Third Culture Kids and Social Media

This summer, The Atlantic published a fascinating article called Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation? I encourage every parent, especially of tweens and teens, to read it and discuss it with your children.

I read the article with a particular mindset, that of a parent raising teenagers who also are Third Culture Kids. I wondered, how do these ideas apply to my own children? Keeping in touch is powerfully different for a suburban teen chatting with her friends from school than for a teen in Beirut chatting with her friends in Turkey or in Minnesota.

So how do TCKs, specifically, use social media? Both positively and negatively? How can we help our TCKs navigate this fraught world with wisdom and grace? I did a little unscientific survey and asked some TCKs for their perspectives.

Me Too. “Through our discovered solidarity, I’ve been able to let out a huge sigh of relief and say “…me too.” There is something profoundly powerful about knowing that you’re not alone in your existence. Thanks, Instagram.” Danai Mush (from an article for Hello Giggles called Third Culture Kids in an Age of Instagram)

Helps us educate people about the world. “Friends in our host country and our passport country can see life in the other place. We use social media to broaden people’s minds. To show a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Nairobi, Kenya. Or a plate of Ethiopian injera in Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

“Social media helps us broaden our (own) minds about the world.” (I love this comment because it comes from a teenager who has lived in five states and two countries and who has traveled to several other countries. She still wants to broaden her mind.)

Connection. This is the big one, isn’t it? One example is how two sisters use Google Hangout to have a Bible study with friends in Lebanon and in Colorado (while they lived in Minnesota). “Even though it takes a while to plan each time we meet to time differences and scheduling issues, we still have a blast when we meet.”

Prevents, or slows, engagement in the new location. Katha von Dessien wrote a 2-post series about nostalgia and the computer and TCKs, for Communicating Across Boundaries.

Skype calls, Instagram reminiscing, etc, can sometimes increase loneliness and longing, rather than soothe it, once the connection is cut.

TCKs struggle with the same temptations of gossip, bullying, addiction, and isolation from real life interactions that everyone faces with social media. But at the same time, they have unique needs that can be creatively met through these same networks. So how do we help our kids maintain a healthy balance?

It starts with having a healthy balance ourselves. We hand-wringing adults also walk around with our noses in our phones. We pull out our phones immediately after a movie, we wonder who is messaging us while we fly. We have to model putting the phone away and focusing on the person in front of us. No phones at meal times, no phones in bedrooms, time limits…

Cultivate an appreciation for the arts and nature. Sure, an Instagram photo can be lovely, but when you look at a photo of Victoria Falls, you don’t feel water splash your face. When you share a photo of a concert, you aren’t sharing the crush of people, the way your skin vibrated in beat, the way your shoes stuck to the goopy floor. So parents, take your kids out to the beach and the library and the museum. Not to post about it but to experience it.

Get physical. Move. Wrestle. Play football or cricket. Bake cookies. Have a dance party. Use your hands to do something other than text. University campuses are experiencing extremely low attendance at sports events or theater performances. Where are the students? In bed, on social media. So model activity and engagement while your TCKs are young.

Use social media not just to connect with friends from the previous country but to find new friends, in your new location. Use it to build a real, in-life community.

Cheer for power cuts. I’m thankful for how my kids barely blink when the power cuts. There is no freaking out that they can’t finish binge-watching a show or that they can’t immediately post a photo or snapchat message. It is good for kids to be happy with internet and without it.

Do you think TCKs have a unique need for, or way to engage with, social media? What has been your personal experience, for better and worse? Either as a parent or as a TCK?


Say Less, Listen More, Love More

The world is a garish, noisy neighborhood. Decibels and pixels abound. The phone in my pocket spews more information in hours than I can assimilate in years. I’m reminded of my college speech prof who counseled tongue-in-cheek, “Shout louder if your argument is weak.” There’s a whole lot of shouting these days.  -My Uncle, Rick Porter

The Internet allows us to say too much.  I am convinced of it.  We have the time to say so much and somehow we have less time to listen or love.


I grew up in the 80’s, it was a time of feathered hair, Duran Duran, ET, and The Cosby Show. It was a time before the Internet and social media reached us all. (My children don’t even understand what that means.) It was back when there was a cold war, instead of a daily internet war.  You know what I am trying to say, albeit cliché – it was a simpler time.

I am guessing that I am just one of  loads and loads of people who feel this way. I believe the very thing that connects the world, the WORLD WIDE WEB, is making us dislike one another with increased fervor.  I cannot possibly know if this is true for anyone but myself, but I wonder if we are so busy sharing what we think that we are not able to hear from God as well. (Either directly or through His chosen channels.) We are very busy saying things.  How much listening can we really do?

For years my Dad resisted moving forward with technology, I mocked him for hating email and wanting me to call him. To this day there are still hold-outs, the 60-somethings that just refuse to engage social media or digital communication. Today is the day I humbly submit my apology for mocking their resistance.  They knew something we didn’t know. They knew that noise overwhelms.

“How we hear or see God is likely as diverse as our styles and personalities. But we best begin in quietude. If you really want to hear Him and know Him, let the chaos of contemporary life settle. Listen for the whisper. Watch for the wink. Your faith will be encouraged and your life enriched. We dare not lose the best of forever in the noise of now”. -My Uncle, Rick Porter















I recognize in myself a need to let the chaos settle – to be quiet. I don’t have a lot of answers or the time to listen for them, but oh so many things to say. I want to say less and listen more. I want Internet wars to go the way of the Cold War. I came up with some helpful questions that reduce my commentary by all the percents.

Five questions we (I) could ask ourselves (me) before we (I) post on-line:

  1. Why is it important for me to disagree with something I’ve seen? Do I need to prove myself? Do I need to be right?  Am I attempting to shame someone for their opinion?
  2. Does my disagreement in a public forum bring the person I am disagreeing with closer to Jesus?
  3. Does the tone of my thoughts convey respect and love for people who don’t think like me?
  4. Could I say, “Interesting thoughts, I want to think and/or pray on this for a few days and I may be back to dialogue after I do.”
  5. If I feel it is important to share my thoughts on a particular topic, could I share them and then end them more humbly by saying, “That is my belief, but I could be wrong.” (Tony Compolo just modeled this to me.)

Whatever the hot-button debate is, it is fairly common to see friends questioning one another’s sanity, love for Jesus, or comparing someone’s politics to Hitler. Something has happened that makes us bold enough to type things that we would not say if we were standing face to face. Nothing gets worked out during an Internet debate, I am afraid we need to find a way to stop the madness of our mouths (fingers) and find our ears again.

Maybe if we  found the quietude and listened more to God and  one another, our capacity to live AND LOVE  in the tension of varying opinions would increase. Maybe we could say less and listen to and love one another more.

Maybe not, I could be wrong.

When Missions Goes Hollywood

 Anybody can have a good website.


And that includes missionaries and ministries and humanitarian efforts that want and need. . .  money.

And oftentimes, what you see IS what you get– honest efforts at helping others, effective means of sharing God’s love with a community whether it be in education or poverty reduction or leadership training or whathaveyou. 

But, I’m on the ground here in SE Asia, which happens to be somewhat of a Christian mecca for missions organizations in all of Asia, and a story I’ve seen repeated more than once from or by the missionaries here is one of

false advertising.

Because anybody can have a good website.

And, let’s be honest, a good website with moving pictures of the impoverished or the primitive, sells.  Or fundraises,to be more specific.  And since so much of the work here is support-based, it’s a bit of a game that missionaries and organizations have to play.  We live in a virtual age, after all, when the validity of a company is based in large part by the flashiness of its website, and nonprofits are having to compete, naturally, if they want to survive and raise the necessary funds to further their visions.

And I get it.  I understand the language of SEO tags and google analytics, but my greatest struggle is when ministries paint a picture for their online viewer that isn’t actual reality or when they use content that actually exploits the people they are supposed to be helping.

The hard reality is that Hollywood sells.  The dramatic, the photoshopped, the extreme, the well-crafted word, the grungy graphics, the SEO-optimized– this is the stuff that raises funds, faster.  And funds are what the missionary or relief organization needs to stay operational, to stay on the field, to continue the work.

And I’m not pointing fingers, because I look back at my own communication of our past 18 months, and I’m left nervous that I myself have painted too grand a picture of the work here, have cropped reality too often, or have used brush strokes that have highlighted self far too frequently.

But, really, what’s a missionary to do?  Give the ‘audience’ what they want–  inspiration that will translate into the writing of checks, and thus, the ability to do more ministry?

Or deliver the brutal truth of failed efforts and the boring everyday and, more than likely, watch their financial support go the way of their old-school website stats?

I mean, really, {and I’m sincerely asking} where’s the line between honestly recording the good cause and softly manipulating to further it?

*post archived on LauraParkerBlog


Thoughts?  What do you think of the connection between fundraising and Hollywood?  Stories, rants, opinions? How do you handle this tension with your donors back home?

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– Laura Parker, former humanitarian worker in SE Asia