Best practices when connecting with youth by text message and social media

Social media and texting are alternative ways to connect with youth, but volunteers must consider some best practices.

Girl looking at her phone

As a 4-H volunteer, you probably value 4-H’s slogan of learning by doing. This can become challenging when you can’t physically be there to support youth on a project they are working on. However, it very much can still be done through social media and texting. Social media and texting have created a whole new world for how people to communicate with one another, providing everyone with opportunities to learn, explore the world, socialize with friends, and create new connections. It can lead to instant communication between people and be a convenient tool to enhance the communication lines from volunteer to program participants and vice versa. However, it is important to understand the impacts of using social media and texting as a means of communication and to carefully consider how to keep everyone safe.

Michigan State University Extension recommends these best practices when texting or using social media to communicate with youth.

Texting and direct messaging through social media may be the preferred communication method of youth but can lead to unintended consequences if just between an adult and youth. It is best to utilize group texts or group direct messaging on social media and include any parents/guardians of the youth in the messaging.

All program participants might not have access to the type of social media you are trying to communicate through. To be as inclusive as possible with youth and their parents/guardians, create a communication plan that includes all participants that you are communicating with.

The costs of texting and social media might prevent some youth from being included in your communications. Not everyone has unlimited texting and many people have a limit on how much data can be used in a month. Ask program participants and their parents/guardians about their access to texting and social media and if it’s OK to use this type of communication.

Remind everyone to be kind with their comments on social media and in group communication channels. Sometimes comments are made through text, chat or messages that would not be said in a face-to-face conversation. This is because individuals do not actually have to look at the person when the comment is made and see the hurt they may have caused.

To help youth think about being kind, have them consider the following guidelines:

  • Take a moment to pause before responding or posting.
  • Consider if what I am sending could be taken out of context or someone might think it is hurtful.
  • Always ask for clarification when something doesn’t make since, might seem hurtful or hard to interpret.
  • Have youth know they must apologize if something is misinterpreted by someone.
  • Seek help from an adult if unsure how to respond.
  • It is better to say nothing at all if you can’t say something nice.
  • Tell an adult if something is hateful or bullying and do not respond.

Helping youth navigate group dynamics online can be challenging. Youth might feel isolated when they are left out, but when everyone works together you increase the feelings of inclusion. Make sure everyone is included and no one is singled out when texting and using social media for communication

Finally, remember to follow these social media and texting expectations from Michigan State University Extension when using social media and texting as your mode of communication with youth.

As a volunteer who is supporting youth through activities and projects from a distance, check out the article “Ways 4-H volunteers can support youth when not in person.” In addition, you can use this time as an opportunity to help youth learn texting etiquette.

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