Asking Questions About Social Networks, Youth Ministry, & Relationships
If you're a youth worker, interacting with students through social networking is simply ingrained in how you do ministry. And while social networking creates a ton of connection points that are useful in building relationships, it also presents some challenges.
For instance . . . Have you ever gone to one of your student's social media profiles to send a quick message or leave a comment for them, only to find out that your once-friend has un-friended you? (Ouch.) I have. And let me tell you, there's nothing like the feeling of being un-friended by one of your students (or former students). When it happened, my immediate knee-jerk reaction was to think they didn't want me to have access to their life in that way. Maybe they were hiding something. Or maybe they didn't want their youth minister watching them interact with their friends. Whatever the reason, I had to figure out how I was going to deal with this potentially uncomfortable situation.
When this has happened to me, and it has happened more than once, I decided in the moment that I shouldn't intrude on their life by friending them back. Maybe it's because I didn't want them to have to face an awkward interaction with me. Or maybe I just didn't want to be a Facebook creeper. And then the other day it hit me. What if the students who un-friended me are upset I didn't pursue them? What if they wanted me to re-connect with them? What if they wanted someone to miss them? It occurred to me that they may very well think I didn't even realize they un-friended me, and therefore, they aren't important to me. They may think I didn't notice they were gone. While this isn't true, of course, I've learned one simple rule about students:
Perception is reality.
I wrote this post because I want to kick off a conversation. I wanted to hear from youth workers who might have experienced the same thing, or at least have thoughts on the subject. So . . . what do you think?
- What would you do if you were in my shoes? Maybe you have been in my shoes. If so, what did you do? Did you "friend" students back? Did you ignore it?
- Do you read anything into the fact that you were un-friended?
- Did you ever get a chance to talk to the student about it?
- Does this speak to a greater issue of how we negotiate relationships via social networking?
- If you have been around long enough to watch social media change relationships, what do you think about how we now interact relationally through social media?
- Am I making a big deal out of nothing?
Before you answer yes to that last one, hear me say this: I know this may seem like a small problem in a world of huge problems. And in some ways, it is. But here's the deal: I don't want our students to fall through the cracks! This is obviously a symptom of an issue in relationship with our students. And issues of relationship are serious issues. Let's get the dialogue started. I'd love to hear from you.