Lets face it, social media is part of life. It is a two edged sword if you are not careful how it is handled. When working with teenagers we have an added responsibility to model how to live and act, even in the online forum. I ran across this helpful article by Phil Bell of Youthworktalk.com and forwarded it on to my small group leaders. Here are his wise suggestions for some boundaries regarding the powerful tool of social media.
Here are 5 social media boundaries for you as you go about your youth ministry:
1) Accept that leaders live in ‘glass house.’ This is hard to accept, but when you are in ministry and you are using social media, it automatically means that you are under the spotlight. Leaders, parents, and students are looking up to you and will often follow you for inspiration, guidance, and hope. On the other hand, others will follow you to get an inside track to see whether you fit their mold of an acceptable youth worker.
Like it or not, the reality is that a leader is always watched closely. What are others seeing?
2) Wait to be Friended or Followed: If you don’t know a student well, wait for them to friend or follow you. I know this might seem a little extreme, but unless I know a student quite well, I will wait for them to friend me. If there is a student in your ministry who is new and getting plugged in, it might be worth waiting for them to friend you. Waiting for a student to ‘friend’ you simply avoids any weirdness and ensures they are happy for you to get an inside track to their life.
3) Avoid Private Conversations: Avoid private messaging students. Try to keep messages public and for all to see. If a student wants to talk to you about an issue or a problem, try to do it face to face in full site of others. It’s also essential to communicate with parents that you are talking to their student. I know this might seem a little over the top, but here are two good reasons why contacting parents is a good idea:
- It opens the door for a relationship to partner with parents.
- It avoids parents wondering what your intentions are. In this day and age, parents are protective when other adults contact their kids, and rightly so. Honor parents by touching base and letting them know who you are.
4) Consider carefully what you post: Here are three things that can get you in trouble.
- Questionable pictures: In certain social media platforms such as Facebook, you can create a setting that gives you the option to ‘allow’ pictures you are tagged in. Ensure that the pictures of you will always allow others to see you in a positive light.
- Complaints: Complaining about others simply does not look good. It shows weakness that we can’t talk to the person directly as well as modeling a poor method of dealing with conflict.
- Controversial Issues: For me I don’t post anything that could divide people in my church. Political statements, local controversies, and attacks on political leaders should be avoided.
In what you post, would others describe you as a divisive and opinionated person, or a inspirational leader?
5) Leverage social media to inspire and uplift: This should be a given, but many of us have discounted the great value of regularly posting to inspire others. As I said at the beginning of this post. People are looking for hope and direction. Consider what influence you can have by using social media effectively?