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Do You Have a Foul Language Policy in Using Social Media?

Earlier this week, British youth worker Liz Fisher asked this in a tweet to the #ywchat community on Twitter:

It’s a very interesting dilemma. We all know as youth workers that Facebook and other social media are an excellent way of connecting with your young people.  After all, Facebook still is the dominant website for youth. Following our youth on Facebook gives us a glimpse into their life, but that includes some stuff that we’d maybe rather not read or see, with foul language being one of those things.

What should we do then when we’re confronted with foul language and even profanity in our social media contacts with youth? First, let’s make it clear what we’re talking about without actually making a list. In my opinion, there are two types of foul language: profanity, those words where God’s name or Jesus’ name is used in vain, and other crude words. Personally, I have a much bigger problem with the first one than with the second one. Let me explain.It’s important to realize that your opinion on what constitutes foul language may very much depend on your culture. Therefore, your foul language policy will most likely be based upon what’s acceptable in your culture as well. Just remember that people from different countries may have different cultural values when it comes to foul language, so a little grace and understanding would be good here.

Being Dutch, I’m used to certain words that an American would consider very offensive for instance. They’re the same words, they just have a different meaning, a different cultural value. Let me give one example (and please don’t get offended, ‘m really trying to explain something here): in many Dutch churches, saying the s-word isn’t considered a big no-no. Even older, mature Christians may use it.

However, whereas Dutch non-Christians will usually curse a lot and use profanity, this is absolutely not done among Christians. The American habit of saying ‘oh my God’ for instance, even among Christians, is one that really doesn’t go over well with Dutch Christians. I can say in all honesty that I never, ever curse or use God’s name in vain. I absolutely detest it and I don’t want to be around anyone who does it.

That brings me back to Liz’ question. My policy is that I tolerate foul language, as long as it’s not profanity. The reason is that I want to accept young people as they are, I want to truly connect with them and that means tolerating some behavior that’s not perfect. Jesus visited sinners without asking them to change first, I think I can do the same. They changed after an encounter with Him and I’m hoping and praying the same will happen to my students. But until they have a real encounter with Jesus, I can’t expect young people to change their behavior and become more Christ-like.

(And let’s be honest. If using foul language is the worst of their behavior, they’re not doing that bad. I’m often more concerned when I see pictures of them drinking and partying, having their arms around a boy or girl they’ve just met. )

But I can and will ask young people to stop using profanity. If I see them do it, I call them or take them apart at a youth service or so and kindly explain why I have such a big problem with profanity. I tell them that it’s a sin, one of the first God mentioned in the Ten Commandments. I tell them that it hurts Him to have His glorious name reduced to a foul word. And I tell them it hurts me, because I love God more than anything and will defend His name. I ask them to refrain from using profanity and tell them if they don’t, I will unfriend them.

I’ve had to do this three times so far and in all cases, the young person in question responded favorably. They were all somewhat ashamed actually and promised me they’d stop swearing. Well, I did actually see the occasional crude word in their updates, but overall they got the message.

Well, Liz, I hope that helps you define your foul language policy in using social media with your young people. This was another round of our Friday tradition of ‘The Question of the week’. Do you have an issue you’d like advice on, leave a comment!

How do you handle it when your youth using foul language on Facebook or other social media? Do you agree with my advice?

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Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer as on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son. You can visit Rachel at www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com