Students have a Woobie, do you know what it is?


Okay, if you don’t know what a “woobie” is, read on. If you do, hang on.

Working with students for 25 years, I continue to be fascinated with how student culture is both ever-changing and never-changing. Blogs are outdated by the time they are published. But, at the same time many things never change.

We asked thousands of students: “Which obsession do you deal with the most?”

Let me tell you something that might surprise you.

SEX was not the #1 answer.
In fact, it was LAST. For real.

News Flash
What you might not hear about sexual trends with students in the US is there is widespread good news (like this) and that something like teenage pregnancy has recently been trending down rather quickly, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and many other sources. In all 50 states, in every ethnic group, the trends are downward (and have been since 1991 by the way, which is when See You At the Pole kick-started the campus student prayer movement, but that’s another blog article).

Yes, when asked “What obsession do you deal with the most?” the answer “sex” was dead last at 9%.

Are students still obsessed with sex?  Yes.
As I stated earlier, some things don’t change.
And yet…times have changed. We are seeing that students think of “sex” differently in the information age.

What else would students be obsessed about? How about food?

Yes, the issue of food is a quickly emerging issue regarding students. Negative health issues related and connected to food are prominent these days. And if we’re working with students, we need to be talking about it. Jayson Brewer on our staff recently wrote an excellent piece in our blog about it here.

Students are saying that “Food” was next to last of their obsessions at 11%.
“Money/possessions” was slightly more at 12%.

Then we see a jump.

Twenty-three percent of students say that “relationships” are their #1 obsession. They are thinking about this, they are dealing with this. Whether it’s dating, drama, or distractions, students are in a phase of life where there’s a steep learning curve about relationships.  But, that is still not the top obsession amongst students.

And without further ado. (now is the time to insert a drumroll)

The #1 MOST prevalent issue in students’ minds as an obsession, coming in at 45%: MEDIA.

They are recognizing their obsessive connectivity with media. Back in the dark ages, people were concerned about the amount of television students were inhaling daily. These days, the majority of students have some kind of screen in their view most of their waking hours. And when there isn’t one, their conversations and interactions are about what they are seeing on those screens. Some now pine for the good old days when a family could sit down and just simply watch tv together, without the distraction of mobile devices. How far we’ve come!

Personally, I’m not concerned about the now-integral role of technology in students’ lives. We have the ability to be more connected (and in deeper ways too if we choose to be) than ever before. There is so much to learn and experience, if guided in the right direction. I believe that technology and “connectedness” to others and information can all be great things if used properly.

Do I have concerns? Yes I do.  Here’s a couple:

What media content students are interacting with is something we need to be informed and proactive about with students. For many students, their relationship to Christ has no bearing on the music, movies, web sites that they connect to. We challenged students last summer at NTS Camp to consider what filters they should have in place for content they take in. Are you doing this?

Some students just can’t seem to do it…EVER. While I think technology is a neutral entity that can be used however we’d like, technology has become a “woobie” to too many students. (Mr. Mom reference here) They can’t live without it. When students walk into a room and don’t know what to do, they retreat to their phone for solace. And like adults, it’s their go-to as a stress reliever.

So we are learning that students are seeing this obsession in themselves.

And now to the reason you are probably reading this right now. How do we as adults help them? Consider these ideas:

(If you’re a parent)
In my house, we share. No area is off limits from each other. Netflix accounts, iTunes, etc. we share and can see what has been watched and downloaded. I do this not only for my children’s safety but my own. I want them to know what I’m watching and listening to, and vice versa. And there have been times where I’ve had open discussions with one/all of them about things I’ve seen that they’ve downloaded and/or watched.

(If you’re a youth worker)
Talk to your students about accountability with others. The nature of sin is secrecy, it isolates us on our own island. Tell them the dangers of isolation with technology, how it can separate them from EVERYONE in their life if they allow it to. They need to know how slowly but easily this can happen.

(if you’re youth worker and/or parent)
Discuss openly how the content we connect to makes its way into the fabric of our lives. It shapes our world-view and understanding of life, affects our formation of right and wrong, and influences our behaviors in ways that we don’t even fully understand.

Be careful not to be negative about neutral things. Smart phones and the Internet are not evil. Social media is not the root of our obsession. Yes, we should draw boundaries and create filters for these things, but don’t send the message that these things are inherently wrong. Because, remember, they are not evil. If you send this message students probably won’t listen because it won’t make sense to them because they know better.

Explain to them that by default going to media isn’t appropriate in many situations. Help them understand that getting their face out of their phone and making eye contact is important. It’s a life skill that seems to be disappearing in all of us. Strike up a conversation. Show them the dangers of media as a source of stress relief or boredom. Communion with God thoughts of faith can and should be our default setting when we don’t know what to do instead of mindlessly going to media for a quick fix.

Be direct yet appropriate about what is out there. Talk about why holy living should be pervasive in what content we as Christ followers are connecting to. The best article I’ve read recently on the subject of filtering content is thought provoking. (a must read)

(if you’re a parent)
Someone recently asked me, “As a parent, how do you handle technology with your family.” I told them we don’t have it figured out and are learning, but we’ve been clear about one thing above all else. WE ARE IN CHARGE of their devices.

As a parent, my children know that while living under our roof, we as parents have absolute privileges to any device at any time. We’ve let them know this from a very young age. No passwords are sacred, not even mine. We have an “open information” policy. Any time I want to pick up their device and browse, I can and will. (And as spouses we practice this too)

I think the best way to go about this is to impress this early on when you communicate this family “policy” (the younger the better and easier) and be vigilant to let them know you are watching by checking in frequently. If you do this early, you can probably ease up later because you’ve helped them form good habits.

(if you’re a youth worker)
Talk to parents about being clear as mentioned above. They are the ones with these students the most. Set up a parent meeting, have conversations, etc. Equip and inform them. Challenge them. Help them.

(if you’re a parent and/or youth worker)
Give them excuses to unplug. Most students know they are too attached to their media outlets. Sit in a room with them and declare “This time is an unplugged zone. No phones, texts, tv are allowed for a while.” Play a game, ride a bike, take a walk, do something together, talk, eat, laugh. Show them the value of real time real life relationships. Or partially unplug. Pass around a basket before a movie and collect phones while you watch together.

But do something to get them away from their woobie for at least a while.

As we close 2014 and begin a new year, it’s healthy to take time to reflect on future changes. Approach the new year with a resolution to help students in this area!

Jeff Eckart, CEO
Never The Same


© 2014, Never The Same