How Should Kids, Youth Workers Interact Virtually?

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The key is keeping the same boundaries as in the physical world, agencies say, but that gets trickier online.
Although youth workers and the young people with whom they interact naturally form close bonds, they don’t really become friends. 

However, this dynamic has taken on a new dimension in the past half-decade with the explosion of social media sites, led by Facebook, which has added ease and casualness that’s stretched the definition of the word friend and has simplified sharing pictures, descriptions and accounts of people’s personal lives, which heretofore would have been much more cumbersome — and required much more intentional action.

Youth workers and leaders of youth-serving agencies must make new, informed decisions about dos and don’ts of social media and youth work. For some this may include a better understanding how social media works, while others — especially younger professionals — may need to unlearn some of the freewheeling habits they formed when they were teens themselves just a few years earlier, even as their overall understanding of social media and its tools are undoubtedly an asset.

“Many, many youth-serving agencies, including schools, family service agencies, mental health, after-school programs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Scouts, etc., now recognize a need to develop reasonable, user-friendly guidelines to ensure proper use of this technology and to prevent any untoward uses of it,” said Frederic G. Reamer, professor of social work at Rhode Island College, who has lectured about and worked with professional associations to develop guidelines around how youth and their adult mentors should interact in the social media space.

Reamer is unaware of any organization that has tracked statistically the numbers of agencies that have developed social media policies and says he would be “shocked” if any such database existed. But he has seen anecdotal evidence at his lectures. “Any time I ask my audiences … the number of hands seems to be going up.”

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