Youth Culture Window

“Excuse Me; May I Have Your Attention?”

Dynamic Image“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Umm…Britney could you put your iPhone away? As I was saying, Columbus had three ships with him, the Niña, the Pinta, and the – Dylan! For the last time, turn your ringer off!!!”

Thanks to smartphones, lots of teachers say this is what their classrooms sound like throughout the day.

The Constant Distraction
It’s not just teachers who think that kids’ attention is dominated by their mobile devices. Youth workers everywhere seem to wrestle with where to draw the line in the sand during weekly devotions. Millions of parents do, as well, and rightly so. According to a survey from Common Sense Media, a whopping 77% of parents thought their kids were “distracted by their devices and don’t pay attention” on a regular basis. In the same study, almost 80% of kids admitted to checking their phones “hourly,” while 72% of them said they felt pressure to “immediately” respond to texts and/or social media exchanges.

Lest we think that teachers’ complaints (above) are unfounded, a new show on A&E entitled Undercover High exposes kids’ incessant use of smartphones to the chagrin of educators and administrators. The show’s producers embedded 7 baby-faced twentysomethings into a high school in Topeka, KS to chronicle what today’s classrooms look like. One of the blaring observations is teens’ constant use of cell phones in spite of the fact that everywhere the cameras pan, posters read, “No Cell Phones.”

But the posters prove as useless as the “g” in lasagna. In fact, one student said, “You’re not supposed to have your phone out, but we honestly don’t care.”

No wonder teachers are griping about the tech interruptions.

And you know there has to be a legitimate issue when two of Apple’s investors have called on the iPhone maker to try and help curb teens’ addiction to smartphones. Specifically, they’ve asked the tech giant “to create ways for parents to restrict children’s access to their mobile phones.” Additionally, they would like to see the company conduct research into the effects constant usage has on kids’ mental health. (Of course, it’s not just Apple’s products that are distracting millions of teens – they’re just an easy target. Kids have an obsession with their smartphones regardless of the logo on the back of their devices.)

But are smartphone manufacturers on the hook to teach teens how to use (or not use) their devices?

Is that even possible?

Or does that responsibility fall to someone else?

Tech Training
Without a doubt, the person best qualified to show teenagers how to use – and NOT use – their devices are the adults who own them. (Think about it; our kids may carry the devices, but we parents paid for them!) In today’s world, loving adults must spend time helping teenagers establishing safe and healthy boundaries for smartphone use. That means we need to talk with them about the dangers of cyberbullying and sexting, the apps we might want them to avoid, and what information they share with others on social media. But our conversations should also include a “how-not-to-be-a-distracted-and-rude-jerk-when-in-the-presence-of-others” talk whether it’s with youth workers, teachers, coaches, extended family members, or co-workers. Here are a couple of simple ideas:


  1. Use smartphones to your advantage…without negative side effects. Yes, the devices are meant to connect us, but oftentimes, as we’ve all seen, they just isolate us. The trick is to use your kids’ smartphones is ways that benefit them and your family…while avoiding all the traps along the way. Parents will naturally want to use their kids’ smartphones to communicate with them when separated throughout the day, which is good, but we need to make sure when we’re all under the same roof at night, we’re not then separated by screens. Youth workers can do this in their ministries, too. The Source for Youth Ministry has some great ways youth workers can incorporate kids’ smartphones into their programming (like this idea or this one) to have some fun. Just make sure students know when to pocket their phones so they can focus on the discussion at hand.
  2. Establish phone-free zones/times. Yes…it’s possible. Trust me. The dinner table is a great place to set up this boundary (whether at home or in a restaurant). This ensures that family members are interacting with each other instead of staring at a screen during the meal. If applicable, the morning car ride to school might be another place that’s free of tech distractions. Not only will this will allow for clear communication about plans for the day, it might even provide time for an on-the-go Bible study. And of course, phone-free zones should include the classroom if the school administration requests it. Additionally, consider setting aside a time during the week, say, Tuesday nights for example, where all the family members put their smartphones on the charger and hang out together. I have several friends who’ve had their families completely changed by this practice!

If you want a little help leveling the playing field, check out 52 Ways to Connect With Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid by Jonathan McKee. He provides tons of fun and meaningful ways you can wrestle kids’ attention off the rectangular devices that so easily dominate kids’ lives. Do whatever you can to get your kids’ attention; your influence on their lives is crucial!

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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