Yesterday I promised to follow-up some personal social media use guidelines for youth workers with some parameters for use of social media and technology in youth ministry. Here’s the deal. . . in our Digital Kids Initiative we are not looking at real specific strategies. In other words, our goal is not to provide alot of “how-to’s.” There are plenty of other people out there who can help you with that. In fact, we hope to set up a special spot on our Digital Kids Initiative Page where youth workers can share their great ideas with each other. What I want to do is provide some general guidelines and parameters that will help us use and address social media in God-honoring and redemptive ways, rather than in ways that are counter-productive (even when we may not know it) to the advance of God’s Kingdom.
Here are five general practical ideas, guidelines and parameters. . .
1. Use technology and social media to enhance, not replace, real-world ministry and community. One of the very real dangers of all these emerging technologies and tools is that we will begin to employ and rely on them so much that our face-to-face ministry and relationships wane. . . even if only a little bit. Kids in today’s culture all need more face-to-face and real-world relationship time. Physical presence is necessary for spiritual nurture. Technology and social media should serve to extend our real-world flesh and blood relationships with students. In addition, don’t buy the lie that digital community is real community. Real community is lived out in close physical proximity with down and dirty vulnerability. Remember. . . technology can extend and enhance this kind of community, but it can never replace it. Doing life together virtually really isn’t doing life together.
2. Use technology and social media to connect and communicate. Perhaps you’ve heard me say that in youth ministry eras past, the best way to get into the heart and soul of a student was to get into their bedroom and take a look at the walls. Not a very smart strategy these days. Yep, it’s a different world. But the bedroom wall has extended in today’s world onto the walls, photos, comments, links, profiles, and postings that fill their Facebook pages. Facebook offers a connection to who they are. Go there to learn more about their hopes, dreams, desires, struggles, and needs. And if what you find on their Facebook pages doesn’t line up with what you know of them in the context of real community, well. . . then you’ve gained a deeper sense of who they are and how you can minister to them because they’ve just revealed their disconnected identities and selves. Social media also allows you to communicate with your group during the week. Use it to extend your reach by promoting events, sharing Scriptures, posting thoughts, and putting up thought-provoking quotes.
3. Use technology and social media to equip and inform parents. Social media must be employed to communicate and stay in touch with parents. If you’re wondering what to pass on to parents on a regular basis. . . well. . . just check out our CPYU website for a treasure-chest of stuff to pass on. Provide them with links to news, articles, and reviews. Send them an article a week. Connect them to our daily Youth Culture Today radio show. Or, subscribe to our weekly Youth Culture e-Update and forward it on to your ministry parents. Parents love youth workers who keep them informed.
4. Teach kids to use technology and social media redemptively. This is discipleship, plain and simple. Warn them about how easy digital media can suck them in and become idolatrous. Teach them about the many dangers that lurk on the Digital Frontier. . . things like sexting, dumbing down, information overload, pornography, over-sharing, etc. We’ll be talking more and more about more and more of these dangers in the coming weeks and months. Introduce our Digital Code of Conduct to parents and their kids. It’s a tool that offers clear parameters to discuss and follow. In addition, walk them through the Scriptures, teaching them about what the following issues and topics have to say toabout how they live on the Digital Frontier: truth, authority, humility, spiritual maturity, wisdom, respect, creating culture, honesty, sexuality, integrity, discernment, self-control, etc. Be sure to discuss these topics in your one-on-one conversations and in your times with your youth group.
5. Help your students establish media parameters by establishing media parameters in your ministry. An 8th grade teacher who’s been teaching for 16 years told me this about the effect of social media and technology on kids: “We’ve lost the art of written and spoken language, solving problems regarding differences in personalities, resolving conflict, and maintaining real, loyal, accountable relationships.” That’s not the kind of world we want to create or live in. Since they are increasingly tethered and almost always “on,” your youth ministry needs to be a place where there are times where they turn it all off and put it aside. Teach them how to be close to others in physical proximity by honoring them and turning off your phone, your computer, and your tablet and then focus on those who are present. Establish and encourage them to practice a media sabbath – one day a week when they turn it off and put it aside. Give them opportunity and space to be silent (Remember those youth group “solos” that were so meaningful for so many of us?). Promote deep reading, contemplation, and quiet times to sit and mediate on God’s Word. . . listening to hear Him speak. Or how about this. . . a 40-hour technology famine to raise money for a cause?
Any other parameters/ideas floating around out there?
Another good way to establish parameters could be to set time limits for yourself (don’t look at your cell phone before 7 or 8 in the morning or after midnight) and then tell parents and teens so they’ll know what to expect from you. We even published those times we’ve established in our handbook. It helps them learn that a person survive away from the digital media for a period!
We also set an example by whether we are “tethered” or not. Nothing seems to convey a lack of importance than taking a text/phone call. We say to the person we are talking to (face to face) that anyone that makes my cell phone vibrate is more important than them. Actions speak louder than words.