Developing strong youth ministries is a priority at many churches today. Exploring social media ministry is a priority as well. Yet the combination of the teens on social media could prove to be dangerous. I suggest equipping parents and teens for social media, and its potential pitfalls. How can your church accomplish this? I feel the answer starts with well-educated parents, sound guidelines, and enforced policies. These will all help protect children while advancing your online ministries.
This article comes from two places of concern. First is a worry that young teens are creating a digital identity before they are able to comprehend the impact of their decisions. Second is that posting inappropriate material online can harm their future lives. Also, children are easily duped into revealing too much about their lives. They may be putting themselves in danger to stalkers and other online predators. As a father, this is a real concern as my children start to embrace technology. I pray that your church takes a lead in helping parents better understand the benefits as well as dangers of using social media.
Before you can partner with children, you need to educate your adults. This should at least include your youth ministry leaders and parents. As time permits, move on to other people that mentor young people. Remind your adults that once content is on the web, it is permanent. Images are saved, videos downloaded, and screens captured. Then go over the list of all the major social media channels, and make them aware of other communication tools. Texting and chat applications (like Kik) are spaces you may not consider or know about. A great source for this knowledge are your local middle school or junior high school teachers. They are with children much of the day and overhear a lot.
After you educate parents, help them set social media guidelines for their children. Provide several examples of what your pastoral team considers appropriate online behavior. Help them define what appropriate language, pictures, and videos look like. Outline what information, such as an address, should not be viewable. Explain how posting their current or future location in a public setting could be dangerous. If the parents to not understand the dangers out there, their children may never know.
This is where the adult takes the knowledge and training and puts it to use. First I would encourage them to pray. They need to strike a delicate balance of trusting and verification. Then create an outline of do's and don'ts for their child. Finally, discuss these policies with your children. Transparency is essential to earning trust. Passwords to all accounts are freely disclosed to the parent. It is not spying if they know and agree you deserve to have access. Lastly, in spaces like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; be on there as well and follow your child. Know who they are connecting with, and what they are saying.
I know I focused on parents a lot here. Just remember that anyone can speak into a child's life. This is especially true if they connect on social media and see something dangerous or inappropriate. Approach them and talk with them. Be understanding, but firm in reminding them what appropriate behavior on social media looks like. Parents should perform spot checks, and review guidelines as needed. Plus I would encourage you to enforce social media breaks during family time. Do not let the constant chatter of technology drown out their most important personal relationships. Lastly, help them find ways to love and minister to others online. Allow them to see that spreading the Gospel is a much worthier cause than posting selfies!
Photo courtesy of Bina Sveda