The typical way of keeping parents up-to-date while on a youth trip is to call home when something bad happens. “Sorry, Mrs. Johnson. Your son has mashed potatoes stuck in his ears and can’t hear a thing. You’ll have to drive 5 hours to pick him up and take him to a doctor.” Messages like that is probably not the one and only thing parents want to hear about the trip so far.
I find great value in keeping parents updated throughout our trips on an almost play-by-play basis.
- Parents feel a part of what’s happening.
- They trust the youth leaders more.
- They feel at ease seeing and hearing the great time their kid is having.
- They know exactly how the trip unfolded, making for a better conversation when the kids get home.
- I can quickly share prayer requests and highlights right when something happens.
- Everyone at home sees the highlights and funny stories right away.
- The kids love reading my updates once they get home and reliving the memories of the experience.
Thankfully, several web services make it simple and FREE to keep parents updated with text, pictures and videos, all from your cell phone (txt/pix/video message charges may apply). I’ve done it almost every trip for over a year now, including just two weeks ago during our jr. high retreat. See individual examples here, here, here and here.
Here’s how you can share text updates, pictures and video clips from your cell phone with parents and anyone else who has access to an Internet connection.
Share short text updates
Twitter is the service that will drive your communication with parents back home. Create an account at Twitter.com and add your cell phone to your account (under Settings and then Devices). Once your number is verified, all you have to do to update your profile page is send a txt message to the number 40404. Within seconds, your message appears online at http://twitter.com/[yourusername]. Give that web address to parents ahead of time and tell them to keep an eye on it for updates while you’re away. The parents in my ministry are usually glued to it, refreshing the page every couple minutes, to get the latest update!
(NOTE: If parents want your updates automatically sent to their cell phones, they can create a Twitter account, too, add their cell phone to their account, and click on the little gray Follow button under your icon on your profile page.)
(NOTE: If you sign up for Twitter, feel free to follow my updates, too: http://twitter.com/timschmoyer is my profile page. When logged in to Twitter, click the little gray Follow button under my icon image.)
Add pictures to your updates
Almost every cell phone has a camera on it now, making it easy to share pictures, so why not share photos of your trip with parents right when it happens? To post pictures in your Twitter updates, go to TwitPic.com and login with the Twitter username and password you created earlier. Then click on Settings in the top black navigation bar. There you’ll find a special private email address. Enter that address as a contact in your phone. To post a picture to your Twitter page, just take a picture with your cell phone and send it as a pic message to that email address. Add a brief description of the photo as the Subject of the message and send the picture message. After a few minutes a link to the picture will show up on your Twitter page along with the caption you entered as the Subject in your pic message. Simple.
Add videos to your updates
More and more cell phones are capable of sending video messages now, too. A new service called 12Seconds.tv does exactly that. It works the same way as TwitPic. Register an account at 12Seconds.tv, go to Settings, enter your Twitter login information and check the box to “Post updates to twitter.” Click Submit at the bottom of the page to save your settings. In the right-hand column of your Settings page, take note of the special private email address where you can send videos messages from your cell phone and have them automatically posted on your 12Seconds.tv page and your Twitter page.
(NOTE: 12Seconds.tv is still in early development stages. Joining the site is currently on an invitation basis only. If you request an invitation to join, but don’t get one after a day or so, post a comment below. I have a couple invitations left and I know a couple other people who do, too. We’ll gladly send you one.)
An idea for high-tech nerds
Instead of giving out my Twitter page address to parents, I embed my Twitter RSS feed into my youth group website. It’s easier for me to just tell everyone to keep an eye on our website for regular updates, but for most people it’s probably easier to email a Twitter link to everyone to watch. Of course, you could use TwitStamp.com to embed your Twitter updates into any web page, too.
Twitter can also automatically update your status in Facebook if you add the Twitter Facebook application and set the settings to do so.
A thought on privacy
As you update, be sensitive to what you’re posting. Some parents freak out and immediately think rapists are going to find their kids because you put a picture of them online or mentioned their name. You and I both know that’s absolutely ridiculous, but parents don’t always feel that way. So respect their wishes if they want their kid left out. Either way, use common sense: no sensitive information, no last names, no pictures from the bathrooms, nothing that could be misinterpreted without the full story, no frustration comments about the problem kid, etc.
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Posted on September 2, 2008