Over at Slant 33, Tash McGill, Adam McLane, and your blogger were asked Where Do You Draw the Line on Social Media Interactions with Srudents?
Tash makes a pitch for social media as an entry point towards deeper relationship while Adam in concerned about violating privacy with waiting for invitation… and I’m somewhere in the third way of an either/or… calling for seeking the high value in the non-virtual relationship… Here my section below, but read the asked other opinions, too.
UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, I was interviewed on the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick on EWTN Radio
Here’s the posting: When I read the slate of topics for which I was contributing posts, this is the topic I looked most forward to writing. I have something to say. But this was also the one I was most hesitant about having published. I’m not sure most youth workers will, to use a Facebook term, “like” it. Here’s why: As a personal policy, I do not friend young people under the age of eighteen, and I think that is a policy other youth leaders should take.
The highest ideal and supreme example of communication is found in God, who became man and brother to us. In our liturgy, we pray that we might “come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” That Jesus Christ came to earth in bodily form to repair the fractured relationship between God and man powerfully exemplifies the importance and significance of real relationships. Jesus walked among us. He listened. He spoke. He told stories and shared meals. He cried at the loss of a friend. He healed others with forgiveness, a touch, or a vocal command. Jesus Christ is the fullest experience of God being in relationship with us. We who desire to communicate God’s love for others and the invitation to be disciples of Jesus must recognize the value of real relationships in our various ministries.
Virtual relationships only hint at intimacy. We who believe in the incarnation recognize the highest value being placed on relationships where we “dwell among” others. Because of this, our relationships seek and desire not a transitory acquaintanceship but the fullest of commitment to one another.
In virtual reality, there can be a false perception of closeness, but it is not true intimacy. In our faith, we understand the truest intimacy to occur when we are in communion with one another. The earliest Christians understood the role of communion, intimacy, and relationship building as imperative to discipleship. In the Book of Acts (2:42-47), community is articulated: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”
It sounds contrary to speak in the ideal of intimacy of Christian relationships but then put on the brakes. Consider these issues: There is a difference between being friendly and being friends with children and youth. I do not include young people in my social circle. Healthy boundaries between adults and young people must be maintained. It is uncomfortable and inappropriate when there seems to be a special relationship between an adult and a young person who seems to be a favorite. The appearance of special relationships will always undermine one’s effectiveness in addressing the whole community. As ministers, we are called to objectively assess how others might perceive or misconstrue your behavior and the behavior of the adults with whom you minister. Social networking makes it difficult to maintain the perception of treating all equally. There is great risk in patrolling the internet for the young people to whom you minister. While a young person should have no expectation that statements made online are private, it is the parent’s role to monitor their child’s behavior, and those who minister to young people on behalf of the church never should usurp the role of the parent. Intentionally monitoring and probing where young people have shared their intimate thoughts violates their privacy, not unlike picking up a participant’s retreat journal over a meal break.
Now, when I share my personal policy not to friend young people under the age of eighteen, I do get some pushback. How can I celebrate kids’ birthdays…? How can I publicize upcoming events…? How can I monitor the loves lives of the kids…? And the questions each end in “…without Facebook?”
Facebook has not even been around a full decade yet. There are ways to develop pages that give your church a presence online. As for the rest, those of us who have been around for a while still send birthday cards through the mail and keep our ears perked during pizza breaks.