Whether you are a youth pastor, parent, teacher, or random person in the mall, you know that teenagers (along with several other age ranges) are addicted to technology in some form or another. It does not help that this is the most plugged in generation with iPhones, iPads, laptops, televisions, Xbox 360, and every other digital screen that you can imagine.
This has caused many people to worry. The death toll for people texting while driving in the last five years is over 16,000 people, families have transformed from Friday nights together to everyone in their own room in the basking glow of their digital device, and many teenagers are showing symptoms of withdrawal from studies that have looked at fasting from technology.
The question is, how can we as a community fight back against tech addictions? We have a few ideas for you below.
- Tech-Free Church Services
What would happen if we fully turned off all tech at church and youth groups for the one hour that we are sitting in the sanctuary? This is not limited to the phones of congregation members, but includes all of the monitors in the lobby promoting the Bible studies or iPad that are used to sign up for missions trips. Retreats that have limited or no phone use (do not read “no phones” as leadership should always have a way to be contacted) can make engaging with teenagers easier.
Maybe you ease into it and only do one Sunday a month and see the success of it. It may not seem like a long time, but soon you begin to talk to church members that you sit beside. Youth pastors now can preach and know that there is one less distraction in the room. Small group leaders know that they have their group’s undivided attention. Relationships flourish and you begin to forget about that tech.
- A Tech-Only Room
So many families want to know how they can reunite their families back in their homes. Teenage boys are in their room playing Xbox, teen girls are in their rooms on the phone, dad’s in the living room watching television, and mom is on the laptop in the study working.
One experiment that has seen significant success is a tech only room. It contains the only television in the house, the only place you are allowed to get on computers, and the only place you are allowed on the phone. This can cause an inconvenience at first and does not guarantee that families will even converse fully, but it ensures that you get to see family members while they are home. At the same time, for families that have concern for pornography or too much video game playing, this is easily monitored simply by proximity.
- Talk About Rules Before You Have To Enforce Them
Setting up a culture within a church or school system or implementing rules at home that are established before any issues come up have shown to reduce the risk of anything happening before they should. Let your teenagers know what will happen if they text while driving, install the proper monitoring applications, and consistently check up on them. Let them know that if they break rules on computer and gaming usage or do something that is inappropriate, that they will punished a certain way.
We are not looking to “punish them with the rules” but instead to protect them from the dangers that tech brings. Know why you are putting rules into place and explain it to teenagers or others so that everyone is on the same page. If there is strong pushback, at least listen to what they have to say, regardless if you plan to take their advice. This will show respect for them and may even give you a better opportunity to speak into your teens’ lives.
When these rules are established, follow them yourself. Teens have the easy excuse right now of texting while driving because adults do it too. Be a good role model and if need be, enact the punishment upon yourself if you break it. At the same time, a reward for following the rules has shown to promote further positive-viewed behavior.
How have you seen a tech-free environment have a positive outcome?
Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.