Every Tuesday in The Minority Report, Drew Dixon takes a look at trends in youth culture and offers some biblical wisdom for navigating them.
I love Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging. I love having instant access to all three on my smart phone and yet sometimes I want to throw other people’s phones across the room . . . or at least confiscate them for a time.
Today’s teens have grown up with cell phones and access to social media–most of them don’t remember a time when no one had text messaging or a Facebook profile. Thus teens grow up in a world of instant access–one in which hundreds of people are literally competing for their attention everywhere they go. Don’t get me wrong, I am not that different–I feel naked with out my iPhone and I have good friends who I regularly interact with on Facebook and Twitter. There is no doubt in my mind that there have been times when my wife wanted to throw my phone across the room. I do, however, wonder if some of the ways people in my generation tend to misappropriate social media are magnified in today’s teenagers simply because they have never known a world without instant access to everyone they know.
Social media and smart phones are tremendous tools for connection. In fact, I think it is critical that Christians seeking to minister to today’s teens understand their affection for social media. If we hope to build healthy relationships with them we need to look for them where they can be found–namely on Facebook and cell phones. We needn’t be afraid of technology that is designed to help people connect. I would hope that a smart phone in the hands of a mature Christian would be a catalyst for cultivating community. Herein lies the problem for many teenagers–their ability to grasp the inner workings of technology often moves faster than their spiritual and emotional growth. This results in having to repeat questions and statements due to the divided attentions of the teens you are interacting with. You might be physically present with these teenagers but they are not emotionally present with you.
So how can we help teenagers use their cell phones for cultivating community? How can we help them cultivate a healthy relationship with social media?
Perhaps it begins with taking a look at our own relationship with social media and our mobile devices as mentors and parents of teenagers. If you are a parent or a student leader, what kind of relationship with your cell phone are you modeling? Most of us have Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail in our pockets and when we readily run to them at the slightest sign of a dull moment, we communicate to those around us that they are less interesting than people in these other spaces.
Additionally, we ought to take a closer look at some of the “one another” passages of Scripture:
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. -Romans 12:10
. . . have equal concern for each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:25
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. -Galatians 5:13
When we are present with sisters, brothers, friends, family, or neighbors–we ought to seek to actively serve them in love and to outdo them in showing honor and brotherly affection. Such tasks are impossible when our attention is divided between those we are physically present with and those with whom we are ever-digitally connected with. It’s difficult to love and serve others when our attention is constantly elsewhere. If we don’t ever force ourselves to put up our phones and be available to those around us, we may never be available to them–that would be a tragic message to send to younger generations.