Walking a fine line between friend and mentor.
Your phone rings at 10pm on Saturday. It’s one of your kids from youth group and you know it’s not going to be good. Music is blaring in the background, as she explains the trouble her and her friends have gotten themselves into. Do you pick her up, call her parents or both? During my tenure as a youth leader these types of scenarios presented themselves regularly. Each time, I had to walk a delicate line between friend and mentor.
As youth leaders, we occupy very interesting places in the lives of young people. We aren’t their parents or teachers. In order to reach them, it often requires that we become a cross between a friend and a mentor. Getting to this place with a kid is critical. We want them to trust us like a friend but lean on us like a mentor. As their friend, they need to be able to trust us. That means that we often come into “confidential” information that they would never feel comfortable divulging to their parents.
Fulfilling our dual role is risky, especially on social media.
Connecting with the kids in our ministry on social media makes things even riskier. As their “friend” on Facebook or their “follower” on Twitter, we are offered a candid window into their lives. We are able to see how they talk and interact with their peers, and learn about what they did over the weekend. Often, we’re not going like everything we see. How we react, what we do and what we say matters.
To be sure that we are using social media to effectively establish trust and build life changing relationships with kids in our youth groups, I recommend these four basic social media ministry guidelines:
#1 Be yourself
Authentically share your life with the kids you connect with online. Through your posts and status updates, kids can learn from you and see life through your eyes. They need to see what a life of faith looks like first-hand. Share your struggles, joys, and activities. This will help reinforce your teachings and demonstrate that you do what you preach (or hold you accountable to do so).
#2 Be present
Facebook is an incredible eavesdropping tool. You can friend every kid in your youth group and then sit back and enjoy the show. You will of course learn a lot about them, but you will be missing valuable opportunities to build trust and relationships (besides eavesdropping is creepy). Log on everyday, post photos, status updates, links and videos pertaining to the things that you do and love. It’s also a good idea to make comments and like posts when your youth group friends post something that you like or are interested in. Doing so is a simple acknowledgement, but it lets them know that you are there and that you care. Check out this post about reverent acknowledgement here.
#3 Be intentional
You may already have a lot of friends on Facebook or follow a lot of people on Twitter. Make it easy for yourself. Use Facebook and Twitter lists to filter your newsfeeds. This will enable you to track with each of the kids in your youth group. If you are following #1 and #2, adding this to mix will ensure that you don’t miss an important update on an opportunity to show a kid some love.
#4 Be a friend and mentor
I’m sure by now many of you have seen the now famous video of a father shooting his daughter’s laptop with a 9mm in an act of “retribution” for her slanderous post on Facebook. While funny, it is illustrative of what youth leaders should NOT do with the information you learn on social media. For example, if a member of your youth group makes a post that is off-color, rude, or otherwise incriminating, do not use it as an opportunity to leave a comment that points out the errors in their ways or use it as a cautionary tale during your next talk. I believe to do so is disrespectful and undermines your role as both friend and mentor. Address these things in private over email, Facebook messenger, or in person. Don’t use their lives as object lessons in public.
Photo compliments of Jacob Abshire.