As promised Iâ€™m writing up the â€˜Can Blogging serve Youth ministry?â€™ workshop which explored opportunities and issues around Blogging, Social Networking and forms of new media:
The workshop started with a reminder that technology makes a lousy master but a great slave, how then could any of these media improve communication and aid the vision and goals of the work that you are doing?
Blogs can be used VERY effectively as a cheap and easily updatable website for your work and have the added advantage that your young people can also comment on the blog. We also explored using blogs as a way of sharing your ongoing faith journey and as an opportunity to learn and explore.
We flagged up the dangers of offending, judging, feeding oneâ€™s own ego, breaking confidentiality and inappropriately specific naming of events or people. For a useful framework for what blogging should be, the Skinny on The Spirituality of blogging and his Bloggers prayer are must reads.
For a free blog, check out Blogger or Wordpress. If you are prepared to pay a few pounds a month I highly recommend Typepad.
This was where the most energy and interest lay. The 101 is that Social Network sites are a web page that marks (or advertises) you and lays out your picture, interests, a blog AND then allows you to network with known friends and make links with news ones. MySpace is the biggest but there are plenty of other examples like Bebo and Facebook to name two. The opportunities here are HUGE with so many young people having a presence on Social Network sites, this is a phenomena you NEED to understand and explore as your young people spend a significant amount of time in this arena. This information raises the question should we have a MySpace presence for ourselves and/or our group/Church? The answer is tricky I believe! Social Networking sites are brilliant and an exciting and innovative way of using cyberspace. They do however expose young people to predatory sexual attention which could range from annoying to very dangerous indeed. (MySpace have four major cases against them in the States).
So, having a site for you/your group, Yes or No?
On the Yes side, this is where young people are, this is a way in which they make connections, itâ€™s a great opportunity to build and develop relationship, the blog thatâ€™s incorporated has the advantages Iâ€™ve detailed, young people are more likely to check your site and see the updates and plugs for events. It also allows you to dialogue more easily with young people about their sites (many young people assume that its a domain that their parents, youthworkers are not part of).
On the No side: By having a MySpace (or other) you may be inadvertently endorsing Social Network sites with the very real Child protection issues associated with them.
S.N sites have a minimum age limit (which young people often get round by claiming to be the correct age) so will this exclude some young people OR encourage them to â€˜adjustâ€™ their age slightly. The other issue is a common youthwork one of â€˜boundaries!â€™ How do you form boundaries when if you have a personal MySpace site (or it includes personal information) would then enable young people to click through to your friends?
What I do want to say though is that Social networking is great and there are lots of positives. What I'm wanting to do is explore what it means for youth workers and the way that we engage with it in a thought through and boundaried framework.
If you want to read more: This paper by Danah Boyd is really good on the advantages over the disadvantages and presenting MySpace et al from an Adolescent viewpoint
1. You should get to grips with Social Networking sites!
2. If you are going to have a page it should be group or project specific and real thought be given to boundaries. You should also spend time looking at the Privacy and Security options contained in whichever site that you use.
(When your site is about the group or the Church (rather than you) then young people being on the site as 'friends' or them including the site as 'friends' is less of an issue).
3. If you have a site then this information should be included in the programme that goes out to parents, maybe with a line that notes that the group are not encouraging young people to start of Social networking page themselves and the Youth Leader is available if parents want to chat more about MySpace etc).
4. You should be working with your young people to explore the opportunities and risks associated with S.N sites and help them to be Web Smart. (Itâ€™s also a great opportunity to explore with them about image and value and what defines them).
One of the alternatives in to set up a Social networking group on NING which will give you your very own site/group and gives you control over the group and membership. (Richard Peat develops pro and cons of NING here)
We touched on issues around Instant Messaging and Text which I believe to be an excellent tool for Youth work/ministry. In case it's useful here is the downloadable Oxford Diocesan Policy on Electronic Communication.