We have had some good discussion here recently about social media and the young people we serve. For some, the immediate answer to the question of “what are we to do about it?” is “we’ll just not let it happen.”
No young people allowed on facebook (or other social media – 2 years ago all the discussion here was over myspace. my what? exactly). Some of us, though, suggest(ed) that since our youth are allowed to earn privileges to have cell phones, trying to ban social media would be impossible.
The next level of the discussion is about appropriate interactions via social media between staff and students. Specifically, regarding facebook, ought staff accept friend requests from students? Again, for some the immediate answer is no. Not just no but NO!
Though I will abide by the policy of a place I am committed to working, I don’t understand the harm of friending. There are, though, two very important considerations for social media in youth ministry, whether here or in a conventional church setting.
1) It is absolutely incumbent upon the adult to behave – and post to social media – as an adult. In ministry settings, relating to someone you serve means taking upon yourself an obligation to be a mature, positive role model to them. Accepting a friend request from someone you serve means you agree to be aware that everything you post online represents you to those people.
2) Social media may finally be teaching us better ways to deal with guilt by association. I am, frankly, amusingly perplexed when I hear someone talk about how they can’t believe what a friend of a friend of someone on facebook said about someone else. In social media, NO ONE is responsible for everything friends, or friends of friends do/say/post. On the other hand, if someone sends me a friend request, thy are, in a sense, inviting me to hold them accountable for what they post. In accepting, I am doing the same in return.
I want to add here that this is NOT just an issue for “kids these days.” I know of people my own age who flame all over facebook for hours looking for companions to share their drama.
I think social media is an excellent avenue for ministry. I know several people who are using it very well to care for others and to share information, ideas, etc.