Earlier this week Slant33, a part of Barefoot Ministries, posted the responses of three youth ministry experts to the question: “Where do you draw the line on social media interaction with students? Why?” The responses vary widely:
- D. Scott Miller, director of the Division of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, has a personal policy to never friend anyone under the age of eighteen on Facebook. Additionally, he believes this is the best policy for all youth ministry leaders to adopt. He notes that Facebook is less than ten years old and believes that virtual community is incapable of creating intimacy to the degree possible in face-to-face community.
- Tash McGill, manager of a creative communications agency specializing in communications strategy for the 13 – 30 year old market and 15 year veteran of youth ministry, advocates for youth ministry professionals being friends with the students in their ministries provided the relationship is based upon respect. She also recommends that certain types of conversations that begin online via social media are best handled when transitioned to older communication channels.
- Adam McLane, partner at The Youth Cartel and principal at McLane Creative, encourages those in youth ministry to interact with students using a separate account (a ministry account rather than a personal account) and within the context of whatever policy is in place on the congregational level. Further, he counsels that invitation is essential and that youth ministers must work within that framework rather than use the tools to engage in digital snooping.
The varied responses by Miller, McGill and McLane showcase the difficulty of finding the best way forward when it comes to healthy virtual relationships between adults and minors using social media when these parties’ primary point of connection is youth ministry. It is essential that every youth ministry develop expectations and formalize such via policies and procedures. Additionally, since the world of social networking is changing so quickly and adoption rates are so high by teens (read Teens and Social Networking for more information) policies must be general rather than site specific (think Myspace) and should be revisited regularly.
- Which of the three options most closely reflects your view? How does yours differ from it?
- How has your view changed over the last five years?
- What is your congregation’s current policy? Is it enforced? How often is it updated or reevaluated?