Facebook and Discipleship

I had the tremendous opportunity this week to teach a seminar to the youth work honour students from International Christian College, Glasgow (and a few visitors). The subject was ‘facebook and youth discipleship’.

It was an excellent morning with lots of discussion, so I thought I would post a summary of what was spoken about.

I started with one question, “how do you use facebook in your youth work”?

Everyone said the same thing.

Predominantly, facebook is used as a method of advertising. Youth workers set up a page and let everyone know what is going and then post photos etc after the event. Later on in the seminar, we looked at possible ways of using facebook for more than advertising. To use it to engage and dialogue with young people. Here are some examples:

1) online bible study using facebook group chat.

2) online youth club using xbox live or the PS3 online network, communicating with each other through headsets.

3) running online youth clubs in RPG games like ‘2nd life’

4) online 1-2-1 mentoring

We then discussed the different effects that using facebook can have on young people. These came under three headings:

Private is the new public, forming an identity and the disconnect between the physical and the online world.

Private is the new public

When I was a teenager, my inner thoughts were just that: inner thoughts. I’d write letters, film scripts to wrestle with my thoughts and emotions.  That was my way of dealing with issues etc. With the advent of blogging and social media, young people can now post their thoughts, photos, videos etc online. They can share intimate details of themselves and have people respond to them immediately.

We discussed the positive and negative effects this would have on young people.

Positive

  • Creates a sense of connection with others who have similar likes/ interests Facebook ‘like’.
  • Instant comments on posts
  • Learn more about people quickly
  • Eavesdrop on conversations
  • Stalk people
  • Gives people a voice

Negative

  • Breeds narcissism
  • Create false identities
  • Cyber bullying
  • Stalk people
Forming an Identity
We discussed the report that Dr Tyagi delivered to the Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He suggested that facebook users could suffer from an identity crisis:

“This is the age group involved with the Bridgend suicides and what many of these young people had in common was their use of Internet to communicate. It’s a world where everything moves fast and changes all the time, where relationships are quickly disposed at the click of a mouse, where you can delete your profile if you don’t like it and swap an unacceptable identity in the blink of an eye for one that is more acceptable,” said Dr Tyagi. “People used to the quick pace of online social networking may soon find the real world boring and unstimulating, potentially leading to more extreme behaviour to get that sense.”

the disconnect between the physical and the online world

It was this area that originally got me thinking about the effect of social media on young people. There are young people I know who act very differently in person than how they do on the facebook page. They happily post pictures of themselves drunk, fill their status updates with swearing and speak to others in a way they wouldn’t speak in front of me.

A number of the group shares similar stories.

Have you had similar experiences of this?

In our final section, we explored some of the practical issues when beginning to think about online youth work. I used a quote from Katie Bacon (and online youth outreach worker) who I spoke to when preparing for this seminar.

“Facebook can offer a superb mentoring tool to support the young people you are working. It can help strengthen the ambient relationship with young people in between youth work sessions. Enables the young people who are not comfortable to ask in public settings ‘sensitive’ or challenging questions. The youth practitioner can send messages and sign post to relevant websites, music tracks or digital images to help offer advice, support or information.”

“There needs to be CLEAR contracted boundaries between the organization and youth practitioner(s) for how, when and who can use social media platforms to engage with young people. Review the context and issues of the young people you and your organization are engaging and supporting.”

Finally, we discussed a list of questions that are needed to be asked when beginning online work with young people (again provided by katie bacon)

What is the purpose on using the social media platforms ?


How you going to contract informed consent?


Have young people been invited to involved in the planning and development of the social media initiative?


What are their expectations?

All in all, it was a brilliant morning with lots of fruitful discussion.
Feel free to post your thoughts or comments to this.

3 responses

  1. I agree. God gives us great opportunities all the time. We shouldn’t pass them up. We can use anything to reach others. Facebook has been a great tool in our church. It has created relationships where there were none before. It has created real time communication. It has helped us to become aware of others needs, so we can pray or assist.

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