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  • We all know young people use text, web and various social messaging channels to communicate directly and privately with friends, family, staff members and volunteers in trusted organizations they are a part of.

    I have young adult children, and I know they do most of their communication via text and social media.  When my children created a profile on Facebook, I joined Facebook. When they signed up for Twitter, I was soon to follow. 

    One of the reasons I joined was, if it was important to them and they were talking about it, I also wanted to experience it. With my children now living internationally, I am able to stay in touch with them in real time, able to share pictures and get tidbits of news. 

    Connecting with today’s youth in your community is vital to growing and nurturing the next generation. They already have a strong sense for social justice. Sometimes they are known as 'rebels with a cause'. Youth build trust and relationships digitally - using text messaging, instant messaging and social sites.

    However on the other hand, vulnerable sector best practices and policies liken text messaging between private cell phones, or messaging privately, as a meeting behind closed doors. It’s dangerous. Should we be restricting this activity or setting parameters on communication with youth sponsors and leaders? Telling youth not to text your ministry leaders is like telling them not to talk to you.

    Yet engaging them on these channels in a secure, accountable and protected way has been difficult to achieve for organizations.

    At Plan to Protect®, we encourage our clients to build in systems for accountability and supervision of conversations; to help protect all parties. We have explored many options to help you with this. In the process we have interviewed hundreds of clients asking them what they are doing to ensure accountability and supervision are in place when extending permission for youth leaders to communicate with students beyond the parameters of program times. The outcome of the interviews find that the majority have not yet wrestled with this question, though everyone recognizes that it is a high risk activity. Board members and senior leadership are trying to catch up to the Gen X and Millennials that are years ahead of them in digital communication. A number of clients have placed the burden and responsibility on the youth leader to print off all the communication, others have mandated that a parent or team member be copied in on the messages. These protocols are good, but we all recognize that they create additional burden of responsibility on the staff member, volunteer, and leadership.   Additionally, I am concerned that these protocols discourage youth from the personal dialogue that is critical for building trusted relationships.

    One of our colleagues, Kevin Yan, has four children of his own, three that are teenagers. Kevin knows only too well how many text messages his kids send out on a daily basis.  He knows that this generation communicate digitally. Kevin believes he was called to develop a tool to capture a technology solution to collect stories, nurture communication, provide accountability, and help not-for-profits raise donations.

    “My children never knew a world without instant messaging and text messaging. We can’t forget that text messaging in itself is 20 years old. I remember a friend telling me a story that he was looking for me after church service. He asked my seven year old (youngest child) where I was in the building. My seven year old responded, ‘Uncle Andy, if you give me your cell phone, I can text him’. My eldest child has always been uncomfortable in face-to-face, one-on-one conversations. A phone call doesn’t help much. Without text messaging, understanding her and building our relationship would have been very challenging. There have been times when we decided to hang up a phone call and switch to text messaging because the phone call wasn’t allowing her to express herself. Communicating digitally is completely natural to my children and, in my belief, youth in general. Turning off that channel for private and personal communication implies to them that you don’t want a relationship. From their perspective, it may be the only way they can talk to you. We need to give youth every opportunity to reach out.”

    With a desire to nurture communication within a safe environment, Kevin developed msgbox®.

    “msgbox® allows organizations to unify and standardize their messaging approach with youth allowing organizations to reduce risk, comply with Plan to Protect® policies and meet insurance requirements.”

    Youth use text, web or any social channel they prefer while staff and volunteers use msgbox® to safely communicate with them. 

    Key benefits of msgbox®:

    • Build stronger relationships with your youth
    • Comply with Plan to Protect ® messaging policy
    • Establish trust and confidence with parents and organizational leaders and volunteers
    • Meet insurance requirements and mitigate liability risks to your organization


    Key features of msgbox®:

    • Support for multiple users on a single msgbox® ensures individual accountability
    • Conversations are digitally time-stamped and archived for easy online retrieval with search capability
    • Conversations on text utilize the organizations main business line not personal cell phones
    • Auto-replies on keywords give immediate responses without the effort
    • Initiate text message conversations


    It is time for us to move beyond fear and encourage communication with young people.  However, we need a really balanced approach to ensure safety for all. When recruiting individuals to work and volunteer among teens, establish parameters for communication. Here are a few recommendations:

    1. We want you to nurture strong mentoring relationships with our youth;
    2. Spend time with the young people during program hours – sit with them, listen to them, show interest in what they are interested in; talk to them, encourage them;
    3. Secure permission from leadership (together draft an Letter of Informed Consent) prior to meeting with minors outside of hours (each time you meet);
    4. Secure permission from parents in writing, each time you meet (using a Letter of Informed Consent);
    5. Continue to encourage them via FaceBook, Twitter, etc., this should be done on Group Pages and with group hashtags;
    6. Text them via msgbox® (access it on your cell phone).

    Don’t hesitate to check out our website for more best practices as it relates to the vulnerable sector. 

    If you are interested in signing up for msgbox®, CLICK HERE 

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