Blog Responses to Digital Etiquette
We asked some of our bloggers to respond to this month’s Digital Etiquette feature. Here’s what they had to say…
By Mark Walley (www.thegroveisonfire.com, @sparticus)
So, providentially for writing this blog, this happened the other day: a twelve year-old at church started a blog chronicling her life. Her parents didn't know at first but I had a conversation with them about it which led to them having a conversation with her about it. It's a good thing this twelve year-old and I follow each other on Twitter or they would have never found out.
Here's the take-away moral from that, and something that comes through in the article on Digital Etiquette: if you put something up on the internet you should expect everyone to find it. That means your mum, your best friend, your youth worker, your vicar, and – key for us youth workers – your young person. Right now, any of my young people could be reading this. (Hi! You probably owe me some forms for a trip or something.)
I can speak for experience here. Back, when the internet still had to be explained to people and you couldn't browse it for too long because there wasn't any Wikipedia to get lost in, I had a blog. It was during my later teenage years and I was perhaps slightly too confessional. I knew my school friends read it, but that didn't really bother me. Until I said perhaps too much on a certain personal topic one day and then someone printed it out during IT at school and distributed it around the 6th form block. I was aggrieved, and horribly embarrassed, but I had no-one else to blame. After all, I'd put it up in the public domain.
What does all this mean to us as youth workers? Well, I reckon it's quite a good thing. If you have a Twitter account, or a blog, or you're on Facebook, young people can see you as you are. Vicky Beeching is right when she says, ‘We need to be normal human people who simply live authentically and genuinely online as well as offline.’ How you act and what you say and do online will get out to people, and will communicate a lot about who you are. If your car breaks down and while standing by the side of the road waiting for the RAC and you tweet ‘Waiting on the hard shoulder. And we know that in all things (stupid broken down cars!) God works for the good of those who love him’ you're saying something very different about where you put your trust than if you say: ‘Waiting on the hard shoulder. Can't be late today! If the RAC don't get here soon I'm going to go blow this road up sky high’.
This isn't to say you should put everything online, or not limit what appears to everyone and what is (at least theoretically) limited to friends. But what we need to realise is that we can't keep our lives online (which is just another part of our real lives) away from our young people. So what do we do when parts of our life really don't match up to the standard of goodness that we're probably trying to sell as youth workers? Even the things we choose to share online we may realise later weren't perhaps the smartest things to say (that witty comment about how that X-Factor contestant sounds like a horse sounds funny now when you post it on Twitter on a Saturday night, but probably sounds less funny when the next day in youth fellowship you're teaching on "letting your speech always be gracious"). Well, here's the thing with that: you, as a Christian, don't exist to bear witness to how good and perfect you are. You exist to bear witness to how good and perfect Jesus is. When young people get to see you warts and all, what they need to see is not someone who hides and covers up their failings and sin (as if they won't see through that) but in their failings and sin clings onto Jesus and says ‘I'm a sinner, I got it wrong, but his grace is enough for me’.
Continue the conversation: #ywinternetissue
By Becca Dean (www.beccaislearning.com, @beccadean)
I love the internet. I blog and make friends and watch a good number of funny videos of cats and babies. I shop and then I can attend to my finances online without the awkward face to face overdraft adjusting that I loathe. I ensure that my public profile picture is me at my best angle in my best outfit, so that everyday acquaintances can know my aesthetic potential, and if I'm feeling a little blue I can write a particularly witty status where each 'like' massages my ego into full health again.
Oh, how I do love the internet.
But I understand that we need to be cautious online. Really, I do. Joking aside, the internet throws out all kinds of issues; identity, authenticity, child protection, boundaries, responsible communication, integrity. Successfully negotiating the internet in youth work requires sensitivity, wisdom, and increasing social media savvy; part of youth work is advocating and defending young people's well-being and safety.
Given that, the internet has many potential positives for youth work. It seems that in worrying about the risks of the internet we may forget the opportunities that it offers.
Here are my own personal internet-in-youth work highlights...
Social media gives all kinds of information about the people we're 'friends' with or 'follow'; what they ate for dinner (sometimes with Instagram), what they're listening too (Spotify), where they are (Four Square). We might even learn about their emotions or peak experiences as they happen. We share humour and jokes and they allow us insights into our online buddies' characters and allow a little online bonding. Of course there's a big 'handle with care' factor, but this constant feed of information can be a gentle way of sussing people out, enjoying shared interests, and un-intrusively getting befriending. Young people can suss us out this way... the challenge to us being to avoid agendas, acting wisely, and having integrity in what we put 'out there'.
I've loved seeing how the internet has made it possible for young people to unleash their creativity in new ways; making videos, writing blogs, writing books and poems and publishing online, making music, using GoPro, designing websites. Here the internet provides an amazing outlet for youth workers to value and learn from what young people have to offer, often in a language or mode that they speak a lot more fluently than us!
In my last job we created a website for the youth work. This became a really good base for communicating with young people and parents alike. I was really happy with creating a youth friendly base that parents had access to. This was great for child protection and also for building relationships with parents. Uploading forms and newsletters was also a really helpful admin tool*!
Sometimes using the internet can make learning things more fun and accessible. YouTube has enabled me to use clips of SuBo, cardboard testimonies, or simply people running into each other, as sermon illustrations, or illustrations in small groups. At other times my laptop has been a great tool for in-depth Bible studies with young people where the internet has an array of online translations or concordances. Ah, the wealth of resources online!
Do you see? Are you convinced? OK. Now be a dear and please 'like', 'retweet', 'follow' and subscribe to my RSS feed. Because then all your dreams will come true.
*Online tips! What a pro-blogger.
Continue the conversation: #ywinternetissue
By Rachel Blom (www.youthleadersacademy.com, @youthleadersac)
Social media is here to stay. I don’t know if Facebook will still be here ten years from now, but I’m convinced that the concept of social media won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. As Vicky Beeching rightly points out, the borders between online and offline living are disappearing. For many young people, these don’t even exist anymore. They read, share, like and comment and for them that’s a big part of how they build relationships and maintain friendships. It’s still not a full substitute for real life encounters and conversations, but it can come pretty close at times.
With this in mind, there are two real dangers, threats if you wish, that I think youth workers need to be very much aware of. The first is about being not fully aware of the deep connection between online and offline life. The second is not appreciating the need for strong boundaries in online contacts.
Last year there was a talk at the Youthwork Summit that addressed the first issue. Andrew Graystone talked about ‘The imagined self in a digital world’. He stated that young people spend a lot of time online projecting themselves, but that they tend to take on different images in different contexts. They have trouble connecting their avatars and online expressions of themselves with their real identity. I fear this holds true for youth workers as well.
Because young people are active on social media, so are many youth workers. But they don’t always handle their online identity with care either. I’ve seen youth workers complain for instance about their bosses, their volunteers, the government, the lack of funding, etc. What message does this communicate to the young people reading this? Would you be so quick to complain about these things in personal conversations as well? It’s just one example, but there are many more, for instance sharing inappropriate jokes or pictures, or engaging in a way-too-confrontational discussion in which we get angry and defensive.
As youth workers, we need to be constantly aware of who we are, both in our identity as a Christian and our identity as a youth worker. We are a role model and that’s not limited to the face-to-face contact we have with our young people. We need to be whole, secure in our identity, fully ourselves in both real life and online relationships. These two cannot and should not be separated. Everything we do both online and offline sends a message to our young people and we need to be aware of that.
The second threat lies in underestimating the dangers of online contacts. Most of us have certain rules set up for personal relationships with young people, for instance that we don’t have private conversations without anyone else present, or only when our door is literally open so people can see us. Those rules are cumbersome at times, but necessary to protect ourselves and our young people. I only wish we’d set up similar rules for online relationships, because these are far less common.
Jack Regan is absolutely right in his warning to be very careful with non-public communication. I fear that one of the greatest threats to a healthy relationship between youth workers and young people lies in the lures of online contacts. We get drawn into personal conversations via chat, DM, etc. and before we know it, we’re having way too private conversations with those entrusted to our care. The boundaries fade so subtly if you’re not careful, that you don’t realise you’ve gone too far until you can’t even see the line you crossed anymore. I strongly advocate an agreed upon social media policy for every church, youth ministry or charity to protect ourselves and our young people.
Continue the conversation: #ywinternetissue
By Steven Mitchell (www.smoorns.wordpress.com, @smoorns)
I think this article is a great introduction to some of the key thinking that is needed around youth workers use of social media.
I’ve had the opportunity to present CEOP’s (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) ‘parent and carers guide to the internet’ and one of the key points in that is that social interaction ‘online’ is no different to social interaction ‘offline’. The rules that we follow in the physical world can be easily transported to our dealings in virtual world.
This may seem an obvious point to make but it’s amazing how many people do not realise it. We have all sorts of child protection policies for our face-to-face work with young people and it needs to be the same with our screen-to-screen work. Youth work is a professional vocation and so youth workers should act professionally online. Now I don’t think that necessarily means that we have to use non-public online communication sparingly as Jack Regan suggests. There are a number of ways to record private internet conversations and I would encourage all youth workers to do this, just as they should keep a record of important private face-to-face chats with young people.
Another important point is that how we behave online is not simply an issue that affects youth workers but also the young people themselves. What has become apparent to me, and many others, is that young people sometimes have a ‘disconnect’ between their actions online and their actions offline. Perfectly polite young people who I engage with at youth groups can appear to be entirely different people online; posting obscene material and using cruel and abusive language. It is as if they do not quite compute that what they write and post online is viewable by everyone and will stay online forever.
How we broach this subject with young people, as Matt Summerfield and Richard Passmore state, is where the tension lies. As youth workers, we should not be online simply to ‘police’ our young people but I think these are important discussions to have with them. We are not different people on and offline. Our online personas (or avatars) are versions of ourselves so the question needs to be asked, what kind of footprint do we want to leave? How do we want to be remembered? I’ve had some great conversations with young people about this.
I think the possibilities of online youth work are incredibly exciting but we need to be clear why we’re engaging in it and to be professional about it. It should not be a means to an end but an extension of the work we are already doing in the physical world.
Continue the conversation: #ywinternetissue