Social media is everywhere. It’s on tv and in movies, it’s one of our main modes of communication, and it is in the hands of our teens. Whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay. And it is our job as youth leaders to model healthy social media practices for our students. Here are a few things to think about as you look at your social media accounts and how you interact with students.
Do you accept friend requests from students and parents? Do you follow teens or like pictures from your students that pop up on your feed? It is up to you to decide whether you allow students and parents to see your social media posts, but make sure you stay consistent. Don’t make exceptions to your own rules, either allow everyone to follow you or keep your profile private. If you decide to go private, make sure you’re ready to defend your choice when parents and students ask you about it.
Set clear, strict boundaries and keep them. Students need to know when they can contact you and when you’re “offline” and how it is appropriate to communicate with you on social media. For example, if a student messages you after 9 pm and it is not an emergency, wait until the morning to reply. If you feel it is an emergency, let someone know you’re talking to a student. It will keep you accountable and if anyone questions you about it later, someone knows when and why you were talking to a student that late.
Refrain from social media outlets that don’t keep records of what has been sent and received. Instagram, Snapchat, and FaceTime might show you when something was sent but they don’t allow you to see what was sent if you need to view it again. If a student sends you an inappropriate message, there is no way of reporting. Likewise, if a student accuses you of sending something inappropriate, there is no way to defend yourself since there are only timestamps. Don’t put yourself in a bad position. If a student sends you a message you know will be deleted immediately, view it with someone else or ask them to text you instead.
CARE FOR STUDENTS
Many churches have adopted a social media contract that their sponsors and students sign. The Church of the Nazarene has written a social media contract that can be found here. This clearly states the rules youth leaders need to know about interacting on social media. Asking leaders to sign this contract ensures that they know the rules and are helping to model healthy social media usage to students.
Another way you can care for your students is by making sure that the pictures you post respect the dignity of the people in them. They are children of God, made in God’s image. Sometimes funny pictures are funny, but other times they are embarrassing and degrading. Always make sure you have the student and their parent’s permission before you post a picture of them.
BE A SAFE PERSON
Let your students know that you are a safe person to talk to. Teens often treat social media as a diary, posting both the good things and bad things that happen in their lives. Make what is online real by talking about what you saw them post. Rejoice with them when good things happen but don’t ignore the sad stuff. Many teens turn to social media for attention when they feel upset or sad. Use their posts as a conversation starter to talk to them about what they said. Don’t ever ignore or brush off talk of suicidal ideation that is posted on social media. You should know the proper pathways to report harm to self or harm to others quickly and efficiently.
REMEMBER WHO YOU REPRESENT
When I was in high school, my youth pastor would always yell “remember who you represent” to us as we were about to do something stupid. It was annoying, but it was a good reminder. You represent Jesus. In your church, at the grocery store, and on social media. People can see what you comment on, like, and share–so make sure it represents Jesus well. Let social media be another outlet to show the love of Christ to others. Use it to encourage someone and build others up. Pray for those who show up on your feed and check in on people who post about having a hard day. Let the love of Christ radiate through your social media usage, and always remember who you represent.