Over the summer I normally try to post a couple things that I learned over the previous school year. If you have anything you learned from last year that you would like to tell me about, send it my way smcgever (at) pv dot younglife dot org.
This may be a controversial lesson from this year. Let me say up front, by far (super super far) the best contact work is in person. Nothing can match the benefits that come from being in person at a game, performance, lunch, coffee, coaching, hanging out, etc. Some of you won’t remember I said that, yet I’m going to move on…
In the past I really minimized the benefit of texting, tweeting, and posting a message on Facebook as far as “contact work” goes. In my mind “it didn’t count”. Over the past year, I decided it did count… with an asterisk. Maybe the same way Barry Bond’s homerun record counts… kinda. This requires a lot of additional comments.
First, it doesn’t really help with “level one” contact work, which is “being seen”. There might be some benefit from other students seeing you posting a fun picture online of their friends, or making a nice comment here or there. But, for level one contact work, texting and social media doesn’t help much at all.
Second, we absolutely need to be above and beyond reproach when it comes to communicating through texting and social media with our teenage friends. Rule #1… Guys to guys and girls to girls. Rule #2… For WL kids, get permission to text or connect via social media from their parents. This might go for some high school kids too in certain situations. Rule #3… Assume that someone will always read what you post in the wrong way. Perception is reality. Innuendo, sarcasm, inside jokes, etc. just don’t translate through written words very well. Same thing goes for pictures you may want to post. Other people won’t get it and just assume they will read it the wrong way. I’m sure there are lots of other helpful rules, but these are solid introductory ones. Talk to your YL staff person about the boundaries your area may have. This can vary significantly from area to area for a wide variety of very valid reasons.
With all that said, it can go a long way to…
-Text a kid who came to club for the first time later that night and say, “It was great to meet you ‘Jimmy’, good luck in your game this week, I’m hoping to be there!”
-Post a picture from their game, performance, from visiting them at their work and tag it.
-Just send them a quick message and ask them how they are doing. Pick a certain day, say Thursdays at 4PM and text 3 kids each week rotating who you contact.
-Say a prayer for them and then send them a message that you are praying for them this week.
-Send out a Bible verse each week or daily. I’ve been amazed at how many students I never would have thought would be interested in this (kids who are not Christians too) are really impacted by this.
– Give them an honest compliment. In our society this is so rare!
-Challenge them on something you’ve noticed. A lot of kids will appreciate you care enough to notice.
These can go a long way to move our friendships forward. One of the positive things too with this form of communication is that it is convenient, and not location based. Think through a few old club kids who graduated that you can contact and keep things going.
Like I said, this does not replace real life contact work, and we need to be extremely careful about how we go about it. But, if we are wise we can leverage this and evolve how we do contact work in YL.
Other wisdom on safe practices for social media and text messaging….
Facebook Tips For Youth Leaders
Social Media in Youth Ministry
Five Social Media Guidelines For Youth Leaders
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