Internet Safety for Teens by Mark Gregston


In the 60’s, Christian parents were outraged over the “shocking” youth culture.  However, parents today may wish for the “good old 60’s and 70’s,” because on all levels, kids today are into far worse stuff, thanks mostly to the Internet.

Who would have ever thought that the Internet would beat out television and movies as the most time-consuming form of entertainment for teens?  It has! 96% of all teens in the U.S. daily access the Internet, averaging more than four hours online every day.  It now affects every family in some way, since it can be accessed in many more ways than it once could, and it is being used by teens in ways that may shock some less Internet-savvy parents.  So, it is especially important for parents to know how their kids are interacting via digital media today, while also understanding that completely removing it isn’t always the best move.

The Breadth of the Problem

A lot of good can be gleaned from the Internet and from use of today’s digital tools like cell phones.  The Internet is a powerful research and teaching tool.  It has become the main source for news, new music and it will eventually become the main source for books and movies.  Through cell phones, parents are able to keep in touch with their kids wherever they are, and kids can text each other.  And through video tools like Skype and social networking sites, teens and extended families can connect with each other in important and extraordinary ways.

But along with all the good, comes the bad…

Pornography (4.3 million porn sites) and suggestive invitations to participate in pornography are prevalent on the Internet and not easy to miss. Web surfers see inappropriate pictures or videos even if they aren’t necessarily looking for them and there is no cost barrier, since millions of photos are provided free.  While the porn industry has been around since the beginning of painting and photography, the Internet and digital cameras on cell phones are making it so that just about anyone can become involved in uploading their own sexualized photos as well.  As a result, no age group is more involved in digital pornography than teenagers. It has become so widespread and accepted in their culture, kids no longer see anything wrong with it.

What gets the most attention on the Internet are the images with the greatest shock value.  In other words, the most shockingly immoral or dangerous videos or photos are the most sought for and passed around.  Kids surf the Internet seeking titillating images to pass on to their friends. And many are making and uploading their own photos and videos.  As a result, every form of experimentation, from drugs to sex are openly discussed, taught, demonstrated and encouraged on the Internet today.

When kids get online and participate in what they would never think of doing in person I call it “digital courage.”  As a result, guys are getting a warped image of girls, what girls want from boys, and what boys should expect from girls. Girls are given messages that if you don’t present yourself in a sexualized way, then you won’t get noticed.  And both sexes are getting warped ideas about same-sex relationships. It’s a culture fueled by permissive messages that make it okay to be blatant about sex and silly to care about modesty.  And what’s happening online, in a fantasy world, is making its way into the real world for these kids when they spend hours engulfed in it daily.

I don’t think parents quite understand the tremendous amount of pressure that this emphasis on seduction places especially on impressionable teen and pre-teen girls. They are forced to choose between doing what is socially acceptable in their own circles and what is acceptable among their family and church.  More often than not, the social pressure to fit in outweighs their desire to be modest and follow what they’ve been taught.  Girls who’ve grown up in church may therefore begin to present themselves in ways that are not in line with the values they have learned.

Beyond the moral influences, kids fail to understand the potential practical consequences for what they carelessly post online.  For instance, the United States government announced years ago that every word “tweeted” on the largest social networking site, Twitter, is being recorded for permanent public storage by the Library of Congress.  It means that messages and images can be recalled many years from now.  Why is that an issue? For one thing, many employers and some colleges now research what applicants have been saying or posting online, since what they find there is a good indicator of the motivations and attitudes of the applicant. Educational and career choices may be hindered by the careless words or pictures your teen is posting.

Solutions No More

It used to be that filters on your home computer could be used to block inappropriate sites, but that’s an incomplete solution today.  Parents have a bigger issue on their hands now, with the advent of wireless and handheld computers, iPads, iPhones, PDA’s and smart cell phones. Kids can get online just about anywhere, not just at home where it can be monitored. Not only are there more wireless ways to connect, 77% of kids access the Internet at school or the library, where there may be no filters at all.

According to Pew Research, 40% of all teens use the digital cameras on their own cell phones or computers to send sexual photos or “send sexual texts — a practice called “sexting.” Even if your teenager isn’t “sexting” themselves, photos and sexualized comments from other kids are being passed to them.

What’s a Parent to Do?

Parents need to realize that it is becoming nearly impossible to keep kids away from the bad stuff on the Internet. That’s why they should begin talking to their children in the tween years (by age 9) about the inappropriateness of pornography. Talk in age-appropriate terms, being careful not to spark interest in it or to make it appear that all kids are involved in it.  Revisit the topic periodically, since your teen’s thoughts and motivations will change over time. Regularly ask questions in your one-on-one weekly meeting, like, “What so you think is appropriate and inappropriate to see or talk about on the Internet or in texts.”  Be very wise in the way that you approach it so that you don’t push your child away.  Listen more than you speak and never embarrass them.

Your child is likely on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (now for old folks), and SnapChat, so you better make sure you are on there as well.  There’s nothing like knowing that your parent may see what you say or the photos you post.  It keeps them in line.  Tell them that they must “friend” you, so you can monitor what they and their other friends are posting.  But don’t respond to their posts online or otherwise bring embarrassment to them in front of their friends. Just use it for monitoring and discuss what you find there with them personally.

Getting It Under Control

It is important to keep in mind that all rules for use of the Internet in your home must be adapted to the age of your child and his or her responsibility level. With that being said, here are some tips for parents to get the Internet under control:

  1. PASSWORD POLICY:  Make it a home policy that parents must know all electronic passwords. This gives access if needed. Have access to their social networking account for your monthly monitoring (or don’t allow them on any network site if they can’t be responsible).   Add yourself to their “friend” list to be able to roam around on their site. Make sure their profile is “private,” so that only their approved “friends” can communicate with them.  A little monitoring goes a long way. If they refuse, disconnect their Internet access and texting on their cell phone.
  1. TRACKING:   Take advantage of parental controls offered by wireless communication companies, but also install silent tracking software and let it do its work to help you know what sites they are visiting.  Most kids learn to quickly get around blocking software and the so-called “parental controls,” but they cannot usually defy software that tracks their every keystroke.
  1. ACCESS:  Keep Internet accessible devices out of your teen’s bedroom. Keep them out in an open area with the monitor visible from various angles.  Don’t allow access unless you are in the room, and put a limit on the amount of time they may spend on the Internet.  If you have wireless in your home, shut it down after hours and when your teen is alone at home.  If your teen has a smart phone that can access Internet sites or receive photos, then have them turn it over to you before going to bed.
  1. REVIEW:  On their computer, periodically view their Internet “browser history” and follow the trail. You will be amazed; software is available to secretly record their every move if needed, especially if you think they are accessing the Internet overnight or when you are not home.
  1. READ:  Tell your teen that for the privilege of texting on their cell phone, you will periodically ask to see that they’ve been texting.  Tell them that they mustn’t erase text messages, or that will be an assumed admission of guilt. Then, do unannounced spot checks several times per month. Don’t use it as an opportunity to seek proof of other offences, but simply spot check for inappropriate messages or photos. Then, talk to your teen about what you find.

Find out who they are chatting with online. Many times, the people on the other end aren’t who they portray themselves to be, so keep your teen out of the open chat rooms.  Be especially careful if you think your teen may be interacting with an Internet stalker.  If you find anyone you don’t know asking to meet your teen boy or girl alone somewhere, immediately report it to the police.

  1. LOGIN:  Get on their social networking home page and look around.  Look at their friends.  See what they’re saying.  Look at what is being said to them.  Go visit their friend’s pages.  You might just find out something about your child that would be a perfect intro into some great conversations.
  1. TALK, AND THEN TALK SOME MORE:  If you find something inappropriate on a cell phone or computer, privately talk to your child.  Make it something you agree to both get together to talk about periodically.  Don’t accuse them and assume the worst.  All teens — especially boys — are curious about adult things and they want to see what their friends are suggesting they see.  So, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  You’ll be amazed how your child will respond when you speak with a gentle spirit, not one of condemnation and guilt.  You’ll be glad you found the issue before it got too big in the child’s life. Catching it early will often prevent it from becoming a life-long addiction.

I believe in privacy. I believe in trust. But I also believe in “being there” to be the parent God has called me to be. If I see anything that concerns me, then it must be brought into the open with the teen, shared, and discussed. I tell kids that I sleep with one eye open. I’m always looking for something that has the potential to destroy a relationship with them and with God.  I tell them that I’m looking out for them because I don’t want any unwelcome thing to intrude into their life.

It’s Up to You

Monitoring your teen’s Internet use can be a lot of added work, but I believe that parents should go to no end to find out what their teen is into and who they are connecting with online, especially if it begins affecting their attitudes and behaviors.  That portal to the outside world needs monitoring. After all, would you let just anyone, even a registered sex offender or pornographer, into your house to befriend your teen?  Of course not.  The hold that an outsider may have on your teenage girl, or the hold that pornography may have on a teenage boy, may ultimately harm both them and your family. Your teen will be too embarrassed to reveal it, so it’s up to you to find out and take action.

Helping your teen become more discerning in how they surf or text on the Internet is now more important than older tactics of simply blocking teens from it. They’ll find other ways to access the Internet, whether at school or in their friend’s homes or using their friend’s cell phone or laptop computer. So, teaching them to be discerning will give kids the skills they need in a culture where it is nearly impossible for a parent to completely block them from accessing it.

Moms and dads all over the country express great frustration to me with how to positively encounter their teen living in a seductive, visually oriented, and digitally bombarded world.  The answer to their questions is always that they have to do something, rather than doing nothing.  Online and texting parameters must be set, communicated, and adhered to.  And it must be a set of parameters that are monitored, revisited and discussed often.  Remember this… rules without monitoring aren’t rules at all, just blind suggestions.


4 Powerful Ways That Mindfulness Will Improve Your Life and Ministry by Ron Powell
Being all there makes a huge difference…

But recent studies show that most of us aren’t “all there” most of the time! In fact one study by Microsoft shows that most people have a shorter attention span (8 seconds) than a gold fish! Here are 5 powerful ways that practicing mindfulness will improve your life and ministry!

But first the research…

Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.

Can you see how this might hamper your ability to read, counsel, or remember what your spouse just said?

Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do describes powerful benefits of mindfulness. I will highlight how these will boost your life and ministry!

1. Insightful Focus

Lord, help me to hear what they are really saying. That is my prayer as I see a student’s lips moving. As I am actively practicing attentiveness I hear more than just the words; I observe the body language and feel the feeling.

As I am entirely mindful of the person in front of me I engage in the moment at a completely different level than when I am watching TV with a phone in my hand.

This strategy improves problem solving because as I give my mind completely over to the situation and refuse to allow it to ramble down rabbit trails I can generate a number of workable solutions and evaluate the merits of each.

2. Improved Relationships

Why don’t you listen to me? This is a common complaint in relationships. According to Morin, “Researchers have found that mindfulness could be the key to relationship satisfaction. –Couples who practice mindfulness report less conflict, improved communication, and a healthier relationship overall.”

Attentiveness is destroyed by inattention. This isn’t just a disadvantage brought on by the digital age, newspapers, televised sports, and day dreaming have long been with us.

Mindfulness in relationships makes us more able to devote our heart and attention to those we love.

3. Enhanced Mental Health

It’s easy to think that practicing mindfulness is Eastern Mysticism or some new age nonsense! Did you know that Christian believers have practiced this for centuries?! (-See Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline!) Mindfulness will make you more aware of God and others.

Studies have linked mindfulness to improved psychological health. Practicing mindfulness can reduce your overall stress level and lower your risk of mental health problems. As you are more in the moment you are less prone to worry, develop anxiety, and stress over things that you can’t deal with. There is nothing helpful coming from a scattered mind flitting from one concern to another, all while trying to participate in a meeting, church service, or prepare a talk. Clear undistracted focus is helpful in all circumstances.

4. Wise Responses not Emotional Reactions

The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry Study shows that “mindfulness decreases the intensity of painful feelings. Even when you’re going through tough times, you won’t experience negative emotions as intensely when you’re able to focus on the here-and-now.” Mindfulness can also reduce harsh self-criticism and help you develop a more self-compassionate inner dialogue.

As you work with others this is hugely important. If we are slaves to our initial emotional experience we are likely to make terrible choices and give very bad advice! As we gain a more objective Biblical approach our responses will be tempered by God’s wisdom.

How to Be More Mindful 

As you are hearing from many sources, people can train their brains to be mindful. Similar to other skills, it will take practice to improve.

I like to start by being mindful of God. I recognize that the Holy Spirit is in and all around me. I concentrate on his involvement in my interaction with others. I ask him to provide insight into my problems and my daily activities.

Taking time to still your mind at the start of the day and allowing Christ to carry all of your concerns will free you up to focus on others and the tasks at hand. Learning to turn off notifications on your phone and plan times to deal with email and messages will also help to discipline you to deal with distractions in an orderly manner. At bedtime clear your mind of anxious thoughts reviewing the day and working on tomorrow. Instead begin to thank God for all who he is and what he has done in your life. Go to sleep with thanks and praise on your lips.


9 Challenges to Shape My Leadership by Tony Morgan


1) “It’s cruel and unusual punishment to employ a person and not tell them how they’re doing.” (Bill Hybels)

This was a great reminder for me to give more specific feedback to my team. My natural tendency is to stay silent until there’s a problem. That’s not fair to the people I’m leading.

>> More from Bill Hybels’ talk on The Four Lenses of Leadership

2) “We need to live out our values in the world.” (Melinda Gates)

In other words, it’s not enough to have a list of values. I have to be intentional about engaging those values in everything I do. In fact, the better job I can do of establishing measurements to track each value, the more likely it is that my actions will reflect those values.

>> More from Melinda Gates’ talk on Living Out Your Values in the World

3) “Leadership is about taking wise chances and giving people opportunities.” (Jossy Chacko)

I’m entrepreneurial, so I’m not afraid to take risks. I need to remain wise about the risks I take. If I wait for everything to be perfectly aligned, I’ll never be able to take that wise chance. By the way, giving the right people the right opportunities may be the best risk I can take.

>> More from Jossy Chacko’s talk on Unquestionable Ways to Expand Your Leadership Reach

4) “If you are a leader, you have to be vulnerable first.” (Patrick Lencioni)

This was a passing comment Lencioni made describing a specific exercise he uses with consulting clients, but it jumped out to me. My team will not be vulnerable about the challenges they are facing unless I am vulnerable first.

>> More from Patrick Lencioni’s talk on The Ideal Team Player

5) “Execution doesn’t like complexity.” (Chris McChesney)

I wanted to jump through the video screen and high-five McChesney after he said this. Execution is so hard for churches, and one of the key reasons is because of the complexity that exists. It’s one of my personal missions to help churches remove that complexity so they can have a bigger impact.

>> More from Chris McChesney’s talk on The Four Disciplines of Execution

6) “People have uphill hopes and downhill habits.” (John Maxwell)

That’s a reminder that hope is not a strategy. If I want to go someplace I’ve never been in my leadership or personal life, I’ll need to establish a new plan with new disciplines to see it happen. My current habits won’t produce new results.

>> More from John Maxwell’s talk on The One Thing to Get Right

7) “If I have to hold it to keep it going, I have the wrong people in place.” (T.D. Jakes)

I’ve made this mistake in the past. Because someone failed or I didn’t trust them with a responsibility, I held on to it for too long. I have to be willing to coach and empower others to take on key roles. I also have to be willing to make the tough calls on personnel if it’s not working.

>> More from Bishop TD Jakes’ talk on Going Into Your World

8) “True humility is agreeing with God about who you are… True dependency is agreeing with God about who He is.” (Danielle Strickland)

This may not mean anything to you, but this principle is really the key for people like me who struggle with anxiety. When I try to take control rather than embracing true humility and dependency, I can get in a very unhealthy place.

>> More from Danielle Strickland’s talk on Essential Leadership Shifts

9) “Customers want a perfect product, served timely, and to know you care.” (Horst Schulze)

I’ll just be honest, the part about letting them “know you care” is the biggest challenge of those three for me. My natural wiring is all about producing great results in a timely fashion. I have to work to manage the third part. And that’s also where I need the complement of my teammates.

>> More from Horst Schulze’ talk on Creating an Organization of Excellence and Efficiency


The Fine Line Between Friendship & Mentoring by Doug Franklin


There is a fine line for youth ministry volunteers between being a friend or a mentor. Often times adult volunteers want to be liked by students, so they cross the line between friend and mentor. They tell students what they want to hear instead of hard truth they need to hear. We must consistently remember we are here for students, giving them what they need to grow.

Mentors want a lopsided relationship with their students. Knowing that students will never build into them, they pursue students at a deep level. Discover their hopes, fears and struggles. This is why mentors need solid relationships with other adults so they can get their emotional tanks filled through appropriate relationships.

Below is a list of a few of the finer qualities taken from a mentoring relationship. Think about what the student gains from having this kind of relationship with a leader.

        1. The Hard Truth 

Students get plenty of honesty from their friends, but they need a leader who tells them the truth out of love. They need someone who sees God’s best for them and will work with them to bring it out.

  1. Unconditional Love 

Love is one of the most confusing and often misunderstood words to students. Leaders need to model what it looks like to love unconditionally. Start by telling students that you love them and that you won’t leave them. I often tell them that I am not like other adults; I will not let them stay the same, I will push them to grow.

  1. Humble Honesty

Students will be blessed by having a leader who shares their life story with them, not someone who only preaches at them. Tell them the redemption story of your life. Allow them to see and understand your mistakes and let them know the peace you have from forgiveness.

  1. Challenge 

Paint a picture for students of what they can do for God. Let them see how God has used students to accomplish His goals. Help them understand what God wants to do in them and through them.

  1. Selflessness 

Students have one great love: themselves. It is a vital responsibility of the leaders to work at teaching their students the act of selflessness. By putting others’ needs first, leaders have the opportunity to consistently show students that life is about more than just themselves.

  1. Value

Students are bombarded daily from every direction about who they should be in the eyes of the world: smart, attractive, wealthy, funny, etc. A leader building intentional relationships challenges them in areas that reach deeper. Remind students of their potential in Christ, and show them what is important by how you spend your money and how you give your time.

  1. Consistent 

Empty promises are hard to forget. What if our students had a relationship with someone they knew they could always count on? Leaders who are consistent do what they say and they keep their promises.

Building Intentional Relationships Discussion Questions

  • How do you think it would impact small groups to have leaders that were too much like one or the other of the relationships we discussed?
  • How can you tell if you have become too of an authoritarian with your students and not compassionate?
  • How can you tell if you have become too much of a friend to your students and not enough of a mentor?
  • What is the one of the seven things we discussed earlier that you feel you need the most work on? What areas do you feel you are already doing well in?


Preteen Ministry: How to Nurture Preteens’ Faith Development by Stephanie Martin


At ages 10, 11, and 12, preteens are still technically in the children’s ministry category-but they consider themselves too old for elementary activities. They want to be treated like grown-ups, and they have unique spiritual needs.

While this is an exciting, change-filled age, it’s also a crucial time to nurture kids’ faith development, to make a difference in their lives, and to incorporate them into the larger church body.

Children’s Ministry Magazine talked to preteen ministry experts about sure-fire ways to help these kids grow spiritually before they’re out of your ministry’s reach.

Crossing Into New Terrain

What makes preteens noticeably different from even 8- and 9-year-olds? The key is their growing desire for freedom.

“Preteens yearn for independence and desire to es­cape being smothered by parents, especially if parents tend to be overprotective,” says Rebecca Peterson, children’s pastor at Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas.

“Typical 10- to 12-year-olds are beginning the process of separating their identities from their parents, which continues on through adolescence,” says Sarah Killelea, preteen ministry director at San Clemente Presbyterian Church in San Clemente, California. “At the start of this journey, they need a place where they can connect with adults other than Mom or Dad or teachers.”

This need to slowly cut the apron strings translates into opportunities for children’s ministers to be caring adult mentors.

Entering a Spiritual Expanse

To grow in their relationship with Christ, preteens need special attention, customized programming, and opportunities to question and be challenged. They also need:

• Strong Adult Mentors-Preteen ministry staff and volunteers must “be there consistently” for kids, Peterson says. “Kids’ lives are changed by that dedicated individual who’s there every week when the kids arrive, asking them how their week went, spending time listening to them, and joking around with them. These are the heroes who make a difference in children’s lives and lead them to spiritual maturity.”

• Personalized Faith-Most preteens who’ve grown up in children’s ministry have been exposed to the basic facts about the Bible and Christian faith. But once they reach fifth and sixth grades, kids are ready to own their beliefs.

“Preteens are just starting to understand that God is very real and the Bible actually relates to them,” says Katie Gerber, preteen ministry associate at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis. “The Bible isn’t just some old book full of stories they’ve heard since preschool. It’s a living, active book that relates to their problems or situations.”

Preteens “need to know this isn’t just their parents’ church,” adds Peterson. “What we have to offer them each week is the spiritual air and food they need to survive in today’s culture.”

• Positive Experiences-In addition to consistent relationships and foundational knowledge, Killelea says, preteens need plenty of fun moments with spiritual significance.

“Most students fail to remember the details of a 10-minute message or the exact content of small-group discussions,” she says. “However, my students constantly recall funny skits we’ve performed, songs from months back, and life-changing experiences from camps. Kids remember what was fun for them.”

• Leadership Challenges-Alan Root, a “kid musicianary” to the preteen set, says these kids “need to lead.” They’re “ready to be seriously challenged: challenged to memorize Scripture, challenged to worship in spirit and truth, challenged to make a difference at church, at home, at school, and in their community,” he says.

By fifth grade, Root adds, kids are ready to switch “from being under the ministry of a children’s pastor to being ready to assist the ministry of the children’s pastor.”

• Spiritual Development-Preteens’ emerging ability to think abstractly plays a big role in their spiritual development. “They’re able to question and challenge things they ‘firmly’ believed only months before,” says Killelea. “Their minds are eager to question their faith…and the validity and content of Scripture.”

The big spiritual challenge for preteens, Killelea adds, is defining for themselves exactly what “relationship with Christ” means. Kids regularly ask Killelea questions such as “Is God with me right now?” and “Does God care about me personally?” So it’s essential, she says, for preteens to have “a place where they’re free to ask questions” and receive “solid, age-appropriate” answers.

• Social Development-Because preteens are curious and are venturing out into the world more, Root says, they need to know the dangers and consequences of certain behaviors. “Many of them know that what pop culture calls ‘freedom’ is a dead end,” he says, “but they need a real answer to [resist]an invitation to plunge into the kingdom of darkness.”

A big dilemma for preteens and people who work with them is that “they want more freedom, yet can handle only so much,” says Gerber. “Preteens want to feel older, yet they’re still kids. They don’t want to be in elementary anymore; they want something special, just for them.”

Building Strong Support

Incorporating this knowledge of preteens’ spiritual needs into your ministry leads to powerful results.

• Express genuine interest. When working with pre­­teens, you can’t just show up and serve your time, Peterson says. Instead, you must “show you care about what they’re facing.”

If you fail to get on preteens’ level, earn their trust, and show real interest in their lives, kids are “going to tune you out,” says Gerber. It’s also important to think outside the classroom. “Go to their cheerleading competitions or basketball games,” she adds. “That’s when they’ll come up to you and say, ‘I really need to talk to you about something.’ ”

• Make lessons applicable. Preteen ministers have to be a little more creative with lessons so they relate to kids’ lives, Gerber says, adding that lessons require more preparation because preteens “know when you’re winging it.”

Programming must remain on the cutting edge and be constantly revised to meet kids’ needs, Peterson says.

Root, whose new book for preteens is Disciplification (self-published; www.alanroot.com), says preteen curriculum must be real and must explore kids’ leadership gifts. “There’s nothing more real than the transition from being a kid in children’s church to being a minister in children’s church,” he says.

• Provide lots of welcoming activities. Gerber’s BLAST program (Belonging, Laughing, And Studying the Truth) features at least nine special events per year. All these get-togethers, retreats, and trips are tailored to preteens. “Kids know when they get into fifth and sixth grade that programming is going to be totally different from elementary,” she says.

Because friendships are so important to this age group, activities are open and attractive to kids’ friends. Gerber recommends assigning one regular attendee to each visitor because “most likely, if visitors feel like they made a new friend, they’ll be back.”

• Assign responsibilities gradually. The best way to meet preteens’ spiritual needs, Root says, is to “give them real responsibility and follow up on how they’re doing.” He says preteens can lead worship, teach part of a class, participate in prayer, and even help with the sound system.

“Find their gifts and turn them loose under your watchful eye,” Root says, adding that when preteens are given responsibilities a little bit at a time, they’ll prove their faithfulness and their age won’t be an issue.

• Facilitate spiritual growth. Being honest and real is essential because preteens “can see right through you,” Gerber says. “They’re more aware of you than you think.”

She adds that preteens “need to see that you struggle with things, too-that they’re not alone. Never, ever be afraid to be honest with them about your flaws.”

• Offer identity and freedom. Providing preteens with their own identity makes them feel special, Peterson says. At her church, everything preteens do-from Sunday events to VBS to summer camp-carries the Club 56 label. The group has its own worship band, a separate game room, and separate snacks and crafts.

Just calling fifth- and sixth-graders preteens makes them feel more grown up, says Gerber. And expanded activities such as rock climbing, laser tag, and movie outings provide kids with the freedom and growth opportunities they crave.

Making the Connections

Preteen specialists keep kids’ needs in mind with all aspects of their programming. They agree that lots of interaction, messy games, good food, and a friendly atmosphere are all essential.

• Focus on discussion groups. Small groups are “key to life change, which is what we’re really all about,” Peter­son says. “Discussion questions connect the Scrip­tures kids hear to their everyday lives and make God’s Word relevant to them.”

When using a discussion format, Killelea advises, remember that it’s okay to go off-topic with kids’ questions and concerns. “I’ve found that it’s most effective for preteens to experience the freedom to question,” she says.

• Help them bond with adults. Look for extra opportunities to build relationships between preteens and min­istry leaders. In her LightForce program, Killelea offers parties, girls sleepovers, and boys bowling nights to encourage student-leader bonding.

Peterson recounts an 11-year-old girl who made major life changes with the help of an accountability partner assigned to her at a retreat. Through commitment and support, the girl reached her goals to quit bullying, change her circle of friends, and stop smoking.

• Offer challenge and expect results. Effective preteen programs challenge kids in their deepening relationship with Christ. Members of Club 56 attend Wednesday night discipleship classes and just completed their first missions trip. “This group of 22 kids is so on-fire for the Lord,” Peterson says. “I’m expecting mighty and powerful things to come from them.”

• Maintain a separate identity. Attach the name of your church’s preteen ministry to everything the group does. And, whenever possible, keep preteen activities separate from younger children’s activities. The only time Club 56 meets with younger kids, Peterson says, is during an opening session for drama, offering, and announcements.

• Encourage outreach. Because Killelea’s church is the only one in San Clemente with a program specifically targeted to fifth- and sixth-graders, LightForce serves as an important outreach. She tells about a girl who was having a tough time making friends at school. During fifth grade, this girl got involved with LightForce and “immediately clicked with the leaders.” She made new friends and even started bringing her parents to church on Sundays.

Last November, when the senior pastor invited the congregation to share expressions of gratitude, this young girl was “the first person under age 40 to share, and she stood up to say she was very thankful for LightForce because it brought Jesus into her life and the life of her family,” Killelea says.

“That moment was the most encouraging experience in ministry for my team and me,” says Killelea. “The Lord clearly used the program, curriculum, and staff of LightForce to reach this young girl and her family.”


Top 30 Articles for Leading Volunteers by Christine Yount Jones


From Children’s Ministry Magazine… here are our top 30 articles for leading volunteers, ranked by the millions of people who come to our site annually!

1. 10 Great Ways to Thank Volunteers Check out what children’s ministers are doing to tangibly thank their volunteers. And discover creative ways you can give your volunteers a positive thank you note.

2. 4 Easy Children’s Ministry Teacher Training Meetings Looking for teacher training meetings your teachers will enjoy and come back to? Use these 4 easy-to-prepare training meetings!

3. 3 Devotions to Encourage Your Volunteers Use these 3 devotions to encourage your volunteers in a brief team meeting or full training.

4. 11 Things NOT to Do With a New Volunteer Okay, so you’ve got a new children’s ministry volunteer, what do you do now? Here are 11 things NOT to do with a new volunteer.

5. Sunday School Teacher’s Survival Kit Let your Sunday school teachers know how much you value them with this easy Sunday School Teacher’s Survival Kit (with heart!).

6. Tried & True Recruiting Secrets for Children’s Ministry Veteran children’s ministers share what really works when it comes to recruiting a great volunteer team.

7. How to Be an Effective Volunteer Recruiter In a volunteer recruiting rut? Join our conversation with veteran recruiters to discover their secrets for effective recruiting that stands the test of time!

8. Volunteer Problems: Solved! As a leader, you’ve no doubt had your share of issues related to volunteer management. We tossed a few common issues to volunteer management experts and asked for help. They delivered! Read on for expert, practical advice.

9. 14 Ways to Affirm Volunteers on the Cheap Children’s Ministry Magazine decided to find fantastic ways to affirm volunteers–that don’t break the bank. We went on a special quest to find budget-friendly, unique affirmation gifts and then create ways to say a very special “Thanks!”

10. 10 Best Ways to Ask a Volunteer to Serve You can dramatically increase your chances of hearing the golden words: “Why yes, I’d be honored to serve in the children’s ministry!” — if you implement these “deal-closing” ideas drawn from the world of advertising sales.

11. The Three P’s of Volunteer Affirmation Ministry is a team effort. We’re called to affirm and encourage the volunteers we lead. So how do we make sure this happens? These three P’s can shape your volunteer appreciation efforts.

12. What You Need to Know About Casting Your Recruiting Net Recruitment can be the most difficult and discouraging area of volunteer management—if we try to do it in our time and by our plans. But in God’s time and by God’s plan, it will be done.

13. How to Build an Unstoppable Volunteer Team Almost every role in ministry involves working and interacting with others. Jesus is a great example; he spoke to his disciples through his actions: building connections, partners, success, and balance — and ultimately, value. You can do it yourself, too.

14. 9 Reasons to Fire a Volunteer–and How to Do It Ready! Aim! You’re Fired! Here are 9 reasons you must fire a volunteer—and how to do it.

15. 5 Reasons the Best VBS Teams Come Back Every Year You worked hard to recruit an amazing team of VBS volunteers! How can you ensure they’ll want to join your VBS team again next year (and even throughout the year)?

16. Mugs ‘n’ Muffins Volunteer Appreciation Instead of having one big year-end appreciation luncheon for our volunteers, we have several Mugs ‘n’ Muffins appreciation open houses during the school year. We schedule each Mugs ‘n’ Muffins on a Sunday morning.

17. The Powerful Solution to Your Biggest Volunteer Training Challenge When was the last time you had 100 percent turnout to your volunteer training? 50 percent? 25 percent?

18. How to Elevate Volunteers From “Helping” to Leading Want your volunteers to stay for the long-term? Stop acting like they’re your helpers.

19.  Good, Better, Best: 6 Creative Ways to Affirm Volunteers Use these 6 creative ways to affirm volunteers. You’ll find a good, better, and best option for all six!

20. 61 Ways to Say Thanks to Volunteers  Here are oodles of quick ideas that will help you celebrate and thank your volunteers—from Children’s Ministry Magazine.

21. Training? Are Your Volunteers Ill-Equipped? Are you missing the boat when it comes to volunteer training? Leadership expert Sue Mallory says probably so.

22. 6 Ways to Get More Men Serving in Children’s Ministry Historically, children’s ministry has been predominantly staffed by women. According to George Barna, “Women are almost twice as likely as men” to teach Sunday school. But in our church, we’re evening the odds. Currently, 45 percent of our children’s Sunday school staff is male.

23. Jesus-Style Volunteer Training and Leadership As we focus on relationships, as Christ did, we live out the discipleship approach to volunteer management. This focus on relationships has had long-lasting results in the lives of children, parents, and staff members at the author’s church.

24. The 6 Mistakes That’ll Cost You Volunteers Can’t recruit volunteers or keep the ones you have? You’re not alone. Here’s how to avoid 6 common mistakes that cost you volunteers.

25. Volunteer Training Events No Volunteer Can Resist Getting volunteers to attend volunteer training can be a challenge, but one you can overcome. Your volunteers will love attending training when you follow these tips!

26. 6 Secrets to Olympic-Style Volunteer Training Imagine how strong a children’s ministry volunteer team you could have if you prepared volunteers with an Olympic-style workout program.

27. Recruiting Volunteers as Jesus Did The best method is to look to the Master Recruiter. Jesus recruited a cadre of committed volunteers who in turn recruited others who recruited others-and, well, here we are. Not to belittle God’s grace or the miracle of his work in each of our callings, but there are seven steps we can look at that Jesus used to recruit. Christ’s approach can work for your ministry, too.

28. 6 Steps to Confront and Uncooperative Teacher Sometimes you’d rather put your head behind a pew and hide. But as a children’s minister your responsibility is to serve the needs of your kids…which just might involve rocking that pew a bit.

29. 98 Thank Yous for Volunteers Gracias! Dankeschon! In any language, these ideas will help you say thank you and express your gratitude to volunteers’ hearts!

30.Get Your FREE Complete Volunteer Training Plan: Connect the Dots Looking for a fantastic volunteer training and affirmation event people will actually attend? Why not do it with a Dynamic Outstanding Training event—DOT! Help your volunteers make connections with one another and hone their ministry skills with this DOT event.

And a Bonus Article! Why Do Your Volunteers Quit? Children’s ministry volunteers are loving, caring people who are…leaving? As much as we strive to recruit and keep them, volunteers all too often make the decision to leave their positions.


Think Small, Score Big! by Children’s Ministry Magazine


When you think small groups, you score big with kids! Learn how to do a small group ministry well.

If you look back over your childhood, you can probably remember one adult who really took an interest in you — who made you feel special. Maybe it was a Sunday school teacher, a little league coach, or an elementary school teacher. For me it was a close family friend. She always remembered my birthday. She made it a point to include me in conversations, and she made me feel as though my thoughts and opinions were important. She spoke into my life.

Developing relationships with kids earns you the right to speak into their lives — just as my close family friend did for me. One of the most effective ways to develop relationships with kids in the church is through a small group ministry — a fairly recent trend in children’s ministry.

Before You Begin

The building blocks for a small group ministry for children aren’t much different from those for adults, according to Mikal Keefer, editor of FW Friends, Group Publishing’s new small-group-focused midweek program. Kids — like adults — thrive when they’re known and loved and feel that people are interested in them.

Here are six steps to take before you start small groups for your children’s ministry.

1) KEEP SMALL GROUPS SMALL. A ratio of 5 children to 1 leader has proven to work well. If you want to use your small groups as an outreach tool, you want kids to be able to bring their friends. You don’t want your group size to already be at the maximum level of what a leader can reasonably handle.

2) DETERMINE GROUP TYPES. Decide what type of group best suits your children’s needs. You may choose mixed-ages, same-age, gender-based, or mixed-gender groups. While some leaders feel that same-sex groups cut down on distractions and the competition associated with genders trying to impress each other, other leaders feel that building friendships and developing understanding toward others should cross all lines of gender and age.

3) CLARIFY THE PURPOSE OF YOUR SMALL GROUP MINISTRY. Make your purpose meaningful to kids. While developing FW Friends, Mikal discovered that parents want a small group midweek program that’s focused first on Bible learning, then on relationships, and then on fun. For kids the focus is primarily fun and friends.

“I’d never tell kids that they’re coming to learn God’s Word and hide it in their hearts,” says Mikal. “Those are terms we use as adults. If it’s an effective small group, they’ll get that when they come. You need to be careful how you define a small group’s purpose because kids can vote with their feet.” They can simply choose not to come.

It’s in the context of meaningful relationships that authentic life-change happens. And that’s where Christian growth and faith development flourish.

James Buchanan is a children’s minister at Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona, who has transitioned a large and small ministry into a small group model. James explains the purpose of small groups in his ministry. “A common misconception of small groups is that you’re giving up strong Bible teaching for relationships,” he says. “The truth is that both go hand in hand. We still teach God’s Word through a large group setting, then use small groups to emphasize relationships, Scripture memory, prayer, and relevant application of God’s Word.”

4. DEFINE THE GROUP LEADER’S ROLE. The leader’s role is critical in the success of a small group. Most adults who teach children’s Sunday school are used to leading small classes of kids. Small group leadership, however, requires a different style. A small group leader’s role is more of a facilitator or a coach than a teacher.

“Bear” Bryant, the winningest coach in football history, understood the basic principle of effective coaching. If you truly love and care about the kids you coach, you’ll bring out the best they have to offer. The same is true of coaching kids in a small group. The primary concern is making sure that kids feel loved, accepted, and connected.

5. SET GROUND RULES. Make children and their parents aware of expectations and guidelines before your groups meet. Set meeting times, and honor those times.

Confidentiality is also critical to your group’s success. Children aren’t likely to open up and share without knowing that what’s been shared remains within the group. Be clear with kids, however, and let them know that if any information is shared that indicates possible harm to themselves or another individual, you’ll need to talk to the appropriate people.

6. FIND SPACE FOR YOUR SMALL GROUPS. Where are the small groups going to meet? “The ideal situation is to have a room for each group, but that isn’t realistic for most churches,” says James. “You have to think out of the box. We had small groups meeting in hallways, foyers, courtyards, playgrounds, and anywhere else we could fit. Small groups aren’t confined to a classroom and can be flexible to fit most situations.”

Timely Tips

Use these small group tips from the FW Friends midweek program.

Learn kids’ names immediately. Greeting kids by name lets them know they’re important to you.

Praise in public; challenge in private. If you need to talk to a child about a behavior issue, do it apart from the group. Doing so communicates respect and lessens the likelihood for a child to feel the need to “save face.”

See a child’s world from his or her view. There’s no such thing as a trivial problem. Even if you know it’s something that’ll blow over in a couple of days, give it the proper attention. Ask questions and help the child explore potential solutions.

Celebrate kids’ successes. Make a big deal out of kids’ successes. Applaud kids frequently, and be their cheerleader.

Communicate with kids. Call kids when they miss a meeting to let them know you missed them. Frequently send postcards. Be specific in your message so kids know it’s directly to them and not the same message to everyone else.

Give kids opportunities. Expect kids to do and be their best, but don’t expect perfection. Kids learn by leading. Giving them opportunities to lead encourages them. You’ll also find they listen to each other better after they’ve taken turns in some sort of leadership capacity.

Relax and have fun. Let kids know you care by being yourself, but don’t try to be “one of the kids.” Kids are relying on you to be their leader, not their playmate. If you relax, you’ll have fun — and so will they.


What Teens Need Most From Their Parents by Sue Shellenbarger


As adolescents navigate the stormiest years in their development, they need coaching, support, good examples and most of all understanding.

The teenage years can be mystifying for parents. Sensible children turn scatter-brained or start having wild mood swings. Formerly level-headed adolescents ride in cars with dangerous drivers or take other foolish risks.

A flood of new research offers explanations for some of these mysteries. Brain imaging adds another kind of data that can help test hypotheses and corroborate teens’ own accounts of their behavior and emotions. Dozens of recent multiyear studies have traced adolescent development through time, rather than comparing sets of adolescents at a single point.

The new longitudinal research is changing scientists’ views on the role parents play in helping children navigate a volatile decade. Once seen as a time for parents to step back, adolescence is increasingly viewed as an opportunity to stay tuned in and emotionally connected. The research makes it possible to identify four important phases in the development of intellectual, social and emotional skills that most teens will experience at certain ages. Here is a guide to the latest findings:

Ages 11 to 12

As puberty takes center stage, tweens can actually slip backward in some basic skills. Spatial learning and certain kinds of reasoning may decline at this stage, studies show. Parts of the brain responsible for prospective memory, or remembering what you are supposed to do in the future, are still maturing. This may be why a teen may seem clueless if asked to give the teacher a note before school.

Coaching tweens in organizational skills can help. Parents can help build memory cues into daily routines, such as placing a gym bag by the front door, or helping set reminders on a cellphone. They can share helpful tools, such as task-manager apps.

Young teens’ reasoning and decision-making skills often aren’t fully developed; parents can coach them in being organized and considering other points of view.

Parents can help foster sound decision-making, thinking through pros and cons and considering other viewpoints. Children who know by age 10 or 11 how to make sound decisions tend to exhibit less anxiety and sadness, get in fewer fights and have fewer problems with friends at ages 12 and 13, according to a 2014 study of 76 participants published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

By remaining warm and supportive, parents may be able to influence the way their teen’s brain develops at this stage. A 2014 study of 188 children compared the effect of mothers who were warm, affectionate and approving during disagreements, versus mothers who became angry and argumentative. Teens at age 16, who had affectionate moms when they were 12, showed brain changes linked to lower rates of sadness and anxiety and greater self-control, according to the study led by researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Ages 13 to 14

Parents should brace themselves for what is often a wildly emotional passage. Young teens become sensitive to peers’ opinions and react strongly to them. Yet the social skills they need to figure out what their peers really think won’t be fully mature for years, making this a confusing and potentially miserable time.

At about this time, teens’ response to stress goes haywire, sparking more door-slamming and tears. The impact of social stress is peaking around this time: Of adults with mental disorders often triggered by stress, 50% received a diagnosis before age 15. Other research shows teens from ages 11 to 15 become sad and anxious when subjected to social stresses such exclusion from social groups, while adults don’t show a similar effect.

Parts of the brain most vulnerable to stress are still maturing, so coping strategies teens use at this stage can become ingrained in the brain’s circuitry as lifelong patterns, according to a 2016 research review in Developmental Science Review. Psychologists advise teaching and modeling self-soothing skills, such as meditation, exercise or listening to music.

Teens are susceptible to social stress at ages 13-14. Parents can help decode peers’ social cues and model healthy coping behavior, like exercise or meditation.

Coach teens on friendship skills, including how to read their peers’ expressions and body language. Encourage them to choose friends based on shared interests, not popularity, and to dump friends who are unkind. Teach them how to repair friendships after a fight by apologizing, making amends or compromising.

Family support is a stress buffer. Teens whose families provide companionship, problem-solving and emotional support are less likely to become depressed after exposure to severe stress, according to a 2016 study of 362 Israeli adolescents in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Ages 15 to 16

Teens’ appetite for risk-taking peaks at this age, according to a 2015 study of more than 200 participants ages 8 to 27 led by researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands. The brain’s reward receptors are blossoming, amplifying adolescents’ response to dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This makes thrill-seeking more desirable than it will ever be again.

Normal fears of danger are temporarily suppressed during adolescence, a shift scientists believe is rooted in an evolutionary need to leave home and explore new habitats. Studies have found adolescents fail to change their appraisal of risky situations even after being warned that the hazards are greater than they expect.

The ability to make and keep good friends is especially useful at this stage. Teens with friends they trust and count on for support are less likely to engage in risky behavior such as shoplifting, riding with a dangerous driver or having unprotected sex, according to a 2015 study of 46 teens led by Dr. Eva Telzer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Teens who argue often with close friends are more likely to take such gambles.

Thrill-seeking will never be more irresistible than it is for a 15- to 16-year-old, whose reward receptors in the brain are blossoming. Parents can still make a difference: Encourage healthy friendships; show warmth and support. ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT NEUBECKER

It is not too late for warm, supportive parents to make a difference. In a laboratory risk-taking test, teens who grew closer to their parents starting at age 15 showed less activation of a brain region linked to risk-taking and took fewer chances 18 months later, according to a 2015 study of 23 adolescents published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. The closeness to parents included having parents’ respect and help talking through problems, and an absence of arguing or yelling, according to the study, in which Dr. Telzer was a co-author.

Ages 17 to 18

Benefits of the teenage brain’s ability to change and develop are evident at this stage. Some teens show increases in IQ. Intellectually gifted teens are most likely to achieve gains in IQ scores, so teens who are already smart are likely to grow even smarter, according to a 2013 study of 11,000 pairs of twins led by researchers at Penn State University, in University Park, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Older teens can put the brakes on emotions and risk-taking; their problem-solving and strategy-planning skills are developing. They might need help deciphering ambiguous people and situations.

In older teens, the parts of the prefrontal cortex responsible for judgment and decision-making typically are developed enough to serve as a brake on runaway emotions and risk-taking. Executive-function skills, such as solving problems and planning strategies, continue to develop at least through age 20, according to a 2015 studyby researchers at Sheffield Hallam University, England.

Social skills and related brain regions are still maturing, according to researchers including Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London. At this stage, teens are better at noticing how others feel and showing empathy. They still lack the ability to decipher people’s motives and attitudes in complex social situations, though, such as figuring out why a friend might suddenly change the subject during a conversation at a party.


Evaluating Yourself Before The New Youth Ministry Year Begins by Andy Blanks


For many of us, the next few weeks signal the beginning of a new youth ministry year. For a lot of folks, August means the start of school. And hopefully, by this time, you’ve already started your Fall planning. (In fact many of you are already implementing your plans!) But as you plan and evaluate for your ministry, I wanted to challenge you to make sure that you give the same spirit of evaluation to yourself.

I want to briefly talk about taking some time to evaluate where you are personally.

How is your personal life going? How are you spiritually? How are you physically? What’s the status of the important relationships in your life? Are you growing in your relationship with God? Are you improving as a leader? In short, are things going well? Or are they going not-so-well? It’s important as Christ-followers that we are in the habit of taking stock of our lives to make sure we’re living the full life that Christ has enabled us to live. It’s much more vital, however, as leaders and teachers that we make sure we are growing in our faith and that there aren’t areas of our lives that are hindering this growth. So, how do we begin to address these concerns?

The key to taking stock of our lives, of knowing what we need to address and shore-up, is looking at our lives through the lens of a key word: discipline.

Now, there are many of you who will want to click off this post right now. Don’t! Discipline is a word that sends shivers up many of our spines. I have to admit myself that it is a concept I struggle with. I find myself, at times, very disciplined in some areas of my life and not disciplined in others. So, I am in this with you . . .

As we think about living effective, full lives, lives that make a Kingdom impact, we must consider how effective we are in certain areas. Our discipline in these areas is key to our effectiveness. So, what are these areas? Let’s take a look:


How is your discipline in your spiritual life? Are you studying your Bible regularly? Knowing God’s Word and applying it in your life is the key to growing in your spiritual maturity. Are you making time to read God’s Word? How is your prayer life? Prayer is the language of our relationship with God. Are you connecting with God daily in meaningful prayer time? Are you having meaningful conversations with people about your faith? Do you regularly make time to serve others in God’s name? All these are important aspects of your spiritual wellness. If you’re not disciplined in this area, the rest of these areas will suffer.


The importance of physical discipline is hard to overstate! If you are not taking care of yourself physically, it’s really hard to be focused on improving the other areas of your life. Do you need to change any habits regarding your sleep? Or how you eat? (Who among us couldn’t improve here?) Are you exercising enough? Remember, the goal is not to look like “Ahnold,” but to be healthy! What changes do you need to make to become more disciplined in your physical life?


This is one we don’t often think we need to apply concepts of discipline to. But failing to think about our relationships in this way is failing to give our relationships enough credit. Think about the important relationships in your life. They probably include:

  • Spouse
  • Parent(s)
  • Children
  • Friends
  • Students
  • Co-workers
  • Staff
  • Boss

There could be more added to the list. But this list is a good start. Look at this list and visualize the people represented there. Then, ask yourself: What do I need to do to be more intentional in growing and/or maintaining each one of these relationships? Being disciplined in our relationships is the key to killing selfishness. When we begin to intentionally and specifically put other’s needs above our own, we are being disciplined in our relationships.


Who do you lead? Because I bet you lead someone. Whether it’s a staff of youth ministry associates, a youth group, or a group of 7th graders, you are a leader. And we can always be improving on our leadership. Think about your time with those whom you lead: what can you improve on? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What can you do to have more of a godly influence on those you are blessed to lead? How can you advance their interests through your position as a leader? How can you make them better?


This one is the hardest for many of us to get real excited about, but our diligence in our work is very much a part of who we are as Christ-followers. Our attitude, faithfulness, and integrity in how we conduct our work is a testimony to Christ in our lives. So, where do you need to improve in this area? Are you as efficient as you need to be? Are you as proficient as you could be? What steps can you take to become more disciplined in your work-life?
Hebrews 12:11 says this:

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Our goal should be to live as people who have disciplined their lives in order to have the most impact in this world for Christ’s sake. It’s a matter of stewardship, really.

What steps can you take today to become more disciplined in the areas mentioned?


Morality and Social Media: Have You Considered the Impact by Tim Elmore

Growing leaders.com

Consider this reality. What the computer was for the Millennial Generation, social media is for Generation Z. The youngest cohort being measured today are those growing up since the turn of the 21st century; many call them Generation Z, following Gen. Y. Some call them the “touch screen generation” because they don’t manipulate the screen with a keyboard as much as through touching the screen itself.

They’re growing up with social media. Many don’t remember a day without it. The first social media site that everyone agrees was actually “social media” was a website called Six Degrees. It was named after the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory and lasted from 1997 to 2001. The evolution of popular social media sites rolled out like this:

  • Myspace was launched in 2003.
  • Kik was started in 2004.
  • Facebook became available to everyone in 2005.
  • Twitter was launched in 2005.
  • Tumblr got its start in 2007.
  • Pinterest began in 2010.
  • Instagram was introduced in 2010.
  • Snapchat was started in 2011.
  • Vine started in 2013.

Do you remember when computers were new? The new question will be: do you remember when social media took over?

Today, an overwhelming majority of teens, ages 12-17, are on social media sites. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, “71% of teens use more than one social network site.” Over time, educators, coaches and parents all began to see the effect those smart phones had on our kids. According to a February 2016 Statisa.com survey, middle class and affluent students report:

  • 72 percent of teens are on Snapchat.
  • 68 percent are on Facebook.
  • 66 percent are using Instagram.

Interestingly, lower socio-economic statuses report  a higher use of Facebook and a lower use of Snapchat or Instagram.

Do We Know Social Media’s Influence?

We all recognize that social media isn’t going away. Most of us don’t want it to. Over nine in ten adults surveyed acknowledge they are on it themselves. What we may not recognize, however, are the moral implications it has on our young.

Spoiler Alert. According to a U.K. poll, the “majority of parents believe social media harms their children’s moral development.”

According to the survey, “Just over half, 55 percent, of people with children ages 11-17, “strongly agreed” that social media hinders or undermines moral development.” The survey, which came from the Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues at Birmingham University, revealed some surprising findings:

“Not least [of these is] the low level of agreement that social media can enhance or support a young person’s character or moral development […] While parents acknowledged that positive character strengths, including moral virtues such as love, courage and kindness, are promoted through social networking sites, they were reluctant to agree that these sites could have a positive impact on their child’s character.”

In fact, the observing parents had this to say about their child’s habits and attitudes on social media:

  • “60 percent said they had seen anger or hostility.”
  • “51 percent said they had seen arrogance.”
  • “41 percent said they saw bad judgment.”
  • “36 percent said they had seen hatred.”

The vast majority reported a huge absence of humility, self-control, forgiveness, honesty and fairness on social platforms.

What Can We Do to Guide Students in Social Media?

My question for you is simple: are you OK with this? Do we have any responsibility to guide our young with social media? Can we be intentional about mentoring students as they grow up with ubiquitous access to content and perhaps no consequence to their posts? Consider the following steps you could take as an educator, coach, youth worker, or parent with your students:

Ask to meet and talk over the influence and the hours consumed by social media. Often, logging in the hours a teen spends online can be eye-opening for them. Many spend the equivalent of a full-time job staring at a screen.

1. Ask to scroll through their posts with them.

This could be awkward, but actually sit with them and look at the posts uploaded both by them and to them. Discuss what you see together.

2. Interpret the tone and content of the posts and what it suggests about their character.

This may feel cheesy or cliché, but ask what someone might conclude if they didn’t know them—but saw their posts.

3. Discuss how employers, coaches, instructors or mentors might view their sites?

Next, talk about how students (grads) have lost their chance at a job because an employer viewed their social media posts.

4. Ask them if they have ever noticed an attitude change in themselves, after reading or posting on social media?

This requires transparency, but discuss how you, or they, can experience a negative attitude or impulsive reactions on-line.

5. Suggest they follow the rule: I will only post what I want my reputation to be ten years from now.

Finally, give them the long view: What impact does this post have or what reputation will this post give me a decade from now.

Former general of the Army Omar Bradley wisely said, “If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” Just as wisely, Bill Gates suggests: “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” Let’s play our role.