Here’s a great email from Jed Koball, an Interim AP at Larchmont Avenue Presbyterian:
I’m writing with an inquiry of sorts. First, I want to state clearly that there is no particular incident or situation of concern that has prompted this inquiry — only my own wild imagination and perhaps paranoia. My inquiry is with regard to ethical standards/codes of conduct that are (or are not) being taught/advised to ministers, churchworkers, seminarians, etc. with regard to one’s behavior and interaction with minors in the virtual world.
As you’re probably aware, facebook is all the rage among teens and twenty somethings. And, within the past six months it has become a growing medium for youth workers in the church to interact and communicate with the youth. There are hundreds and hundreds of Presbyterian ministers with facebook pages. Here at LAC, we have clearly identified facebook as the best method to communicate and relay information to youth…and with that, to interact on some level…i.e. wish them well on midterms…happy birthday, etc.
My approach to any encounter with youth in the “virtual world” has been to follow the same code of conduct and ethics for how I have been taught to interact with youth in the “real world”. Basically, I keep it as public as possible. Where I would do everything possible to prevent myself being in a place alone with a youth, I now do everything possible to prevent myself from “interacting” with a youth “alone” in the virtual world. To that end, on facebook, I will make comments to a youth on their “Wall” where anyone can see it. If I send a message, I send it to a group and never to an individual. Thus, any communication I have is seen by others. And all communication that I send or receive from youth, I do not delete.
Still, I’m finding there is some gray area in this unchartered water of facebook. One such example (outside of interacting with youth on facebook) is observing youth on facebook: I am now privy to lots of “inappropriate behavior” as pictures are posted by youth on their facebook pages. I see pictures of underage people drinking, and now I wonder what responsibility I have to say something. To date, all of those pictures have been of college kids, and so I have done nothing and can’t imagine that I ever would do something. But, if I were to see pictures of a 16 year old completely wasted, I’m not sure how I might react. Or, if I were to see pictures or read comments about illicit drug use, I’m not sure what I’d do either. I feel like I’ve gained access to something that I’m not entirely sure how to handle…as if pandora’s box is slowly being opened.
In the end though, I believe facebook is a cutting edge medium for SUPPORTING community — (not REPLACING community) — however, I see potential for trouble ahead if some ethical guidelines are not encouraged somewhere and somehow — especially as this younger generation who is being raised with facebook eventually grows into leadership roles in the church. Maybe I’m jumping the gun. Maybe I’m being paranoid. Mostly, I feel like I’m navigating new territory with an old map…and, I’m wondering if there might be a need to begin drawing a new map.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
photo’s by laughing squid