Helping Students by taking a break from Social Media

A little bit ago I came across a posting from a teen who quit social media.  It was fascinating to read into what a teen goes through in this technology filled world.  And it made me wonder if we do a disservice to teens by encouraging so much social media interaction.

But Tom, you have a  background in student ministry and are an Online Pastor and Social Media guy. Why are you telling people to abstain from social media use?

I’m not entirely saying that.  But I wonder if we can do a better job of helping teens process all the craziness of social media. I mean, as an adult, I think most of us view social media as a cool, hip thing to do.  After all, we didn’t grow up with this stuff so it’s all cool and exciting for us as well.  So, we laugh at the silly cat doing back flips on Vine over and over and over again.  We share every photo of our lives, including those selfies in every possible outfit or pose.

UnknownBut is encouraging social media interaction over and over in our student ministry a good thing for students? I think, just like playing Oceans 80 millions times in a 2 month period, we can take a very good thing and over-use it.

So, what can we do?  How can we encourage our students to take a step back from social media and help them grow their social development skills? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Help them have personal, face-to-face interactions. When teens are stuck on their phones all day they have learned how to communicate in half-sentences, grammar mistakes and in non-verbal ways.  And that makes face-to-face interactions a little awkward at times.  That is why it is so important to reach out to students and take them out for a coffee, lunch or just hang out at the mall doing some shopping or something.  Help students engage with you face-to-face can really help them process how to communicate in real life, not just over the phone which will help them out in job interviews and work environments in the future.
  2. Create tech-free times in our activities.  I’ve talked about this before but it is possible that we are contributing in a not so positive way to the overstimulation of students brains. I know it’s great to have students video a funny event or take a picture saying they are at “Youth Group”. It is great promotion – really it is.  But it can also be a distraction to what you are trying to communicate with your students.  That is why it’s great to go old school from time to time and create environments where it can be tech-free.
  3. Call them on the phone…the home phone. Ok some people don’t even have home phones now-a-days but how surprised do you think teens would be if you called on their home phone and not their cell phone?

Students are comfortable communicating on their phones and through social media.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but if that is the only interaction they get growing up, I believe it will hurt their personal development and hurt them in the long run.  That is why it is so important to to create some situations where students can take a break from social media and engage with each other in other ways.  I really believe that we, as student ministers, have an obligation to not just help our students grow spiritually but also help them grow as people and give them life-skills as well.

What do you think? How have you helped students by encouraging less social media? What are you doing? Share your thoughts below or on social media using #ymsidekick.

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Tom Pounder

A father of 4, Tom is the Online Campus Pastor as well as Social Media Director at New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, VA. He blogs, vlogs, periscopes and podcasts regularly about student and online ministry stuff. Check out his work at YMSidekick.com and on iTunes (search YMSidekick).

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