If you’re a youth worker and you haven’t heard about Facebook, wake up because its here and it’s staying (well, until the next social networking site leaps into popularity any way).
Like its more complicated cousin, MySpace, Facebook is what is called a “social networking utility”, a way by which people from around the globe connect with each other, make new friends, and generally share what most of us would probably consider mundane details about their personal lives. I myself have an account and I’ve seen many youth workers also floating the pages. Belonging to Facebook isn’t a bad thing. In fact, what a great way to stay connected with your kids and isnt it about time that adults infiltrated the “world” in which these kids are talking, engaging, and (yes) making choices?
Before you launch off of this Web site to set-up your account, you need to have thought through your online-game plan. Here are some topics you need to think about before you engage your students via any social networking tool:
1. Be ready for some uncomfortable content, because kids are “honest” whether they know you are on or not.
Yes, some kids will immediately hide all of the pictures from that crazy sleepover as soon as their youth worker becomes their “Facebook friend,” but most kids leave it all out there. Who knows, maybe they want you to see it because they want to talk about it? How will you address inappropriate content? You need to have a plan.
2. Don’t plan to be the Facebook Police.
Trust me– if you start doing that, the madness will never stop. Chances are, kids will not allow you to be their “friend” (and yes, they can block you), so decide why you want to engage with them via this media and make your choices accordingly.
3. Some parents will want to use you as an “in” to see what their kid is up to.
Invite those parents to talk to their child about what is going on in their life and encourage them to become involved in their student’s online behavior. Don’t put yourself in the middle of their role in parenting. Be sure your students are clear that “the same rules apply” for your relationship with them online and offline. Dangerous behavior will be addressed, and that might mean sharing with Mom and Dad (remember, Facebook is a public media content is not “secret”). And be sure to be clear with parents that dishing over “whose dating who” or “whose going to the prom in which limo” is probably not going to be info you’ll be sharing.
4. Encourage the positives.
You will see a lot of neat, creative and smart content on your students’ pages. When you read something praiseworthy, praise it! Some kids post their own photography or quote their favorite authors. Others compose journal entries that share their faith story. Tell them what you think about those glimpses of their life. They may not say it, but they appreciate it.
5. Enjoy the possibilities!
Most kids check Facebook more often than email these days, so use it as a tool for youth ministry. Send them messages about upcoming events. Build a youth ministry “group” that connects your students, allows them to share photos from your youth events, and exchange comments about topics you start on “the wall”.
In the digital age, youth workers are blessed with many tools that create new ways for staying connected with their youth. Don’t shy away from the possibilities. And yes, Rev. Terry Dittmer and other youth ministry staff are on Facebook–we’d love to be “friends.”
Veritas: Real teens addressing real problems through the Christian lens of truth.