From a Pew Internet focus group:
Friending teachers and preachers
Female (age 14): “I think I wouldn’t [become Facebook friends with my teachers]. Just because I’m such a different person online. I’m more free. And obviously, I care about certain things, but I’m going to post what I want. I wouldn’t necessarily post anything bad that I wouldn’t want them to see, but it would just be different. And I feel like in the classroom, I’m more professional [at] school. I’m not going to scream across the room oh my God, I want to dance! Or stuff like that. So I feel if they saw my Facebook they would think differently of me. And that would probably be kind of uncomfortable. So I probably would not be friends with them.”
Male (age 18): “Yeah, I go to church and all, so I don’t want to post certain things because I don’t want the preacher looking at my Facebook. Because I go to church with her. So then if she sees me, yeah, baby, and yeah. I feel like it does affect the way you use social [media]. You have that respect for something or for a group that you’re into or anything, like… yourself, because maybe that’s who you are, but at the same time, you love that group and you never want to disrespect them. So at that point, I feel like it does affect you. Sometimes affecting you doesn’t always mean negatively. It can sometime[s] be positively, you know?”
Adapting to the times
I used to encourage youth workers to actively seek out and engage with their students online.
But I’ve since changed, a little.
Most school districts don’t allow staff to be social networking connections with their students. So that makes the seeking out and friending part really weird. Creepy even, by comparison.
My advice right now? Allow students to initiate friending you. Navigate them towards following your church/ministry/youth group accounts, instead. But I wouldn’t go out and initiate it.
But give them space. I think the temptation is to get over involved, to read too much into stuff, and to project your will onto them. A legitimate dangers is getting in the way of them trying to figure out who they are and how to live online.
Be responsive. But I wouldn’t encourage any youth workers to initiate engaging their youth group online.
There’s a nuanced difference there… One gives space and is present. The other suffocates and is creepy.