Thought Factory Podcast #207 || Engage & Redeem Technology

How long could you go without your phone?  Less than an hour?  We are talking more about the digital nemesis that the majority of us have accepted into our lives, the smartphone.  In today’s episode, we hear from high school students about their attachment to this device.  We also provide suggested guidelines for youth ministry when it pertains to phone use.  Has the phone caused us to be more disengaging when youth ministry is mainly about building relationships?  How can we engage with technology and redeemed it without it being a distraction?

Smartphones can be addicting.  Although the smartphone has been around for about 10 years now, it is still new for adults.  We may be the only demographic that still uses the actual phone function on our phones.

In the beginning of the podcast, Jeff spoke about a recent WiFi experiment that involved high school girls and technology, which has attracted international attention among acknowledged biologists and radiation experts.

Researchers from England, Holland, and Sweden have shown great interest in the experiment conducted by five 9th grade girls from northern Jutland, who did this the experiment for a biology test. 

It all started because they found it difficult to concentrate during the school day: “We all think we have experienced difficulty concentrating in school when we had slept with the phone next to our head, and sometimes also experienced having difficulty sleeping”, explains Lea Nielsen.

So here’s what they did: They took 400 cress seeds and placed them in 12 trays. Then, they placed 6 trays in 2 separate rooms at the same temperature. They gave the same amount of water and sun to all the trays for 12 days. However, 6 of the trays were put next to two [Wi-Fi] routers. Such routers broadcast the same type of radiation as an ordinary mobile [phone].  After 12 days what the result was clear: cress seeds next to the router did not grow, and some of them were even mutated or dead.

We asked a number of high school students the question, “How long could you go without your phone?”

The answers ranged from less than an hour to a couple of days.

Historically, with some of the greatest breakthroughs in inventions – radios, TV, the Internet, we may be going through one of the most revolutionary times because of the smartphone.  So much of our lives are wrapped up in using this one device which allows you to connect with the majority of people in the world.

Let’s look at our research; we asked the students the following questions:

Do you own a smartphone?

Yes // 82%
No // 18%

How old were you when you first had your own smartphone?

Less than 10 years old // 10%
10-12 years old // 37%
13-15 years old // 34%
16-18 years old // 6%
I don’t have a smartphone // 13%

So, from these results, 82% of students own a smartphone, 47% of these students have a smartphone by the age of 12, and 94% of them have a smartphone by the time they are 16.                 

All the training that goes into driver’s training, operating a motor vehicle, but when it comes to a smartphone, we just hand it over without much instruction on how to handle it, and it is affecting students.

According to a report published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, “Social Media Use and Children’s Wellbeing,” new research adds fuel to the fire of our concerns, finding that when kids between the ages of 10 and 15 spend just one hour a day on social media, they are more unhappy. 

“Spending one hour a day chatting on social networks reduces the probability of being completely satisfied with life overall by approximately 14 percentage points,” the study’s authors say. They surmise cyberbullying, an increase in comparisons and a decrease in real-life, face-to-face activities are the likely culprits for why kids’ well-being is adversely affected by the likes of Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.

Of course, this finding is especially troubling given how much time kids spend online and the inevitability of social media being part of their lives, for the good and the bad.  

So how do we instruct students to navigate appropriately online with a smartphone or another device that will lead them to success?

What is a parent to do to keep their kids from suffering in an increasingly social media-based world?

Dr. Jenny Radesky from Boston Medical Center recently released a study on the affects cell phone use by parents or caregivers had on their children. Not surprisingly, the study revealed that when parents used their phones in front of their children, the children exhibited behaviors where they tried to get their parent’s attention.

The study also found that parents often showed annoyance at children when the parents were interrupted from their phones. And the little interaction that parents or caregivers had with their children were more negative or harsh.

We are not saying technology and social media is bad, but we need to be aware of the world around us.  Are you more productive or more engaging without your phone?  How would you respond when your child or a student interrupts your phone use?

How do we harness technology that it doesn’t alter our ability to communicate with others, where students need to develop good communication skills.  When we are removed from our phones, we become more engaged with others and productive.

Four Suggested Guidelines for Technology Use in your Ministry:

Declare No Phone Zones
Learning environments are so much more powerful if students are not distracted, which is why we suggest creating and declaring a no phone zone for students.  By creating a specific time and place where phones are not allowed to be out, sets a precedence for that time as well as a high value on what is being communicated and experienced during that time.

Even ask students to go into “airplane mode” during youth ministry time.

Set Boundaries for Phone Use
Youth ministry has the relational edge going for it.  It’s a combination of peers and caring adults that are involved in their lives.  Have you expressed as clearly as possible the boundaries for phone use for your ministry, during program times or retreats?  Are you communicating values and boundaries?

For example, we miss out on the relationship investment or the small relational deposits into another person’s life when we get together in a room for a meeting and immediately get on our phones as we wait for the meeting to start.  The small questions we ask when we are waiting for the meeting to start builds into someone else relationally, but we miss that when we pull out our phones and keep to ourselves until the meeting starts.

Get Parents to Buy In
There will always be a parent who wants to get ahold of their child at any moment of the day.  So when we present the idea of “going dark” where students don’t bring their phones, or go to airplane mode, or leave it in their cars for a short period of time, etc.  We must explain to them the benefits.  Tell them why “going dark” is overall beneficial for the students being focused and undistracted while in youth group.

Engage Students Where They Are
Even in the digital world, don’t ignore or shame students for connecting digitally.  That’s their world and youth ministry is about going to THEIR world, not expecting them to come to OUR world.

It’s not about creating a “US vs THEM”  but rather show them how boundaries can be good so that they are engaged, but allow grace to fill our conversations when we try to implement an environment where smartphones are not prominent to the students’ attention.

Above all else, remember to redeem and engage.  How can we redeem the medium and engage with students where they are in the digital world?

© 2017, Never The Same