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youth ministry

Should I friend my youth group students on social media?

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?”

source

7491311_905b60e6cb_zAdapting 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.

Summary

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. 

Photo credit: Nerd by Berge Gazen via Flickr (Creative Commons)

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

9 replies on “Should I friend my youth group students on social media?”

I see youth leaders who are on social media with their students and it seems they try too hard to encourage them as if the leader goes out of his/her way just to give a digital pat on the back; it think it needs to come naturally and and not forced, with the understanding that the interaction we have on-line will vary from the interaction we have face-to-face

My experience over the years, going allllll the way back to myspace, is just that. Let them seek you out. If they invite you into their world like that, then they are giving you a window into their life on a whole different level. It’s a window, not a door. Don’t walk in too frequently. For example, most of my youth don’t even go on facebook any more. Snapchat (I know Adam, I’m trying!) Vine, and Instagram seem to be the biggest things. I don’t have Snapchat, and personally would never friend a student there even if I did. But on Instagram, I will like their posts, and that is about it, unless they have a deeper connection to me or my family, then I may comment. But the commenting is minimal.

Thanks for putting this out their. I would add, that any communication you have with students on social media needs to be up front and on the main page. Avoid private messages and such.

Yes, just in the same way that one would have sent a letter or postcard in the past. But that assumes they have already given you their email or other means to contact them.

There is a difference between the question “Should *I* friend my youth group students on social media?” and “Should I be friends *with* my youth group students on social media?”

And a big part of that difference has to do with who is the initiator of the relationship. This isn’t just dealing with youth groups either. It is equally relevant to any power relationship: teacher–>student, senior pastor–>youth worker, I would suggest even parent–>child. A part of leadership is recognizing that others are entitled to their own personal space. We don’t go up and hug people just because we feel like it, they have to first be open to receiving such a hug. And when we are in a position of power, the safest way to be sure that such a condition exists is by letting them initiate the contact –and even then we set safe boundaries for it.

The same is true with regard to the use of social media. When the nature of the “friendship” is unequal, there exists conditions which the one in a greater position of power may not even be aware of. Yet, because we are the ones in power it is incumbent upon us to be sure that we don’t produce further imbalances in the relationship. And one of the boundaries that can help in that regard is by letting the other person be the initiator of such a relationship. Even then, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be friends with all of my church members, but I did relent when I realized that to not accept them might come across as a slap in the face. Still, I try to be careful about the way I am involved. I don’t post directly to their timeline. When things come across my newsfeed, I rarely comment other than to occassionally “like” something. Our interactions remain those in which they comment on something I have posted, then (and only then) I feel free to continue to have an exchange with them.

These practices allow them to know that I care, care enough to observe, engage and applaude them. But the level of that engagement in their life is something they determine, dare I say “request”, not me.

I respectfully disagree. Social media is a big way in how they communicate and interact. Many of them are too shy to initiate friending small group leaders on social media. I’ve found social media to be a great tool for meeting them where they’re at and posting relevant stuff which speaks to them. These are both students I requested and ones who requested me. Further, who cares what school districts are doing? Paul tells us in Romans 12:12, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” How is this considered ‘creepy’ by comparison to what schools are doing? Much of mainstream culture considers Christianity and church practice ‘creepy’ but that doesn’t stop us from worshiping or living out our faith does it? Didn’t the Sadducees and Pharisees all think Jesus was ‘creepy’ for eating and hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners? Didn’t Jesus conform to what the Saduducees and Pharisees “school staff” was doing in their culture? The second we start conforming to the pattern of this world becuz it may be considered creepy, we aren’t living true biblical living. It means we’re more concerned about how others perceive us and this leads to legalistic living.

I have been in YM for 10 years and i have totally transformed my policy on social media. Call me old fashioned, but in the legal day and age we live in, anything transmitted non verbally can totally be taken the wrong way. For example, you ask a student how their day was and they tell you about your test ect and you have a “fb chat” with them, even throwing a joke here or there. Way to connect! now- What if… a parent sees the message three weeks later and over reacts? a “non-christian parent” who is already cynical of the local church? or What if… students takes something you type the wrong way? What if…they communicate something private to you that you now legally have to deal with? I could continue on…and I know there are alot of critics who will say you can’t live by fear. But let’s be honest…the court system isn’t very forgiving if something was ever taken out of context. I know you’re just trying to further the Gospel. Amen! but as youth pastors we have to be careful and provide the right opportunities for teens to connect with us. Yeah crazy view, but that is why everything I do is public on the net. Public fb, twitter, ig, ect. Thanks for reading my response and I hope you can at least see my viewpoint.

Just make sure your comments and what you say aren’t taken out of context then. Sounds like you’re seized by fear. I’ll pray for you brother. Also, social media is more than just websites. This means email, text messaging, even snail mail. Pretty much anything besides face to face contact is social media. The internet has just made it easier and faster to communicate.

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