A recent study of the online and social media practices of teens aged 12-17 revealed that neither clergy nor faith communities exact a strong influence on the ethics of such practices.
Of the approximately 800 teens and parents polled for The Pew Study on teens and social media
, 95 percent of the teens were frequently online. Eighty percent of those online teens were social media users. Despite involvement in faith communities, few, however, reported that their social media practices were influenced or guided by clergy and faith communities.
Moreover, only a small portion of faith communities or religious professionals gave the teens social media advice or even invited them to be reflective on such practices. In fact, distant family members and associates exerted more influence on teenage social media habits than faith communities.
Has a focus on how social media has changed religion, religious communities, and authority overshadowed the equally important concern of cultivating healthy and safe online practices?
Therefore, the question arises for faith communities and religious professionals: Should the construction of a theology of/for social media include the concern for healthy social media habits as well?
When online faith communities bombard our inboxes, cell phones, and social media homes, are they modeling healthy habits or simply encouraging rampant and unfettered use of technology? Simply put, can a church that is straining at every nerve to entertain and increase its social media presence have a word to say about reflective and thoughtful engagement with technology, broadly speaking, and social media in particular?
Social media collapses boundaries of time, space, and privacy; while teenagers, in particular, are developmentally trying to discover and understand healthy and social boundaries. As faith communities engage social media and attempt to develop a thriving and popular theology of the same, they must consider whether such theology encourages healthy and safe online practices that contribute to flourishing communities. Lerone A. Martin, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO. The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.