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Ministering to teenagers during a lock down

The Coronavirus lock down has highlighted the need for the church to learn to communicate digitally to all age groups. In this article, we focus specifically on how to communicate and minster safely to young people online.

Many youth groups across the Black Country already had an online presence before Coronavirus hit but this has definitely been a time to improve our digital communications, make our online safeguarding more robust and think about alternative ways to stay connected to the next generation.

There are three main areas that we’ve found where youth leaders are increasing their social media presence. Communication is key to getting everyone in the right place (online) at the right time!

Sundays

Many youth leaders are encouraging online service engagement on a Sunday.  Some are encouraging teenagers to post on social media as the service is being shown or chat in a Whatsapp group with each other about the service content.  If you are not confident with technology, then there is a range of guides for Facebook, Zoom and Instagram produced by Youth For Christ, available here.

Visit YFC’s Youth Work Online Page

Midweek online small groups

Many youth small groups have now gone ‘virtual’.  People are having video chats in groups using Zoom, Skype, Google Meet and an array of other such platforms.  If the thought of hosting a virtual small group meeting fills you with dread, here are a few helpful tips about how you could make it fun:

  1. Watch videos online together (Eg. Youth For Christ, Life.Church Network) or one of your own youth leaders could give a short talk about a topic. (Top tip: it’s worth muting everyone else’s microphones at this stage if possible, to avoid interruptions – Zoom allows you to do this very easily).
  2. Allow time for the teenagers to discuss what they have heard. This is where they can connect with each other so give them time to chat and listen.
  3. Maybe play a few games or ask a few silly questions to add to the fun (see below).

Top Tips for communicating online with youth

  • Have fun – Ask silly questions: ‘What would you do if you ran out of toilet paper?
  • Play games – charades, fetch it, Pictionary, ‘would you rather’, Kahoot, Taskmaster (search #hometask on Twitter for more ideas).
  • Communicate to parents – But don’t add pressure at an already pressured time!  Whatever you ask of them, keep it simple and quick!  They are already juggling huge amounts of information from schools, their work, supporting families and friends.  Try to support them and not add to their already high workload – many of them are already at capacity!
  • Safeguarding – make sure your church has an online safeguarding policy. See below for more information.

Pastoral care

Many teenagers (and grown ups!) are feeling anxious and worried and so they may want to chat through their feelings with a leader separately to the wider group.  One-to-one chats are a great way to do this BUT MAKE SURE SAFEGUARDING POLICY AND PROCEDURES ARE IN PLACE FOR THIS!  Andy Hancocks, who leads the youth work at Lifecentral Church in Halesowen, has written a policy for their youth leaders and is happy to share it with other churches so please email deb@loveblackcountry.org.uk if you’d like a copy.  We want to keep our teenagers and our youth leaders safe online and so there must be strict rules about how to connect safely with our teenagers for any pastoral care issues.

Some of us have already learnt some big lessons the hard way so hopefully we can help others put some safe procedures in place. Remember we are all learning together so don’t be worried about asking questions if you’re unsure.

Safeguarding Top Tips

  1. Be careful when inviting people to online discussions – remember that you have limited control over what the rest of the group may hear or see from others.
  2. Use a Whatsapp or Instagram group where people can only get on if they are invited or use password control when using Zoom so that you know who will be in the discussion.  There should always be at least TWO LEADERS able to have access to any digital discussions so that accountability is at an all-time high!
  3. If in doubt, follow YFC’s advice:

Try to use group conversations wherever possible.

If one-on-one contact is necessary, have an extra leader as part of the chat who doesn’t take part in conversations, but can ensure there is accountability.

Ensure that parents or guardians are aware of the changes in your approaches of contacting children and young people – you may wish to have consent forms specifically for this communication

Avoid using emoji or icons that could be misleading eg. xx, LOL, 😊

For contacting children and young people, it’s best practice to use a church or organisation account so that multiple people could log in and maintain accountability. Avoid using personal accounts to contact children and young people where at all possible.

For accountability, it will be important for workers and volunteers to record contact they are having. Logging when chats happen, who was part of them and the content covered.

Make sure that children and young people know what’s going on. This includes having a link to CEOP (Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre) or agencies such as Childline, NSPCC. This ensures that young people can report anything they are concerned about in regards behaviour of a worker toward them

Ensure that children and young people are only using apps and programmes that they are legally the right age to use.

 One size doesn’t fit all

Remember, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to youth work over these next few weeks and months so chat with your church leadership and teams to work out how best you can support the teenagers in your community.  Know that there are many others in a similar position to you so please ask for help if you are unsure and please get in touch if you have any other ideas that we can share with the network.

Don’t feel guilty if you are not doing youth work the same way as other churches.  The priority is that everyone is safe and loved.  This too shall pass and imagine how excited this next generation will be to gather again in person!  Until then…we will be together, apart, showing the love of Jesus in all we do.




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