Rev. Brad Howell
Here at Fuller
Northern California, many of our students are being equipped and prepared for youth
ministry. One of the most pressing
topics that young people, parents, and youth pastors face is social
There is a battle raging today over who should claim the
right to frame social media’s influence on contemporary adolescents - a battle
that tends to define social media as being either good or bad – and if we stick
with this conversation line we miss the point entirely.
The problem is that while researchers and theologians argue
whether social media is remapping the adolescent brain, a platform for cyber
bullies, or an ideal grooming ground for pedophiles, there is a rather large
social media disconnect developing between adults and adolescents.
Here are just a few reasons why this growing disconnection exists.
First, every group develops implicit patterns of interaction
in order to effectively communicate with each other. This works great for those
in the group, but outsiders are typically naïve to how the group operates.
As we fail to engage online with the youth in our lives, their
patterns of group behavior become increasingly foreign to those in the adult
Second, we subconsciously filter our interpretation of
adolescent online activity through the lens of personal experience; however, when you adopted the Internet is a much
stronger indicator of how you perceive its primary use than age is.
That is why we sometimes see grandmothers going over their
monthly text limits…lol.
Third, adolescents not only use social media differently
then adults, they use it differently from each other.
A concrete thinking 13-year-old boy does not use social
media for the same reason or manner as does a 17-year-old, abstract capable girl;
a friendship cluster of 15-year-old girls interact differently than a social
gaming cluster of 15-year-old guys.
So, given all of that, what would Jesus tweet to traverse
the digital divide?
Well, it is doubtful that Jesus would use social media the
way many of us do.
Can you imagine Jesus posting a picture of 5 loaves of bread
and 2 fish with the caption: “Dinner for 5,000 ;D”
Such a post seems counter-intuitive to our understanding of how
Jesus developed community – he first started by inviting people to join him in his
Jesus operated with social circles that sort of rippled out
from those closest in to those farthest away, each with unique patterns of
interaction that was a reflection of their interpersonal relationship.
So, we could imagine Jesus texting Peter to send a boat
across the lake…then meeting Peter half way – that type of interaction would
reflect their relationship and Jesus’ knowing when it was okay to blow Peter’s
Consequently, we don’t bridge the social media gap by
starting with social media. Instead, we intentionally develop intergenerational
spiritual community - inviting adolescents to share in our everyday lives, and
us in theirs.
Our online interaction with adolescents then moves from
bridging the digital divide to a reflection of our relationship, providing us with
an important new vantage point for ongoing social media interactions.
Brad Howell is the
Associate Director of Fuller Seminary in Northern California and a dad of two
high school students. Nearing completion of a Doctor of Ministry Degree in
Youth, Family and Culture in the area of adolescent social media use, Brad has spent
much of this past year as a consultant for youth pastors and churches in our region
as part of his doctoral project. He lives in Sacramento, CA.