Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bleg: RE internet policies

I know, I know, lots of blegs and little content recently. Sorry. Life is really, really stressful.

Anyway, my church is putting together an internet policy for RE to handle issues like:

1. YRUUer writes "I had the worst day ever! I'm so depressed!" on facebook. Do you:
a. Send them a private message of concern (which might come off as creepy, particularly if they are of the opposite gender)
b. Post a "hey, hope tomorrow is better" or "you can talk to me" message on their wall (and wonder if their friends start asking who the dorky adult who hangs out on their facebook page is.)
c. Ignore it until Sunday and check in with them then (But they are hurting now, unless they are just being melodramatic, which is always possible with some teenagers)

2. If a YRUUer looks like they might be bullying another kid online or being online bullied themselves, at what point do you intervene and how?

3. When, if ever, is it appropriate to private message/IM/Text a youth? (Goodness knows being able to text "Bring your permission slip to the retreat" to the one youth who keeps forgetting makes life easier, but if we make it seem normal for youth and advisors to be having one-on-one conversations over private mediums, aren't we opening the door for something hinky to happen at some point should a conversation turn intimate?)

4. Should an advisor ever "friend" a youth or should that always be the youth's choice?

5. If an advisor starts posting to a youth's page in a way that makes them uncomfortable, is there a way to set up things to make it easy for the youth to ask them to "back off" that minimizes the intimidation factor?

6. If a youth is posting pictures or text that suggests underage drinking or drug use or sex, at what point is it the advisor's duty to talk to the youth's parents?

7. If Janet, a YRUUer, makes her status "Janet is horny," is it the advisor's job to talk to her about how that's a really bad idea, which she almost certainly knows on some level anyway? If so, what's the best way to do that to minimize the embarassment all around?

8. What about other adults in the congregation? Where do these lines differ for them, particularly in their interactions with the youth?

So basically, it's the essential YRUU advisor question "What is the proper balance between parent and friend?" applied to cyberspace, facebook in particular. One of the awesome things about being an advisor is that you are supposed to have the judgment of an adult but not the parent-child dynamic. But that's a really tricky balance sometimes as youth do sometimes get into situations where parental intervention is appropriate, yet if the youth view us as "spies for their parents" then they will be reluctant to reach out even if they really need to*.

Anyway, do any of you guys' churches have such a policy drawn up? If so, can I have a copy?



*I had a wonderful conversation a bit ago with a youth who was really concerned that this youth's Mother didn't trust him/her and constantly accused him/her of using drugs. The youth, who certainly doesn't have any of the external signs of drug use and has always seemed like a responsible kid to me, was embarassed and offended and wanted to know how best to talk to his/her mother about the mother's fears and get mom to cut the youth some slack.

It sure seemed like this conversation really helped, but it's not a conversation you can have unless the youth really believes that you're not going straight to their folks with anything they tell you.


PG said...

In terms of avoiding Mark Foley-style hinkiness, I'd say to have a standard rule of having the adult send messages to the kid only if those messages are publicly visible to others (i.e. no private messages on Facebook, no text messaging but Twittering is OK). If the kid wants to have a private conversation with you, s/he can initiate it in the medium s/he prefers.

So in your question 1, the correct answer is (b). (If they have friended you, they've already assumed the risk of their peers asking about the dorky adult.)

Question 2 I won't try to answer. I had too many issues around being bullied to offer a good perspective on that yet.

3. Pretty much never. It's just easier to have a blanket rule of "don't go there."

4. Should be the youth's choice.

5. I'd recommend minimizing the posting to the youth's page; use it only for situations in which you want to be sure that the youth knows s/he can reach out to you (as in question 1) or for generic reminders (as in question 3).

6. I don't think it ever could be appropriate unless the kid's behavior is clearly endangering himself. If the kid lets you see things that he doesn't let parents see, that's an indication of trust. Talk to the kid, not the parents.

7. I feel like Obama's speechwriter did us all a service by showing how you can end up completely embarrassing yourself and people you respect due to stuff on Facebook. That example should get pulled out a lot: it didn't end the guy's career, but it certainly did damage.

8. It seems unlikely that the kid would friend other adults in the congregation unless he has an independent friendship with them, in which case it's kind of their own business and to be overseen by his parents, not the church. The church puts the kids specifically in a relationship with a particular YRUU person and thus should have policies governing that relationship.

PG said...

Also, apropos your saying life is really stressful: "hey, hope tomorrow is better" and "you can talk to me" :-)

Steven Rowe said...

the question that hasnt been asked is "should one as a young RE advisor be facebook friends with those young REs?"
and if the answer is yes - what does this do for ones own facebook messages?

Anonymous said...

What is the policy on letters, notes, phone calls, and email? I'd think those policies would be substantially the same for PM/IM/text.

I'm just a member of my congregation, not a youth advisor, but my congregation doesn't have a formal policy about any of this, that I know of.

My philosophy about FB is to treat it like the social hall on Sunday. Anyone I'd see there, I'll friend. I only send a friend request to a youth if I'm already FB friends with at least one of their parents. I also don't go searching for youth by name -- I only send a friend request if I see them posting somewhere I hang out, such as their parent's page or the congregation's group page. I never private message youth, and only occasionally post on their walls. That way, everything I say to a youth on FB, I'm saying as if I'm talking to them in the social hall, with their parent right next to them.

Another thing to consider when friending youths on FB, is whether the content on the advisor's page is appropriate. Advisors might want to make sure their privacy settings are set up in such a way that their approval is required before any links or pics or videos go on their wall, before they are tagged in pics, etc. Otherwise you run a risk of your youth friends noticing inappropriate stuff that unthinking adult friends may post on your wall, before you have a chance to remove it.

Chalicechick said...

Well, it helps a lot that the sort of young adults who are drawn to serious shenanagins and the sort of young adults who are drawn to being UU Youth Advisors are generally two different sorts.

I have employers and the Bar to worry about so what the youth see is the least of my worries. I post an occaisional reference to drinking alcohol*, but other than that my faebook page is pretty tame.

I'm pretty guarded about putting serious emotional stuff on the internet anyway just because if I'm going through some sort of depressive period I don't want my co-workers to know. (As if I can hide it anyway, but I try.)

That said, I can certainly imagine a scenario where an advisor was, say, going through a divorce, and put a bunch of freaky stuff up on facebook that might be an issue. That's a good example that I will mention to the folks at my church putting together this policy.


*IMHO, people are not hothouse flowers. Poor people know that rich people sometimes take vacations and it doesn't hurt anything that this fact comes up sometimes. Youth know that adults drink cocktails, ditto.

Which is not to say that if I were getting trashed with a punk band and puking over the balcony of a hotel I would put it in my status, but again, the young adults who seriously party and the young adults who want to spend their Sunday mornings on the religious education of teenagers are different people.

Anonymous said...

CC, I didn't mean that you would do anything inappropriate or put anything inappropriate on your page. You and I are in a similar position with regard to employers and the Bar. I know how unlikely I am to pull shenanigans, and I'm sure you're similarly unlikely.

A FB meme I saw recently involves a bunch of cartoon pictures with labels, and people then tag their friends with those labels. I don't know your FB friends, but I can easily imagine a few people I have reluctantly friended finding it funny to tag me as "the slutty one" or "the drunk," when that's not the reality. (Hey, even adults can be cyber-bullied.) That's the kind of thing I'd rather prevent beforehand than have to explain after the fact.

Robin Edgar said...

"a. Send them a private message of concern (which might come off as creepy, particularly if they are of the opposite gender)"

Which U*U World are you living in CC?

All things considered, it is no more "creepy", or indeed less "creepy", if "they" are of the same gender.

Hopefully whatever policy your church comes up with is better thought through and um executed than the Franklin NC U*U Fellowship's ever so "progressive" 'Weapons Policy'. . .

Chalicechick said...

I'm living in a world where sexual predators are far more likely to be heterosexual. As this article notes, homosexuals are no more likely than heterosexuals to molest children so we can assume that homosexuality exists in the child molestor population as the same rate as the general population.

Surveys usually peg the American population as about seven percent gay. So out of 100 child molestors, about seven are gay.

Ergo, there are a lot more heterosexual child molestors to worry about, people's homophobic stereotypes notwithstanding.

Thus the same note is creepier coming from someone of the opposite gender, even if the note is innocently meant.

And having been a teenage girl, I can assure you that a message of concern from a forty year old man has overtones that a message from a forty year old woman does not, even if both are intended with equal innocence.

who also doesn't see quite what the big deal is with a church having a weapons policy, but then she spends a whole lot of her time in a University, federal buildings and courthouses, all of which have weapons policies and nobody bats an eyelash about it.

Robin Edgar said...

CC "who also doesn't see quite what the big deal is with a church having a weapons policy,"

Was my comment about a church simply *having* a weapons policy, or was it about a U*U "church" drafting, implementing, and apparently enforcing a poorly thought out and foolishly worded "Weapons Policy"? It doesn't matter what policy one is talking about CC. There are well through through policies that are properly implemented and enforced and then there are poorly thought through policies that are badly implemented and enforced, it is even possible to misuse and abuse a policy that is reasonably well thought through. I didn't say, or even suggest, that churches shouldn't have Weapons Policies or RE internet policies. I just suggested that they should be well thought through policies that are properly implemented and enforced,

Chalicechick said...

((((just suggested that they should be well thought through policies that are properly implemented and enforced,)))

Well, if you'd like to help a church come up with a well thought through process here's your chance.

That's the entire purpose of this post.


Steve Caldwell said...


The SW District has a section of their child and youth protection policy that addresses electronic communication (email, IM, text messaging, phone calls, etc).

Some of the policy is clunky in places but you may want to check it out as one example:

The electronic communication stuff can be found on pages 7 and 8.

This district policy does provide guidelines for sending a private text message or IM to a youth:

"Adults will not initiate Instant Messaging with a child or youth except when all of the following conditions have been met:

All other forms of communication have failed.

The IM is sent only to direct the child or youth to another form of communication for the purpose of conducting the business of the group.

The parent has granted “blanket” permission for communication.

The adult keeps a written record of the communication."

This reasonable exception recognizes that different generations may have different habits regarding electronic communication (e.g. they may not check their email as often as older folks do but do check IM or social networking sites for updates).

Good luck with creating a workable policy.

ellen z. said...

As someone who is still a youth age-wise, but no longer involved in congregational youth ministry, this is my view on things:

1. I'd say any of them, depending on the adult's relationship with the youth. I was pretty close to most of my youth advisors, as well as some district and association staff, and wouldn't have been creeped out at all by a message from any of them saying that they were concerned about my status. That said, I was on my congregation's YAC, my district's youth steering committee, Program Council, and BoT, as well as YRUU Steering Committee (and now GA Youth Caucus staff), and having attended the 2007 Summit on Youth Ministry and two Trainings of Trainers -- i.e., I wasn't involved at the same frequency as most congregational youth in the denomination. I think, though, that either (b) or (c) is a safe answer. Unless, of course, things seem really dire and the statement of depression seems to be more than melodrama, or you know that there are circumstances that could make this statement more meaningful than it might seem.

2. I'd say that intervention is only necessary if it directly involves the church community or if it crosses mandatory reporting boundaries.

3. I think it's fine, as long as the youth is comfortable with where the conversation is going and the advisor doesn't begin talking about personal problems without being invited by the youth. That said, if my advisor or another UU adult with whom I've worked in youth ministry, it wouldn't creep me out. But it's pretty hard to creep me out.

4. I think that it's acceptable for an advisor to friend a youth if the youth says "hey friend me!"; many of my profs, though, don't friend students, but will accept friend requests.

5. I'm not sure?

6. It isn't, unless it seems like it's posing a severe risk to the youth.

7. It's the advisor's job if it's affecting the church community or seems like it's indicative of a larger problem with the youth. Otherwise, stay out of it, but also refrain from commenting on the status in any way. That would probably be creepy.

8. I don't think it does differ much, especially as there is a proposed shift now to more across-the-board involvement in all areas of ministry. Boundaries and such are always ultimately up to the youth, but (obviously), the adult can say no to a circumstance that makes them uncomfortable.

Also, I think that it's unnecessary to get parental consent before talking with youth. My parents would have thought it was ridiculous, and I think it's really patronizing.

Lois said...

I don't think he wants to come up with a well thought through anything, CC. I think he just wants to complain when things aren't perfect.

Chalicechick said...

Take it from someone in a Statutory Interpretation class, rules/laws/policies are a lot easier to criticize than they are to write.

And this concern doesn't even include people who feel that since they personally weren't consulted in the writing of a rule, it shouldn't apply to them, which happens in UU churches a lot.

You don't like a rule? Run for the board, or vote for someone who agrees with you to run for the board. If enough of the congregation agrees with you, you will win and can change the rule. If most people like the rule*, then it probably shouldn't be changed.

Lots of people are content to let other people do all the work of running the church and simply whine about the results.

It's certainly a lot easier.

*And I suspect most people would ultimately agree with a policy that forbade obvious weaponry in church. IMHO, Rowe's argument (that some secular places allow weapons and churches that use weapons for sacrifices allow weapons) is pretty thin in a church that doesn't do sacrifices. Most religious buildings at least strongly frown upon people bringing in weapons.

Few of them have official rules about it, but frankly, I think that most people would consider the minister not wanting to wear it enough to stop.

This guy sent an email to the whole congregation explaining his side in detail. If the congregation had agreed with him, they easily could have said so to the board. If they don't, I'm not sure why Rowe thinks he should be the one to dictate to the community what's acceptable behavior rather than them dictating it for themselves.

Riley37 said...

I've raised this question on the UUA-supported email discussion list for UU youth advisors, and the questions and answers here go deeper than I've seen on that list. Glad there's depth here; wish it were there too.
I'm in favor of advisors accepting friend requests, not initiating them.
"accept, don't initiate" might be a good approach to IM also; IM is about as private as a phone call, and I'd take phone calls from advisees.

Riley37 said...

UUA World mentioned this topic, so there may be further readers and posts. hopefully not distracted too much by the weapon policy topic (worth a different venue IMHO).
On #8, other congregants...
Advisors have an existing relationship and should have a line of accountability, eg supervised by a DRE. Most of their interactions will be more or less clearly acting on behalf of the congregation in that role.
It's great for other adults to connect with youth and extend church community across age differences; but if the adult initiates online contact disproportionate to their previous face-to-face-at-church contact, then it could look or be inappropriate. If the adult and the youth have volunteered side by side in the church's homeless shelter, then 1b seems OK to me. If a 40-year-old man sends a friend request to a 16-year old girl that he's never met, that's hinky. (Yeah, the margin for error is narrower when older males contact younger females, sad but true.)