rats like taking selfies?” And she said, “Yeah, they did.” And then I said, “Congratulations, the only eight-year-old in the world who read an article in The New York Times.” But anyway, I felt like that was important for her to read, just so that she could understand, like, there’s something underneath all this screen stuff that’s happening. The fun is not neutral all the time.

KELSEY: Rats love heroin too.

JONATHAN: It activates our “rat brain.”

KELSEY: Yes. So what it means to be persons, what it means to be truly and fully who we are, to flourish as who we are, means moving into relationships that are challenging, that are risky, that come with pain, that need some times for us to heal through that pain, and we do that also with one another—not by retreating, not by finding some substitute for those relationships. I loved something that you said, Jonathan, about how we can use the digital resources available to us. And it makes me think about that value that we have as persons. Those who are predators actually think of this the same way, unfortunately. I’m not saying you’re a predator.

JONATHAN: Thanks, I can feel the confidence.

KELSEY: We use the digital to drive back to the personal, and we can do that redemptively as those who are in Christ, or we can see that that is the same tendency as what we see in predators, that they are using the digital to get to the person, because the person is the thing of value. The person is the thing of value.

JONATHAN: Yeah. And there really is a tension here. And we’ve been talking a lot, I think we’ve been talking a lot about the negatives of digital interaction. I want to bring out some of my personal experience. So to date myself a little bit, my teenage years were the years of AOL Instant Messenger, AIM. I was homeschooled growing up. I was part of a homeschool group where we would meet for activities every once in a while, I was a lot more shy in those years. I’ve always loved the written word, but one-on-one personal interactions with people I did not know very well were always difficult, and there’s still some of that even coming into my grownup years. I find it easier to communicate in written word. But AOL Instant Messenger, and my homeschool group compatriots who were on that service, that gave me an opportunity to communicate to them via the written word. And I really felt, at that time, like I could kind of be more myself with them and let my real personality kind of shine through more in that context, where there weren’t those in-person social pressures. And now I can’t say if that’s a positive or a negative entirely. I do look back and wish I had had more confidence or more coaching on how to be confident in those physical, in-person interactions. But what did happen—and I bring this up because of the idea of the digital leading into the real, or into the in-person—my relationships that I formed via instant messenger with these people in my homeschool group did turn into those in-person relationships, because then I would see those people at our homeschool co-op class or at the ice skating rink, or the bowling alley. We bowled every week for some reason. How old were we? That actually flourished into real friendships, starting in that digital space, where I felt that some of my personal inhibitions or shyness were able to go away, and I was able to be more of myself. And so that was largely, actually, in my past, a more positive experience. There were negative experiences online, for sure. But I look at that and say, I actually see ways that God used instant messaging redemptively to push me more into my actual community.

CHELSEA: That makes me think of—okay, so right now for WORLD, I’m reviewing an upcoming book by Jonathan Haidt called The Anxious Generation. And it talks, it contrasts the play-based childhood to the phone-based childhood. And he talks about, life in a phone-based childhood, there are not consequences if you leave a community. So what you’re talking about, you had like a word-plus-flesh community.
So you had this AOL component, but you had embodied interaction too. If you had been belligerent on AOL, you would have had real-life consequences for you. So it can be fracturing when there are no consequences to your interaction.

KELSEY: I push back just a little bit on his conclusion, though I appreciate what he’s saying. I think we’ve talked about this idea, that there is no risk in online. I think, even when we don’t see it in our in-person relationships or community, that we are in our persons, as individuals, still suffering the consequences of what it means to have practiced online community. And then to leave that, it changes our wiring. It makes something feel more consumeristic, or it makes us, rather, more consumeristic, maybe a little bit less feeling the weightiness of what it means to engage relationship. And so it’s all that argument of that intentionality, to drive the digital towards the personal, but to do so, again, through our framework as believers. You know, we’re doing that for the sake of human flourishing, not to get something out of it ourselves. And it leads me towards some of the things that I want to say about the missional nature of that as parents. But I think you had something else you wanted to say.

JONATHAN: I think one more really important aspect of this is that not all mediums for digital relationship are created equal. So I’ve been talking about, like, AOL Instant Messenger. Things like an instant messenger, or email even, you know, there’s still that disembodied aspect to it. But it’s pretty much just like a one-on-one in-person communication. It’s not functionally that different from writing a physical letter and putting it in the mail. Like, there are differences, but it’s still very personal. But then there is this whole other level of things like TikTok, which is very performative. And then, you know, Twitter—or I guess “X,” I still call it Twitter—and Facebook, where you post things, you kind of throw a one-sided comment out into the void and hope that people like it. I was thinking about that word consumeristic that you brought out. Mediums like that can easily turn the relational into a consumeristic “I’m going to put this out in the world; give me feedback; give me likes.” And that can be a very addictive thing that looks like relationship but isn’t relationship. Yeah, so we’re kind of talking about digital relationships as this monolith, but really, there’s all these variations that each have their own risk.

KELSEY: It’s so true. And as you were describing that, I’m thinking of some key words that come out of some of this, that I might tag a resource from Axis in order to explore it further, but I know we’re also going to be exploring in an upcoming episode with a counselor friend of mine. He had a podcast for a time called Generation to Generation. He’s an excellent thinker. He’s going to help us sort through some of these things that come out of these diverse—not only digital, online interactions, but they can also be a part of how we engage them in person, as we practice them more and more in our technological age. And let me just name some of these ideas. What I heard in there was this tendency towards ghosting somebody. There is a tendency towards gaslighting that can happen. I hear narcissistic tendencies in this performative aspect, where we’re trying to become influencers, and we’re getting online not to, again, just cultivate relationship, but to cultivate likes and follows. So that gives me a good moment to say, would you please like and subscribe?

JONATHAN: Oh, sorry, I was distracted—I just saw that my recent post on X reached 200 likes. You think I’m joking.

KELSEY: We’re going to take a deep dive into some of those concepts, where we talk about the intra- and inter- personal nature of that in very explicit ways, regarding the therapy that is often needed as we continue to try to heal out of this. And so we’re going to welcome a professional on to talk about this further. But for today, as we start thinking about our response to all of these things, we’ve thrown a bunch of stuff up in the air. One of the things that I would want to suggest, in our discipleship process, is to consider the fact that is not merely discipleship of those in our home. It’s a discipleship that extends outwards in that missional way. “Missional” has become such a hot word, but it is an extension of our discipleship process.

CHELSEA: The thing that it keeps running through my brain is like, is hospitality actually the answer to everything? Because we know that it is not good for man to be alone. And I feel a little seen and convicted by, you know, I put something out there, will they like it, will they like it, will they like it? Even when I write newspaper columns, Facebook likes are so lovely to get, but then you always get, like, crazy comments where it’s like, “Oh, they paid her to say this.” And just like, what?


CHELSEA: Yeah, I wish. So they have no idea that they’re talking to a real person, it seems. That real person is me, who is getting a really tough skin as time goes by and I get more of those. But anyway, even though I get that sweet little dopamine rush, I’m still alone. I’m still alone in my kitchen. I still—I mean, we moved to North Carolina a little more than a year ago. And we are building our community from the ground up. And there’s real loneliness in those things. And it makes me, I’m always excited by the idea of like, how can I get people in my house? How can I bring my kids’ friends in? How can I make it happen? Because I need that. And they need that.

KELSEY: “How can I get people on my podcast?”

CHELSEA: It’s really nice here to be with you in the body today.

KELSEY: And that’s what it’s all about. And it was a silly insert, but it’s really true: What we do is best sourced from conversation, from community, from collaboration, from relationship. Hospitality, I truly agree—it is the root of all good. It is the solution to so many, many issues. This isn’t therapy, when we do that. It is that proactive fostering of all that is good and wholesome. Since we’re talking to parents, mentors, educators of kids and teens, and just leaning into that word teen right now, we have so much opportunity to host our children and their friends. That is so profound.

JONATHAN: When you were talking earlier about, you know, romping through the woods as a child, how often was that with other kids?

CHELSEA: Always, yeah, almost always.

JONATHAN: And a lot of times, I’m assuming it took parents to make those connections happen, driving you somewhere or driving your friend to your house.

CHELSEA: Yes. In fact, my best friend’s family—she was also homeschooled, which explains my deep and abiding love of homeschoolers, though I never got to have that experience myself. Her mom and dad, they lived on a dairy farm out in the back hills of New York State. And nobody knows where that place is. But their house was always full. Always. It was like—and I asked my best friend Kayla this and she says, “You know, I think that God really did multiply the food my mom made.” Because we know Jesus multiplies food. We know that about Him. And she said, “I think He did.” Because you walk in that house and you will be fed something delicious. And you will be celebrated for who you are, no matter what’s wrong with you. And you know, they didn’t have people over because they were shiny and impressive. They had people over because they were there, and no one left unchanged. And so I watched that example. And I’m always, always trying to remake that somehow. It’s so beautiful. Like, that’s the good life, as far as I’m concerned.

KELSEY: It is. So, in pushing back against the hopelessness, the helplessness—little faithful things, they may seem so little, but they are truly some of the most profound things that you can do. You have what it takes, in your home, to open that door to doing such, such good. I think our thoughts can find great encouragement in scripture. Here, from 1 Corinthians 13, starting in verse eight:

“Love never ends. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

JONATHAN: And 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

KELSEY: He has equipped you for the work.


Show Notes

Parents and politicians question the impact of social media on kids and teens. We’re joined by WORLDkids Editor Chelsea Boes to talk about the positives and negatives of digital relationships.

Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.

Further Resources:

Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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