Social Media

So you’re a kidmin worker…

…and you took some of the cutest (or coolest) pictures (maybe even some videos) of the kids…

…and you naturally want to share them online (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.)…

… and just as you are about to click UPLOAD, something stops you and you think:

Should I share these pictures online?

Am I allowed to upload these pics?

Great questions: “should you”? and “am I allowed”?

It’s a natural feeling to want to share pictures and videos of what you are doing in your life. I mean, in the current social media revolution world we live in, that’s what everyone is doing. And it isn’t all bad!

However, we (as children’s ministry workers) need to be cautious and very careful regarding how we share pictures and videos of other people’s children. Because that is what they are: other people’s children.

So if you want to post pictures of children in your ministry:

You need to ask permission.

This might go against the current technological grain, but it’s an important and appropriate step if you are posting on behalf of an organization (i.e. like a church or a camp).

At my church, we use what we call the Blue Sheet or Blue Info card. This is our standard, fill-out-information card. It asks for all the pertinent information from a family (i.e. birthdays, phone numbers, emails, address, etc.), but it also contains 3 “legalese” sections: Permission (to attend the event/ministry), Medical Release (in case of an emergency), and a Media Release (so we can take pictures of them and use them for promotional means and Internet sharing). So we ask for signed, written permission.

You need to be smart.

This might sound subjective (and it is), but that’s how we’re writing the rules and practices in this fast-paced, digital world right now. I have yet to come across a resource that gives specific, hard and fast guidelines for children and youth pastors on how to use the digital space (if you have, let me know!). You need to be smart.

For instance, I had a counselor last year at our Kids Camp who is an avid blogger. She wanted to post some pictures of the girls in her cabin (more group pictures, not individual pics). She approached me (and I’m glad she did) and asked if it was okay. Now I had already asked permission of the parents of the campers (the media release was on their registration form that they signed). However, any pics or videos of their children, a parent would expect to see on the official Kids Camp website, not some random blog out there in cyberspace.

My wisdom to this counselor was: I would NEVER post a picture of a student in our children or youth ministry on my personal Facebook page. That kind of stuff would go on the official Facebook page for that ministry. Since her blog wasn’t officially (and organizationally) tied to the camp, I felt it would be inappropriate for her to post pictures. This counselor was great because she understood.

If you find yourself pausing before uploading a picture, or second-guessing whether or not you should upload, don’t.

In this arena, it is better to NOT post a picture or video than it is to do so.

One caveat to these “guidelines”:

I would post a picture of a child if I am relationally connected to them in my role outside of kidmin worker or youth pastor (and if I asked permission). I’m part of an adult small group, and there are a lot of children in this group. I could imagine posting some pictures after we had done an event or fun activity and there being some children in the photo or video. I think this is okay.

I’m going to stop here. There might be more guidelines and parameters to using the Internet and social media in children’s ministry, but what do you think?

Are there any other guidelines/parameters that you would add?

Do you have any stories or examples that you would like to share?

6 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. This has come up a lot in our church recently, because we have teens who were posting a lot of pictures on their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles, of kids in the children’s ministry. Our policy states that they are not allowed to post it. If a picture is posted, it is on the church’s official FaceBook page, website, or Twitter, and it comes from the children’s pastor or another approved children’s ministry leader. And we do require parental photography releases in order for kids’ pics to be used.

    A couple things I would add: even for children’s pastors who are using pictures on official children’s ministry sites and FaceBook pages, it is important to note that legally, you cannot give the names of the children, or any personal information about the children.

    On the topic social media guidelines… our church has recently written a policy on social media and adult volunteers in the children’s ministry. I have talked with other churches, and have not seen anyone else with this policy yet, but I foresee this becoming a bigger deal as churches become more and more technology-driven. We do not allow any of our volunteers to interact with kids (in the children’s ministry) in ANY way through social networking (ie: they are not allowed to be Facebook friends, follow each other on Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, or any other online or social networking channel). Further, they are not allowed to email each other or write enclosed letters (we encourage volunteers sending postcards to kids- which are open to be seen publicly). If a letter or email needs to go out to kids, it is addressed “To the parents of…” Basically, if any adult has contact with a kid, we need to see it. No private conversations, or instant messaging, private phone calls, etc. This topic has come up several times, because kids have asked to email or be Facebook or Twitter friends with their group leaders. Obviously, if an adult has an outside-the-church relationship with a family, that is a different story.

    Anyone else have policies about this?

    • Lynne, great thoughts! I like your additions. The thing I keep thinking about is how difficult this is to control. Social media is fast becoming a virtual extension of our natural self and how difficult that would be to “reject” virtual connections with students. Controlling what’s becoming very natural might be tough. I understand there needs to be safeguards, though. It’s just seems to be really tricky. Lynne, even when I wrote this piece I was wondering who else had such policies and what did they consist of and I had a hard time finding policies like this.

  2. For sure, this can be tricky. Just want to clarify, our church as a whole HIGHLY encourages connecting via social networking. All our pastors and ministries have Twitter, and I am constantly connecting with my volunteers and parents via Twitter, FaceBook, InstaGram, and our kidmin blog. I even encourage connecting with teens and youth this way, but I do NOT allow private one-on-one contact with children in this manner. While I definitely can see the benefits from using social networking tools to communicate with teens and adults, there is too much risk with children. And even further- children are should not be on FaceBook and Instagram, because they both have minimum age requirements of 13 (Twitter has no minimum age requirement). Parents respect that we will protect their kids by not allowing them to be in a closed door room alone with an adult, having unmonitored one-on-one time, and we will not allow it to happen online either. It’s impossible to monitor, but having policies and guardrails set in place is way to protect kids and volunteers.

    • So what you’re saying, Lynne, is while connecting people via the social networking mediums is good, great, and appropriate with teens and adults, it is not appropriate with children. I think that’s a great policy!

      Also, it is not Facebook or InstaGrams rule regarding minimum age requirements. It’s the law. COPA, or the Child Online Protection Act, dictates that no online service can collect information on children under the age of 13. The social networking world has to abide by COPA. Facebook has tried to lobby Congress to have this changed, but it has not. So then this becomes a parenting issue. If children under the age of 13 are signed up with Facebook, Twitter, InstaGram, etc. the parents are not only violating the social platforms Terms of Service, but Federal Law. I try to not accept friend requests or allow Twitter followers of children under 13 because it’s the law first and inappropriate second.

      This is good. It’s good to know the law and establish what is appropriate boundaries in these “new” virtual spaces.

  3. At Camp Forest Springs, we have a media release form that parents fill out before we can use any image of their children. Last summer, after we changed the format of our forms, we found out that we forgot to incorporate this release in the 2012 registration. We weren’t able to use ANY photo of the children who came to camp last summer for promotion in any way. we did make DVD’s for each child with photos on it, but we never released it to the general public. These are dangerous times we live in, and we have to protect the children as much as we can.

    • That’s great to hear the integrity of CFS, Ryan! I don’t think many think about that. In our digital world, just because we can, doesn’t always mean that we should.

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