Finding Teenagers Online
From the latest email from Walt Mueller at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
There has been a lot of national attention on our area in recent weeks as the result of a murder case involving two home schooled kids from Christian families. Much of the media attention has focused on the kids’ websites at Xanga and MySpace. As a result we’ve been called on by the media to talk a bit about those sites and how kids use them. We have appeared on local television and in local newspapers, in addition to a segment on CNN. If you are somewhat new to the world of online journaling and social networking, check out Finding Them Online, our primer to accessing the online world of teens.
In his latest blog, Splitsville, Walt offers more commentary on that local murder case and how it relates to youth culture today.
The primer includes a great list of popular online journal/diary sites.
The teens that Walt mentioned had blogs, just like many of their peers. Both David Ludwig's
and Kara Borden's
have been shut down (although screen shots are available at various places around the internet). (See more at Wikipedia here
You may remember last year's headline news telling the story of 16 year old Rachelle Waterman
, who kept an online blog as well, and was arrested for the murder plot of her mother. (See more at Wikipedia
The world of blogging, of online diaries, of teens online, it has done nothing but continue to grow since it first began. In the autumn of 2002, when I first began blogging, I was working on an independent study for college, a course called "Adolescent Subculture Profile." While others in the course chose to study skinheads and skaters and cowboys, I ventured into life online and studied teens online. My paper led me into a new world and gave me a glimpse into the lives of teenagers I had never met.
This study strengthened my belief in the reality of online connections and relationships, and led me to eventually study blogging in much more depth. This Adolescent Subculture Profile helped me to see the need for Christians online in the world of teen blogging.
In my exit interview from seminary, after discussing the research I did later on in my studies (that which resulted in the creation of this website), my youth ministry professor asked me if I really believed that Christian adults could positively influence teens through blogging being themselves. Being a 50 year old man. Yes
I still believe this.
However, I caution, that motive is key.
With that, I present the following:1. Blogging is relational.
Blogging relations are built through commenting and the reciprocal visiting of each other's blogs. However, as "Nexopia's Advice for users of Online Communities
" states, "Anyone can be anything on the Internet; someone claiming to be a 15 year old girl may in fact be a 45 year old man."
Truth is key. I don't believe that disguising oneself as someone of another age (or gender for that matter)for the sake of ministry is moral or logical in any setting.
I believe the extension of relationship is one of the greatest keys to ministry, and a ministry through blogging illustrates this.2. Blogging is tribal.
Bloggers tend to link and build relationships with others who are like them. Others who are teens. Others who are interested in Sailor Moon or Harry Potter or Dashboard Confessional. What do you as a blogger have in common with an individual teen blogger? Can you logically be a part of their tribe? Do you have an interest that is the same or similar? Do you have an experience that is the same or similar? Blogging ministry is similar to other forms of ministry, touchpoints of ministry are important online too.
Can the relational factor override the tribal factor? I think so. Do you have to be a member of one's tribe to have effective ministry online? I think not necessarily. I believe that you can still build effective ministries with others even when you do not share the same interests, you do however share some of the same experiences and that is key.
3. Blogging encourages involvement.
I firmly believe that online relationships have the potential to be just as powerful, if not sometimes more powerful, than face-to-face or "real world" relationships. The connections built online through various means, including blogging, for many, are reality. Teens and adults alike consider the bonds they have made with others online to be real. They consider their online friends to be real friends. Teens and others online, especially in the blogging community, will share information with people they have met online that otherwise they would not normally share with someone they were speaking with in the flesh. Is this healthy? I can't say yes or no, it depends on the situation.
And real world relationships can be strengthened through blogging. Blogging allows a venue for sharing that isn't otherwise facilitated through other means. Blogging, through it's nature of being a diary or journal or collection of links, is a sharing device. And through commenting systems and the commenters' blogs, it's a reciprocal sharing device. Blogging encourages involvement.
4. Blogging is out there.
By "out there"... I mean it's accessible to everyone who has access to a computer and an internet connection. Anyone can blog, that is part of the allure and part of the danger. It's a part of the beauty.
I believe that blogging is and should be a ministry tool. I believe that Christians online shouldn't be confining themselves to Christian bubble tribes.
Although David Ludwig and Kara Borden are/were professing Christians, Rachelle Waterman was not. How are these teens linked? They are all teen bloggers linked to murders and murder plots.
A quick look at their blogs reveals typical teen blogs. Typical hopes, dreams, despairs. Taking a look at any of the blogging/journal/diary sites listed at the aforementioned primer on teen blogging at CPYU will quickly show you the hundreds of thousands, if not millions and millions, of teen bloggers out there.
I don't think we have heard the last of teen bloggers involved in crimes, in fact, I think it could quite possibly increase. As the internet and blogging community increases, the vastness of it increases. There's no governing body in the blogosphere. There do not appear to be any effective watchdogs.
Is there anyone out there searching for hurting teens to positively influence?5. I believe blogging can be a form of incarnational ministry.
Jesus ministered by example. He lived his life out in front of others honestly. I believe we can do the same. Incarnational blogging... what is it and how does it manifest itself? I ask this question of you.