Search Site

Facebook & Youth Work: Good Practice

Posted on: January 27, 2009


One of the big topics in Youth Work at the moment (other than porn which is Youth Work magazines focus point this month – blog to follow) is that of Social Networking and levels of appropriateness.

One person I know suggests that Facebook for Youth Workers is a no, no with his argument largely based on the use of the word ‘friend’ but also based on the boundary issues.

To an extent this friend of mine (and I can call him that as he isn’t a young person!) is right, perhaps having young people on a list titled friends does change the boundaries…for some workers. In my experience though Facebook has become a useful tool in Youth Work allowing me to remind young people of events, create events and groups to help them socialise outside of our regular church youth group and it also provides a place where, if they need to they can contact me hassle free.

Another friend disagrees with friend 1 and sides more towards my view, during a discussion yesterday we chewed over Facebook and the positives it has in Youth Work, particularly with those young people who you don’t see that often.

However although Facebook can become an essential tool for youth work there are also risks involved. For starters some functions on Facebook are private which leaves potential for inappropriate behaviour on the part of a worker, time and time again we read in the newspapers of young people being groomed through Social Networking sites.

Another risk is where you draw the boundary with a young person (some would draw it at the line whereby they don’t add young people to their Facebook).

The final risk that I see is the risk of your friends, many people I know have friends who love to post inappropriate things on their wall, risqué comments and embarrassing photos.

So to help any youth workers who read this I would like to suggest some good practice guidelines for the use of Facebook (and other social networking) in Youth Work.

Don’t Message!

The biggest risk of Facebook is the private functions, messages cannot be seen by anyone but yourself and the recipient, so if you can avoid sending messages I would recommend it.

If sending a message is essential then you can send messages to multiple people on Facebook so include one of your other leaders in the message, if something is too private or personal for that then I’d suggest abandoning Facebook for the conversation and suggesting you meet the young person for a chat over coffee.

Privacy Exists

If you’re concerned about your friends writing things on your wall or that photo of you when you were 16, drunk and naked with nothing but a pot-plant to hide your modesty then I suggest that you check out the privacy settings under account. 

Facebook allows you to put your friends in ‘lists’ and from that in privacy settings you can choose certain settings for lists, so you can, for instance ban a list from viewing your photos.

Wall Is The Way Forward

The best way to communicate with a young person individually is through the wall system, it’s a public thing and it’s perhaps the safest way to communicate with them. Avoid using abbreviations such as ‘LOL’ which can be open to misinterpretation too, just keep it plain and simple…I always sign off with ‘Mark’.

Bare in mind though that what you write on the wall of your non-youth friends is also public so be a good role model!

Your Private Details

Facebook has a habit of posting anything you change on your profile to the feed you see when you login, once again if you go to privacy you can change these settings so that the whole world won’t know when you change relationship status.

You can also tell facebook not to display certain parts of your profile to lists so if you don’t want your young people to know your address, relationship status or that your favourite music includes ‘Take That’ then change your settings to hide them.

Finally Use Groups & Events!

Groups and Events on Facebook can be a brilliant way to remind young people of things going on, build up some excitement for an event and get young people interacting with each other between events, those with less friends can make new virtual friends before attending an event, I remember the Norwich Youth For Christ forum meant that I knew more people at their youth services before I attended…it also meant there’s a lot of people who I only know as their forum usernames!

At the end of the day Facebook is a tool which can be used and abused but perhaps more dangerously open to misinterpretation so just like good practice guidelines for face to face youth work it’s important we have some for Facebook, I hope this post provides just that and will help you to safely use Facebook for youth work.

More on social networking and youth work can be found on YouthBlog – click here