We are continuing our social media month today with some really great words and thoughts. I hope this blog is continuing to be a useful place for youth ministers. As we look forward to 2015 we will continue to offer the blog each week with fresh topics and ideas and great words of wisdom. Today we talk about……

“How do you teach your youth safe social media usage?”


Tim Schindler serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Ministry Development at Georgetown Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky where he lives with his wife and four awesome kids.  He studied at the University of Kentucky and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY and has been in youth ministry for 17 years, with the last eight at GBC.  In addition to student ministry, Tim also leads the church’s contemporary worship music.  Follow him on Twitter @timschindler.

This past summer I attended BigStuf summer camp, and one of the speakers was a well-known blogger and author, Jon Acuff (http://acuff.me/).  Throughout the week, time was set aside each day for some youth leader training.  Much of what follows is from a talk Jon gave on social media and youth.

First of all, we start with the parents. They are the gatekeepers to safe social media usage. I’m the father of a 12 year old boy, and as I enter into this with him for the first time as a parent, I know it’s my responsibility to actually parent him in this, too… not just drop him off at a wireless connection and say, “Good luck!”

So for the parents, as student pastors, here are a few things we can say to them:

You don’t have to be as tech savvy as your kids. There is a lot of pressure on parents to feel like they have to keep up with the latest technology. What often happens when they inevitably fall short is that it keeps a lot of parents from even talking about it. Instead, we can remind them that it is about truth, not trends. So instead of learning to analyze cyberbullying on Twitter, empower parents to teach their kids about compassion, empathy, and defending those who are mistreated. Or instead of making sure they know how Kik and Snapchat encourage voyeurism, help them to teach their kids about modesty and consequences of misplaced trust.

Give your kids a real life filter. Help parents and students to relate their social media world to their real life world. “Would I say this or do this in real life?” For example, maybe think of friending people on Facebook like inviting people over to your house. Would you invite random strangers over to your house, people you and your parents don’t already know? Especially for younger teenagers, social media is not a place to meet new people, but a place to connect with existing friends.

Talk to your kids about it before they use it. Explain it to them (what you know). This is what Google is. This is what YouTube does. Here’s how Tumblr works. We would never put them behind the wheel of a car without talking with them about it at all beforehand.  And don’t believe the lie that it’s too late.

Privacy is a weird thing to give a 13 year old. Although it seems the expectation out there is that students should have private Instagram accounts or block parents from Twitter, kids are not ready for the burden and responsibility of privacy. It needs to be a two-way street. Think about it, most of our employers don’t give us privacy. My church has access to see everything I do on my computer if they want. Why do 13 year olds think they have a right to privacy that most adults don’t get?

For the students, here are a few things we can say to them:

Let’s look at both sides, including the good. I think our tendency is to demonize technology and only show the bad side… icloud hacking, cyberbullying, online stalking. The internet isn’t just a porn machine. Talk about how technology can be used to be redemptive, too.

I don’t want to cripple you. In truth, high schoolers should have blogs. They should have an online presence. In the future when they are looking for jobs and areas of influence that will matter. Social media and the web are a great place for them to practice a passion.

I want to help you learn how to talk to each other. Because the tendency is for them to become dependent on their phones, help them figure out ways to have a smartphone-free conversation, maybe even in the course of your ministry programs. They may not be web savvy, but they are communication savvy… and they are certainly not yet life savvy. Don’t let them use phones as a way to hide and never learn how to talk to other humans.

Don’t give into the pressure to perform. Whether they want to put on a good face for you and for their church friends, or whether they think they have to post things to be accepted by the popular kids at school, help students understand that, if they’re not careful, social media becomes a stage that they think they have to perform on.

Again, I think safe social media usage starts with parents being involved. And as youth leaders, we have the opportunity to speak encouragement into the lives of the parents, too. Help them to communicate and become a model for their kids for how to interact with technology.