We are finishing the final details for our youth summer mission trip. This year we are headed off to Denver with DOOR Network. (They focus on social justice work, which is a big thing for our students.) As we were discussing this year’s rules, one of the students asked: “Are we going to be able to take our phones this year?” You see, last year, on our mission trip to Chicago, we decided that it would be better to be cell-phone free (except for leaders, of course).
At first, the students had balked, coming up with all of the reasons why a phone was essential. (“What if there was an emergency?!?”) For us as the leaders, the no-cell-phone-rule was partially about eliminating the risk of broken or lost phones, but it was also about something more.
I was chatting with some youth workers about FOMO, or ‘the fear of missing out’. You know, the trend where our students have difficulty committing to something because they are afraid that that something better might come along, and then they would miss out. We were talking about how FOMO also affects students in their incessant need to stay connected to what is happening in the social media world, or with their friends, or whatever community in which they are connected. FOMO is one of the reasons why our students have such a hard time with being disconnected or focusing on what is presently happening around them.But the thing is, we need to be disconnected sometimes. It is amazing what can happen when you start to focus on more than what is on a screen. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my social media as much as the next person. But, there are times when we need the opportunity to put them away and focus on what God is showing us.
When we got back from the mission trip last year, one of our students reflected on what it was like to have a week away from her phone and from being connected to everyone. She said that she was glad that she didn’t have it with her, because it allowed her to be more present to what was happening around her, it allowed her to make new friends and build stronger relationships with the people she was with, and it was a relief to not have to be checking what was happening all of the time.
I think our students need us to carve some space for them to unplug, to disconnect, and to learn to be more present. We need to cultivate practices of Sabbath, of awareness, and of mindfulness in our ministries. It is difficult for our kids to do this in their everyday lives, but when they are given the opportunity to put down the screens, I think they will discover that their FOMO will give way to some meaningful experiences of God and of community.
As for this year’s mission trip… it wasn’t an easy decision, but our team decided to leave the phones home again this year.