boundaries for youth workers and text messaging

i received an interesting question in a comment:

Marko,

I’m a senior pastor of a church and have a youth worker question I’d like some advice on – was wondering if you get questions about it ever? Thought you could post for response???? My youth workers are text message addicts and they are on their phones constantly with kids. I am realizing that the kids are text messaging them at 12, 1, 2 in the morning. Parents are complaining. What kind of limits do other churches place on this – how do you define “crisis”? How do you tell a youth that it can wait until tomorrow? I don’t want my youth workers modeling being up that late, but don’t know how to change this culture.

Thanks,

Jason

i have a couple thoughts – mainly that youth workers, for their own health, and for the health (i’m not only talking about physical health, of course) – should have boundaries. texting kids at 1 and 2 in the morning should surely not be normative, especially if parents are complaining!

but, i’d be very interested in hearing the wisdom of the youth worker collective. thoughts?

50 thoughts on “boundaries for youth workers and text messaging”

  1. i never answer my phone after 8pm, wherever i am, for just about anyone. if it is an emergency, and i tell them this in parents meetings so it isn’t a shocker, call me twice and leave a message. thats my cell phone boundary

    as far as txting. i might respond back depending on the text to me, “what time am i supposed to be at….?” my response “5:30 cya ther” i will do.. versus a “hey, what are you doing?” they get no response till the next day. answering anything at 1am is insane. the only exception i made for late night texting was when some really bad tornados were going through our area a few years back. i was talking with one or two kids seeking shelter in their basement.

  2. Great question Marko… Thanks for throwing it out there for us.

    I think that as a youth worker, we need to help parents as much as we can. It sounds like this youth worker could help these parents and their students by setting some boundaries. One of the things that we have been most guilty of in the past is making parents out to be the enemy. In this situation, this guy seems to be doing that.

    Sending text messages to students is a fine idea. I send about 800 or so a month myself and I’m probably on the low end of things. Its a great way to maintain contact with students throughout the week.

    But you’ve got to set some firm boundaries. My students know that about 10:30 pm I don’t reply to messages or emails. That’s just the policy. Setting a firm boundary would be beneficial not just for this youth worker (so he isn’t burning the candle at both ends) but will also help these parents involved.

    Thanks again Marko
    Jim

  3. Probably a bit on both. Who would reply to a text message at 1 or 2am? Is it the youth workers instigating the conversation, or is it coming from the kids?

    I think that Jim’s right, youth workers shouldn’t be replying at that time of night and a limit should be set. Depending on the message of course… “help the house is burning down” would probably deserve some kind of reply.

    However, I think parents have to take some responsibility as well. If the kids are texting youth workers is it possible that they are texting other people as well? Maybe it would be good that mobile phones are left in a communal area overnight. Maybe put them on charge so that there’s a reason for them to be there.

    Lastly, don’t make too bigger deal out of it. Let’s face it, every generation of young people have been up to stuff late at night. Midnight feasts, watching TV, reading, playing computer games… This is just the current one.

  4. Parents are complaining that their kids are up at 1,2 in the morning and texting the youth guy? OK, I’ll bite. Be a parent and enforce your rules with your kids. Sheesh! If your kids won’t obey, then take away their phones at a certain time.

    As for the youth guy getting these, are they promoting it or just getting them? Are the teens in severe traumatic scenarios? That might make it seem a bit less co-dependant, but probably not.

    This sounds like the ever present problem of youth work. Hire a young person who really is close to the kids and risk loose boundaries and complaints from parents, or hire an older guy who probably sets better boundaries but doesn’t connect as naturally.

  5. Marko, one thing that jumps out at me about this is that the parents are complaining to the pastor because *their students* are texting at 12, 1, 2AM or later. First and foremost, this is an issue that parents need to be resolving with their students. If parents don’t want their kids getting text messages at all hours of the night, they need to be making sure their kids aren’t sending them.

    Personally, my cell phone is a great ministry tool for me, allowing me to keep up with students, join them for various social events (bowling, movies, whatever), and I call and text with them at different times. They know that if they ever need my help, they can call me anytime, but if I get a text from one of them in the middle of the night and it’s not something important, I’m just not going to respond. Which brings me to another point; if youth workers want to stop students from texting them in the middle of the night, stop replying to the messages you are getting in the middle of the night. If you feel that you can, just shut your phone off during the overnight hours. Personally, I don’t because my cell phone is the number I give out to most people, because my ever-changing work schedule means I don’t know when I’ll be home until at most a week before the fact.

    Sorry, this got kind of long…

  6. For the youth workers end….I dont think there is anything “magic” about 1:00 a.m….or 8:00 p.m. or whatever time boundary you want. I think lots of college age youth workers (or even a little older) are going to be up anyway at 1:00 a.m. Young adults are often still hanging out at that time. If the youth worker is in that group, and responds to a text at that time, I dont see it as a big deal. Everyone gets to set their own boundaries, and what might be a problem for a 30-year-old woman with a family, might not be a problem for a 20-year old young woman in college.

    For the parents end…you gotta have a better way to control the texting thing than complaining to the pastor.

  7. My pattern has been to not respond to text messages after nine pm (unless it was an emergency type thing – someone texted me about a pregnancy scare at eleven pm, so I called them immediately). I don’t want to be the reason a kid is up late at night on a school night – and it’s a boundaries issue. That’s the usually the only time of day that my wife and I have to ourselves! My students have picked up on it (I respond, but I wait until the next day), so it’s been a while since I’ve gotten one at night.

    Regarding the parents being upset … yes, the youth leaders need some new boundaries, but I agree with the thought that the parents need spelled out cell phone rules with their kids and start confiscating the phones if they won’t respect the rules. If it means they have to hand it over at a certain time of night and get it back in the morning, so be it. Too many parents aren’t controlling the phones and I’m hearing too many stories of kids who stay up all night on their cell phones instead of sleeping!

    And finally, I love that a senior pastor is contacting you for advice! I think every youth worker out there would think that how he has handled this has been a great way rather than just jumping to some conclusions! Whoever you are, thanks for caring about youth ministry!

  8. Above said with the “shouldn’t they be talking to their kids?” but maybe they have

    We have a “don’t text / ring after 11 unless it’s an emergency” policy, though after reading above comments might think it through to something slightly more flexible.

  9. Marko- Here’s what I’ve seen. Texting has become much more of a normative thing with students and with youth leaders. Part of the issue here is boundaries. I don’t mind getting late night texts I just choose not to respond to them until the next day. Many new services like twitter send me texts when someone posts. More of my issue is when I’m in a meeting with my youth staff and the 15 of them are focused more on their phones then on the meeting. What we have done is to just say that we don’t want students and or leaders to be more focused on their phones then on the people around them.

    In all things boundaries.

    The bad part about texts is that now most people don’t even call anymore. Just a simple short text saying what they are doing. We have to be careful not to get even more impersonal.

  10. Jennifer, about the end of your comment, most of the parents I work with think that the best way to control anything in our youth ministry is to complain to the pastor.

  11. I don’t text but am not opposed to.
    I think YP’s in general need to more careful about texting, emailing and every other form of communication that we use. Too many people have no boundaries, are friends instead of mentors and fail to set examples that we ought to set all in the name of “ministry” or “all things to all people”
    At the same time…
    What happened to parents parenting…take the phone away and set up family use rules, etc…
    and
    Biblical problem solving…
    – pastor needs to encourage parents to talk to yp and not solve the problem for it
    – parents need to talk to the yp

    But I don’t even like it when my students have my cell (by the way, my student’s parents love that) they know my home phone, they know my work phone, they know my emails and they know where I live…my friends and family get my cell phone.

  12. I follow the general rule as I do for regular phone calls for students: I only call/text before ~10pm, unless it’s expected or some sort of emergency that needs immediate attention. I never contact during school hours.

  13. I think there’s another issue here beyond that of parental roles, youth leader/worker boundaries and mobile boundaries.

    People assume that because we have mobile technology their emails, sms or calls will be answered immediately. This myth of immediacy needs to be discouraged rather than encouraged, this goes for both those receiving sms/email and those sending them.

    Mobile phones have given people the myth that they need to be connected all the time, that they need to answer all the time, that they need to respond immediately all the time, which means that you’re never really in one space at a time, you’re there but not there, you can be in a movie and be somewhere else with someone on the phone. We need to teach ourselves and our kids to be really truly there, to really be present.

    I think there are a few practices that we can take on and live by that might encourage our kids to learn to be less attached to the mobiles. some examples might be to…

    Be seen to turn off your mobile phone when you are meeting with young people, groups, families. This sends a message that you’re not connected all the time, and that being there i more important to you than anything else, including being connected to the mobile network.

    Turn mobiles off during worship, youth group, study.

    Turn your mobile off when you go to bed, or at a certain point of time at the night.

    Fast from mobile phone use for a weekend a month.

    Decide that you will never text back within the hour (or more) unless it’s something like “i’m pregnant” or “my gf jst brke up wit me im lost” but seriously, how often are your messages like that? similarly young people dont want to loose their mobiles because “what if my parents die, or what if my friend needs me, or…” how often do they receive messages like that or calls?

    And finally there’s a concern that I have of parents and phone use, when did we start giving young people mobile phones and expect that I can contact them whenever i want, that they might perpetually be in danger and i need to contact them when i want? parents have a similar issue to all of us when they give mobiles to young people.

    We need to set not boundaries, but mobile phone spiritual practices, to recognise the mobile’s ability to disrupt our faith and spiritual lives we need to un-learn the lies that mobile phone technology teach us about our lives and our needs to be connected.

    I would also add that this goes for leaders, pastors, ministers, youth workers, youth… and churches that might think they have 24/7 access to you and your time.

    rant over

  14. Haven’t read the other comments, but as the wife of a former youth pastor and a volunteer youth worker, I have seen in myself, my husband and in our peers a monumental need to be needed – and it can become really addictive.

    We aren’t Jesus – and if we teach kids that WE are the solution to their problems and not their own spiritual relationship with God we are doing everyone a great disservice.

    Treating people like they are fragile makes them fragile. Reminding people that they are able to manage things until morning when they’ve had a good night sleep will be a much healthier way to navigate through life.

    Midnight text messaging is clearly showing that things are way off balance. Codependency and avoidance of their own problems is probably a bigger issue here than anyone really wants to look at and address. How can a family/marriage maintain the strength and intimacy it needs to endure the trials of ministry if there is absolutely no time to disengage from things? It can’t and burn out (either of the youth pastor or the marriage) will soon follow.

  15. Some great comments and advice on this issue. Texting has become so normal and part of life (especially here in N.Ireland & UK) you can even see it impacting how young people spell, I’ve got to admit though it sometimes takes me twice as long to read and understand ‘textese’. Undoubtedly its one of the primary ways that young people communicate. But it is not without it’s problems and pitfalls – there have been several cases in the UK of young people who have been bullied via text messages even leading to teens taking their lives. Suicide pacts have been made via text messaging. Indecent images/abuse has also occured via texting. Youth workers need to be aware of these issues if they utilise texting with teens – it is a child protection issue and churches should have a policy in regard to whether their staff will use it or not.
    I do text young people in our ministry, I have a group set up in my phone contacts so I can send texts (usually event reminders etc) to everyone. If I recieve a text that is not serious and is late at night I won’t respond until the next day. I only have cell phone contacts for teens I know and ensure their parents know we have their cell phone number.
    I try to encourage people to have face to face conversations rather than deal with issues via texting – It’s brilliant for basic info but lousy for meaningful communication. So if someone has something they are dealing with and text me, I’ll usually respond by saying okay, lets talk in person.

    Great that the senior Pastor is looking out for his staff… but I kinda think it would be helpful if the parents could come talk to the youth worker rather than about him/her to the senior Pastor. This is a great one for youth workers to model healthy boundaries to their teens without burning bridges. And a great one for parents to ‘talk’ to their teens and negotiate a way forward in regard to their phone use.

  16. My wife (to be) and I were discussing students and cell phone use to get ready for our premarital counseling session. In my last church, I was only in the office 2-3 days a week, so my cell phone was my “office” phone. Every kids, every church member had it. Kids used it and abused it, mostly text messaging.

    After discussing it, there needs to be that “turn off time” for youth pastors to disconnect. For church deaths, hospitalizations, etc. there is always the house phone. Like PBJ said above, my cell is for family and friends.

    These boundaries also create a safeguard. If a student of the opposite sex can text/call my personal cell, things could get out of control real fast. If they have my house phone number, they know my wife could answer.

    My fiance is a mental health therapist — a youth pastor’s best friend!

  17. Without knowing the age and marital status of the youth worker I am hesitant to know if there is a real problem beyond not making wise choices.

    I would just ask the person why they are doing this with students at these hours. It may be that they are young or single and are up and just not thought about a parents point of view.

    It could be a deeper issue of wanting to feel needed by students. I have struggled with the “I want to be your savior” and needed by you, mentality and would do crazy things for students in the name of ministry. I wanted to have the cool stories like the speakers at events and wanted to be the one my students turned to in crisis to help them. After wise counsel I realize my job was not to be their savior that was Jesus’ job. I could be there for them and still have boundaries.

    I don’t have a set of rules besides I refuse to answer my phone during meals regardless if anyone is with me or not.

    I believe when we respect our time others will also. If someone is invading your time you can talk with them and explain what is appropriate and what is not.

    One last note I have found that many of my students are up at 1AM. I don’t chat, message, etc. with them because it isn’t wise. I don’t know if their parents know their child keeps late hours or not but that is their job and not mine. I would advise the parents to parent and the youth worker to make wise choices.

  18. I’ll weigh in as the parent of 2 teenage girls; one in college and one a soph in high school.

    My kids text at all hours anyway. Yes, I could take away the phone away, but the truth is, teenagers keep weird hours. If they aren’t texting, they’ll be up watching tv or listening to music, or just piddling on facebook, so I really don’t see much difference.

    In my experience, kids are often most open in the hours between midnight and 6 am. My college student calls me at all hours – and that’s when she opens up the most.

    That’s just my .02 tho – ymmv.

  19. text messaging is one of the best things that has happened to me so far. it allows me ways to access kids in a less intense way and they feel more able to open up. with any new technology, ie. facebook, myspace, etc… it requires us to set up a whole new set of boundaries. i dont think there is a blanket boundary for all of it. that needs to be decided in your context.

  20. Age and marital status matters less than you think…

    If older/married…crossing boundaries is dangerous and questionable.

    If younger/not married…crossing boundaries is dangerous and unwise. It’s not like it should be okay just because you’re young or not married. If one is an adult and one is a minor that’s can quickly become Dateline, lost job, etc. if you are careless.

    I know that sounds like overreacting but have you noticed how much things like this have been in the news (or been left out because it’s common place).

    I’ve been in my city 10 years and at least once each year a teacher/coach/pastor has gone down because of crossing relational boundaries and I’m not in a metropolis like LA, our city still thinks it’s a small town.

  21. My thoughts are to support the parents. If we are youth workers wouldn’t want our kids texting at 1 a.m. – why would we do it with someone else’s kid?

    Not to mention – what could you possibly be talking about at that time of the morning? Unless my kids are in a bind and really need me, they know it can wait until the next morning or they can go to their parents.

    Just my take on things.

  22. I had a student text me at 2 in the morning, waking me from a dead sleep, a few weeks ago. Thinking twice about getting out of bed (I keep my phone on the other side of the room…and on silent) I ignored the flashing blue light and went back to sleep. When I got up @ 8, I read the text…she was just saying “Hey, what’s up?”. I then proceeded to respond…

    I rarely get texts from my students, and rarely…if EVER…get a call from a kid after 11 pm. If I do get a call, I know I’ll most likely be hearing the voice of a crying child on the other end and will give them my immediate attention.
    My students know my schedule, they know when I’m most likely to pick up and when I’m not. They know I rarely pick up my phone on a day off. They also know if they call any other time, I’m more willing to drop what I’m doing and cater to their needs, however dire they may be.

    I can’t think of any good reason why ANY youth worker should be texting (in a casual manner) with a student at odd hours…especially 2 in the morning. I am most inclined, one to have the parents step up and make phones unavailable to their kids at such hours…
    but I’m also wondering why this youth worker hasn’t set better boundaries for him/herself!!

  23. The original question does not say if this is happening on the weekend or on school nights. I know my 15 year old son texts in the wee hours often on the weekends.
    The way the concern was phrased it sounded like the kids were only texting with the youth leaders and so the youth leaders were responsible for keeping the kids up. Or maybe the youth are texting lots of people, including youth leaders, and the students use the youth leaders as an excuse (But Mom, my I’m talking to my youth leader). At any rate, the easy answer is this: the parents should set the limits and the youth leaders should respect the limits. The senior pastor should feel relieved to be able to stay out of it. That’s the simple answer. The whole issue of youth leader boundaries is something else. And as several wise people commented, if it is a young-er youth leader, texting late might just fall squarely within their boundaries.
    I am 50 years old and I personally feel just like Josh. I don’t like my teen texting at 1am, but I haven’t forbidden it (yet) and I don’t want anyone texting ME at 1am. But the younger generation (including young adult youth leaders) don’t see it that way. We can’t push our middle-aged ways on to younger people. However, my comment on respecting the parent’s decisions is the main factor for me.

  24. I think this guys needs to be sleeping at 1 or 2 am in the morning and not texting. Also, the pastor who posted this on Marko’s page should be talking to his youth pastor not writing about it on the web………Everyone who has posted stuff on here has good stuff to say. I’m not going to try to “resay” it all. This pastor needs to communicate with his youth pastor.

  25. The unspoken issue is that the youth pastor is even up at 1-2am.

    Which most of us are.

    Which I also learned many senior pastors are.

    Which is an interesting problem in itself.

  26. Wow. I just had this talk a while ago with my Senior Pastor.

    To me, the parent must set the rule and the YP should honor that rule. I have several youth who are not permitted any telephone (including txt) after 11:00pm. Others are allowed it at any time.

    The YP also has the right to stop the txting. Turn off the phone if the students are doing it. They will learn soon enough that you won’t respond at that time.

    Personally, I leave my phone on. And the students know it. Do I get the occassional 3:00am txt? Sure thing? Do I mind? Heck no. It’s usually from a group of my girls having a sleepover and thinking it would be fun to send me a video of them dancing with Teddy Bears. I will respond off and on, but never frequently.

    I truly believes it comes down to the relationship and personality of the parents, youth, and YP. If the youth are up at that time and txting friends, I think it is awesome and shows a great relationship that they can connect with their YP at that level.

    But, I guess one of the questions I would throw out there is this: Do churches pay for cell phone usage for YP’s? And, if so, do they cover txting? Txting is the most effective method I have to relay information to my students at this time. However, it comes at a large cost to myself. Should that be a cost the YP continues to bear or should it be written off in palce of stamps? Just another thought to throw out there…

  27. There are probably 100 opinions on what churches actually do. At some point, if it’s a work phone the church ought to cover all of it. If it’s mostly personal there might be some kind of remibursement options…talk to you’re church.

  28. Bigger issue – I gotta be honest…I don’t want my girls sending me videos of what they’re doing at 2 am on a sleepover. And I can guarantee my church and my wife don’t want that either. Long term that leads to bad things and broken relationships not closeness to students.

    YP’s have been guilty about being unable to distinguish between friend and mentor lines.

    I encourage you…be friendly but not a friend.
    They need mentors and godly adults more than they need buddies. It’s similar to the issue parents run into when they want to be friends with their kids and not parents. Ask any kid down the road who lived that way and they’re begging to have had a parent.

    Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, by the way, I had an awesome childhood and my parents are close friends now but it’s because they were parents then – and I loved them just as much then.

    Be an adult in their life, not a peer, just make sure your an amazing and godly adult instead of stand-offish and cold.

  29. “Do I get the occassional 3:00am txt? Sure thing? Do I mind? Heck no. It’s usually from a group of my girls having a sleepover and thinking it would be fun to send me a video of them dancing with Teddy Bears.”

    Brad please tell me this is joke? If not that’s kinda creepy.

  30. Brad, I’m hoping your comment was a joke too. Talking about teen girls sending you video of their slumber party, “dancing with Teddy Bears” sends out HUGE, BRIGHT red flags. That kind of stuff needs to be stopped immediately. I’d be pissed to know that my teenage daughter was sending late night slumber party video to an adult male. It doesn’t make a difference whether that male is a youth worker/pastor or not.

    There needs to be recognition regarding the possibility of these teen girls getting emotionally or (worse) romantically attached to male youth workers/pastors. Boundaries definitely need to be set (Brad, let these girls know that it doesn’t look good on your part or theirs when they send you slumber party videos/pics.) and, if possible, female youth workers should be the ones responding to mid-night texts and calls and meetings with teen girls.

    Obviously there are times when the texting/calling can be abused and overused. The action that youth workers take is all relative and should be determined case-by-case. Replying back to mid-night silly or normative conversation may only encourage more mid-night texting/calling in the future. If you want it to stop or the parents want it to stop (some parents don’t care), then address the teen about it, preferably with the parents present to avoid miscommunication.

    I’m glad that I’ve had my phone on at 2am to be able to receive calls where the teen girls are having trouble sleeping and having negative thoughts. It’s not easy for a teen to have insomnia, feel like the world is caving in, feel as if those with wisdom and guidance will either be irritated with them for texting/calling or will just ignore them. In those moments, it’s difficult to just make themselves sleep. You know who those teens will turn to when unable to sleep or find a Godly thought? They’ll call or text their insomniac friends that will, most likely, give them bad advice. I would rather be woken up for something important than risk having the teens turn to bad advice. However, I have been upfront with any girls that call me after we’ve declared a specific off-phone time. If it’s important, I’ll chat. If it’s not important, I let them know. I let them use their own discretion. I emphasize the importance of my sleep and family time but also let them know that they are important and if they feel it is a necessity to breach the no-call-past time that I will be there for them.

    It all boils down to requests by the parents, mid-night texting/calling topic, your personal preference and the teen/child using the phone.

  31. Had a conversation about this with my SP a week or so ago. You definitely need to set boundaries. You may not think anything about it, but texting can give a student the notion that you are always available. Another example is if you are texting a member of the opposite sex late at night. It’s mostly seen as if you were alone with them somewhere. Nothing may have happened, but it all starts with a question or comment. I never respond to texts during school hours or late at night. I will respond if they have a question or if they are just saying a quick hello (during non-school hours.) I would also make sure that parents know they are texting you.

  32. Obviously if a parent complains then there is an issue but I know that for me (I’m 24 and I run my own media business) I am sometimes up at 1am or 2am on my own either chilling with my friends or working on project or even watching a DVD so I don’t have a personal problem with responding to texts or having a conversation like that. I guess if you have a normal job and you need to be up at 6am or 7am then you just need to tell the student your situation and ask them to not contact you that late unless it is an absolute crisis.

  33. I never text my youth after about 9pm. They don’t tend to text me later and if they do, I wait until morning to reply. I try and make sure I phrase my text carefully – I avoid Kisses or smileys. And if I am texting about a social event I make sure it is clear from the text that it is a group event and that everyone else has received the text too. I also try to only text when I have a reason to, ie to let them know about an event, or to encourage them when they have exams/tests/interviews. I may be little strict with myself on this, but we have some difficult parents who I dont want finding their childs phone and thinking why has this person invited my child out for pizza? is it just the two of them? why are they texting when my child is in bed?etc…
    Also as I’m only a volunteer myself, I know the buck really stops with our youth worker if there are problems, and I dont want him getting into trouble on my account.

  34. As a youth leader and someone in training for a youth pastor role, I find it is important to be available 24/7 for emergencies. My cell phone is always on. I want to be reached. However, I warn them ahead of time that it should be an emergency if it is after a certain time. (I also warn them that at 2 a.m. I may be a little grumpy, but I want you to call anyway). And texting? Forget it. I don’t want to get in an IM exchange … too slow at it for one thing. LOL. Texting is too impersonal.

  35. I think it’s important to communicate with kids where they are, so texting is a huge resource for us to use. HOWEVER, I am very limited after 8pm with my texting to my students. You can tell by the text how important it is. If it’s a simple question of “What time does ________ start?” or something to that matter, I answer back with a short “6:30, can’t wait to see you there! -PB” That’s it. Also, if it’s important enough they will leave voicemails. If we dont’ set boundaries like this for ourselves, our wives/husbands, kids, and our spirits will never have time to heal and spend time with each other!

  36. I personally do not worry about texting in my situation, but if that was happening, I would have a big boundary set. I won’t answer my phone after a certain set time, and if they text I won’t get it till the next morning. I also do that with the phone itself, if its important they can leave a message detailing what kind of emergency they are having. My normal do not call time is after 9 p.m.Beyond that leave a message and I’ll get back with you.
    I’ve also called the youth out on being up that late, trying to show them responisibilty for themselves and their school work etc.

  37. If parents are complaining about it, it needs to be stopped. Youth workers cannot undermine parents in any way.

    Text messages are not the best way to communicate if it is an emergency, anyways. Just make the boundaries clear. I let my cell phone ring and go to voice mail at times because I need to be there with my wife and kids. I will check the voice mail, but will not always run to get the phone. Be careful with thinking that you are the only one that can help, and need to be at the ready at all hours. It is not healthy, in my opinion.

  38. Great topic – although i “don’t get it” the whole world of texting, since i would rather call, talk and/or leave a message, and really appreciate the face to face opportunities. Being 50 and involved with youth takes a techno-risk from time to time. My boundries include the common knowledge that my phone is my cell/is my office/is my connection – but it is not my life support (I’ve taken some grief over that!). Boundaries include the knowledge that the phone is silenced after midnight, purposely turn it off when in meetings or while spending time with individuals, and even is monitored by my wife and/or my daughters from time to time. The quickest way to get a response is a phone call, texting OK for quick notes and sharing basic info. and facebook is only checked weekly.

    For the Pastor that started this, thanks for caring about your youth workers. Final word of advice, be aware of the boundaries, not only of time but who you’re texting and the nature of your message – be ready to be accountable.

  39. Derek, why is it unhealthy to think that sometimes, with certain teens, in certain situations, I may be the only one to help?

    Now, I don’t think I’m Scientolo Cruise (“I’m the only person who can help with this car accident”) or anything but I’ve been in some situations where I knew that certain teens truly did not have anyone else to talk to. Their trust was completely shattered with most adults and teens. I’m not putting myself in God’s place or even in the place of a therapist. If I’m able and not sacrificing my family, I will “be at the ready”…with my phone on. :)

    David, be careful of writing things off as being too impersonal. Times are changing quicker than we can keep up with and teens will take whatever communication they can get. Most texters that I know don’t see texting as very much different than talking on the phone or talking in person.

  40. All my kids know that if they need me I’m there.
    That doesn’t change the need for boundaries (for my sake or theirs).

    They also know I’ll still be there 1,5,10,50 years from know (God willing) because of boundaries to avoid burnout and impropriety.

    MacS – sage advice

    My phone, by the way is almost always on, I just don’t always respond if it isn’t important and I limit who I give it out to.

  41. Great question. I’ve used texting as a way to keep in contact with my students, as well as former students. But after 8pm, I don’t respond to any texts unless necessary. For ex. – if a student texts about the time of an event, or a quick question, I may answer, but only if my kids are in bed for the night and it’s not interrupting anything. Parents know that they can call our house with an emergency and I’ll answer. But any youth worker addicted to texting, or texting to all hours, is coming dangerously close to crossing the boundary between leader and trying to be their pal.

  42. I tend to agree a bit with Derek, but certainly understand eveyrone’s point of view. I know that as youth workers, student’s trust us more than even their parents at times. But to think we’re the only one that can help is being a bit to full of ourselves. While we need to be there for them, they need to realize that we have boundaries that we need to keep. If it’s a true emergency, a student won’t text, they’ll call. I have a hard time thinking that if a student has a death of a parent/family member/friend, that they’ll text and not call. A girl who’s boyfriend broke up with her isn’t an emergency. While they’re upset, life will go on. My fear is that if we take every call at all hours, we’re creating a ministry built on us, and not teaching them to take time to seek God. JMO.

  43. im writing up some more thoughts on this for my site and own interest, but i did want to raise another issue re the youth worker/leader needing to be available for emergencies.

    on one hand i would like to say “great” but on the other I’m reminded of a conversation with Kenda Creasy Dean a few years back where she pointed out that a large percentage of young people tend to put the name of their youth worker/pastor down as emergency contact in their schools/work/camps as they know that the youth worker “will be there”

    the second side to that coin is a question as to whether we’ve taken the role as “spiritual guide” or “parent” and if its the later then there are issues we need to work with. and we need to work through those issues as a person who has taken on that role, to ask why and how etc, and we need to find a way to work through those issues with parents as well. I’m very definite on my role, I’m not a paid friend, but I’m definitely not a parent to the young people I’m ministering with.

    of course there will be situations where this is not as clean cut or as easy to work with (or where what I’m about to say is not always going to be as much of an issue), but I do wonder why young people would call me over their parents if there is an emergency…

  44. Jen–what I am saying is not that I would not be available whenever. I am simply saying that I am not wanting to ever get the idea that I am somehow a savior to students. I love them and will go to great lengths for them. I will love them, point them to Jesus Christ, be there with them in difficult time. In real emergencies, yes of course. There needs to be a true emergency, though. Otherwise I risk neglecting my family, for someone else’s. I am not willing to do that.
    That’s my point. Boundaries are needed.

  45. I think some of the earilier comments about parents seeting boundaries need to be paid attention to. I tell my youth that I am always availiable if they need me and let them decide what that means. One time I had some jr. high girls call me at 1 am from a sleep over to see if I really meant it. I awnsered talked for a short time and cut the conversation off as soon as was reasonable. Later at church a parent addressed what they saw as a problem of the youth calling too late while I was in the room and I simply backed the parent up saying that at that late at night it should probably be an emergency. This way you support parents and are there for your youth.

  46. Derek,

    Thanks for clarifying. I was never talking about being a Savior though. We agree in that we “will love them, point them to Jesus Christ, be there with them in difficult time.” All I’m saying is that sometimes, I may be the only one who shows them love/respect/kindness, points them to Jesus and is there for them during their difficult time.

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