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New Data on Parents and What it Means for Youth Workers

5 Things You Need to Know

Work with teenagers? Yeah, you also work with parents, right? The folks over at Pew Internet just released a report on parent social media usage, let’s look at some highlights:

  • 74% of parents who use social media get support from their friends there.
  • 59% of social-media-using parents indicate that they have come across useful information specifically about parenting in the last 30 days while looking at other social media content.
  • 12% of all parents of children under 18 say they have ever felt uncomfortable about something posted about their child on social media by a spouse, family member or friend. Fully 88% say they have not felt this way.
  • Parents are particularly active on Facebook and LinkedIn, while non-parents use Instagram more frequently.
    • Parents who use Instagram are not as active as non-parent users. Some 54% of non-parents who use Instagram say they use the site daily, compared with 39% of parents.
  • The typical parent reports a median of 50 “actual” Facebook friends, while the typical non-parent counts 40 of their Facebook friends as “actual” friends.
    • Some 93% of younger parents (those under age 40) who use Facebook are connected with friends from the past.
    • Older parents, those ages 40 and above, are more likely to be friends with their children on Facebook.

What it Means for Youth Workers

  1. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook– the answer is Facebook. While Facebook’s popularity continues to wane with teenagers, Facebook is the dominant player with parents.
  2. Parents are looking for support, encouragement, and affirmation. I often see youth workers using Facebook for communication and resource sharing, this is good but it’s not really what parents are looking for. It can be really hard to gather parents, but many are online and willing to engage already. Consider creating a closed group for parents in your church or community, a safe place where they can encourage one another. Or maybe just make regular passes through parents in your life to be a positive, supportive voice in their life? (Alternatively, consider doing this via LinkedIn… their closed groups offer better moderation features.)
  3. Don’t forget about dads. The data shows that moms use social media more than dads, but not by much.
  4. Post good news about their kids! I think a lot of youth workers worry about that 12% of parents who might be uncomfortable when you post about their kid. Be mindful of them, but don’t forget about the 88% who don’t feel that way. Watch what happens when you post an update about something awesome their kid is doing, this is every parents love language. (Cough, job security alert!)

How are you engaging with parents on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn?

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Poll: What apps are your students using?

We live in a time when about 75% of the students in our youth ministries have a smart phone connected to the internet. Those same students send more than 3300 text messages per month, on average.

And up until about a year ago the single most popular social media site for 13-19 year olds was Facebook. And while technically Facebook is still, by far, the most popular social media application on the planet, enthusiasm for Facebook is changing. I normally hear things like, “I never use Facebook anymore.” Or “I’m bored of Facebook.” But I’ve also seen that the actual data is different than that. So while lots of teenagers are saying they are not using Facebook, there isn’t a significant drop in their actual usage. Instead, Facebook has just become ubiquitous… like Gmail. They use it but not like they used to.

From a social media perspective, we’re going through a period of time that is being called fracturing. That’s just a fancy word that means that Facebook isn’t quite as dominant as it once was and it has made room for lots of other applications to build a user base among a demographic. In this case, teenagers.

I’d love your input

Think about the teenagers in your life and answer the one question poll below.

Please note: I’m not interested in the apps that you think teenagers are using. (Or what you are hearing they use.) I’m interested in knowing what applications you know for a fact the teenagers in your life are using right now. (This week, today.)

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Texting causes creeping informality

Texting-on-Cell-PhonesI saw an article in the Seattle Times this morning that made me immediately think about Youth Ministry. In the article teachers speak to the positive sides of students using blogs, texting and collaborative online tools.  In the opinion of teachers students got high marks for how the organize their thoughts, use style and tone and put together their papers.

But the article points out problems too.  “Creeping Informality” is slowly taking over. Teachers recognize it when it students begin to abbreviate words and use text slang style in their written assignments.   This informality has begun to erode the positive side of the texting movement as students are beginning to show signs of inability to process information outside of bite size chunks and longer projects are a major struggle.

This article made me think about how I interact with people and communicate.   I text a lot.  It’s my primary tool for staying connected to my family ministry team and to a number of students.  It’s an easy way of passing on information quickly and having a discussion but it isn’t the best way.  I find so many times that I have to write out how I am “feeling” as I text that so that the receiver of the message can know how to best read what I’m saying.  And informal conversation like this can get us into trouble as we are way more likely to fire off something quick that we don’t really think through before sending.

Creeping Informality has plaged  the Youth Ministry world for years.  I’m a fairly informal dresser (said while wearing a camp t-shirt and sweats) and often find myself just a little bit too underdressed for situations.  I like to put my feet on my desk too because I find I just think better leaning back.   But I think all of us realize that we need to be careful about how informal we are.  Texting your senior pastor when there is a major youth ministry crises is probably not the best route to go.  Sending a passive aggressive e-mail to a parent is both wrong and likely going to just push off the problem so it’ll blow up in your face later.

So here’s just a couple of quick thoughts to push us all:

1. How much do you use text to deal with issues you are uncomfortable talking about face to face?

2. Do you feel that you have been too informal in conversations with co-workers, parents or students?

3. How has being overly informal in what you wear hurt you?

4. Are there ways we can help students engage faith study in longer chunks breaking them free of their bite sized texting thoughts?

There you go. I’m thinking through these questions too.

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New Study Reveals That Teenage Boys Masturbate More Often Than Girls

A new nationwide look at data on masturbation among U.S. adolescents finds that boys do it much more often than girls, and they also tend to start earlier.

With parental permission, the NSSHB survey asked both male and female adolescents (as well as their adult guardians) to recall how often they had masturbated over the prior three months, over the past year, and over the course of their lifetime. Those polled were also asked how often they masturbated alone versus with a sexual partner. Condom use was also noted.

The results: boys were found to masturbate more often than girls, both overall and across all measured time frames. 

U.S. News & World Report, August 1st 2011

Of all the important questions facing adolescents today our federal government approved a research grant to discover that?

That’s a poll I’d expect to see in Teen People and not in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

What other “important research questions” might we tackle next?

  • What percentage of middle school boys want to dance with middle school girls at the school dance but are too afraid to make the first move?
  • Do 15 year old high school students want to see the driving age raised to 18 years old?
  • Do students like dress codes?

All joking aside, the trivial nature of these studies only acts as a reinforcement of the overarching stereotype. While there is plenty of wonderful research taking place around the country these headlines unintentionally communicate a message that adolescents aren’t important in our society, that they aren’t worthy of serious research, that they aren’t to be taken seriously, and that the people who invest their lives into educating, mentoring, and ministering to them aren’t to be taken seriously either.

Question: If you had the opportunity to sit on a grant approving board what would be some research questions in the field of adolescence that you’d fund?