Anyone who talks to teenagers is most likely texting on some level. This includes youth pastors, who know that texting is the preferred method of communication among their students.
“With affordable unlimited texting plans available from most cell phone carriers, it’s easier than ever for teenagers to use their thumbs to communicate,” according to a TeenMark study from Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI). “The number of teens who text has increased 50% since 2007… Texting is now the number one feature teens use on mobile cell phones, aside from making phone calls.”
As with other forms of technology, increased convenience also brings increased risk. If guidelines are not established, young people can hurt themselves or others by sending or receiving inappropriate text messages. This includes something commonly known as “sexting,” when teens send and receive sexually-explicit images to each other via cell phones or the Internet.
The number of teens who text has increased 50% since 2007… Texting is now the number one feature teens use on mobile cell phones. Mediamark Research & Intelligence
What would you do if you discovered that members of your youth group are involved in sending or receiving an inappropriate text message? It could be a youth group member who sends a message to another young person, or even to a youth volunteer or pastor. What if your youth pastor were involved in sending the message? Or, what if a young person wrongfully accused your youth pastor of sending an inappropriate message?
There are ramifications, both legal and otherwise, associated with each of these scenarios. As with other situations that pose risk to a ministry, your church should talk about issues like inappropriate text messaging or sexting and establish written policies and guidelines designed to prevent it from happening—or at the very least know how to respond if it does.
There are several schools of thought when it comes to establishing texting guidelines for ministry volunteers and youth workers. Some say that prohibiting workers from texting with youth altogether and discouraging youth group members from texting each other is the answer. While this would certainly curtail the risk of any of the above scenarios, it’s probably not a realistic solution.
“Texting is a significant part of the teen culture,” says John Sandy, corporate attorney, at Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. “It can be used as an effective ministry tool if utilized within the boundaries of the law.”
Sending inappropriate text messages, including sexually-suggestive communication, insensitive remarks or downright bullying, should be immediately addressed in a straight-forward manner if discovered. This type of communication should be approached in the same way that your ministry leaders would handle inappropriate conversation heard in a hallway of the church.
Depending on the situation, teen-to teen texting that crosses an appropriateness line may best be handled by sitting down with the offending individual and explaining the harmful nature of the text. If the inappropriate text was generated by a youth worker, then a thorough investigation should immediately take place. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, an accused worker may need to be temporarily or permanently removed from their position.
Once texting turns into “sexting,” the stakes get much higher. Legislation addressing sexting varies from state to state, so ministries should consult with a local attorney to determine the law in your jurisdiction. However, there are some guidelines that all ministries can consider. Sandy makes the following recommendations:
As churches consider their stance on texting within their ministries, other questions are likely to surface. You can find more ways to create a safer youth ministry here.
Thank you for your interest in Brotherhood Mutual. We appreciate the opportunity to provide your church or other ministry with an insurance quote and will reply to your request as soon as possible.
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