On a recent visit to a local coffee shop to meet with a youth ministry friend, I was amazed to count that there were 52 people in the shop at 2 pm. Of the 52 people only my friend and I were having a face to face conversation. All 50 other people were sipping coffee and looking at their digital screen of choice. A good number were not just looking at one screen but 2 screens at the same time. People wanted to be together, but not†necessarily†interact with each other. Screens have started to completely dominate the lives of young people today. It has become such a social norm that even the America Idol TV show judges this year are frequently seen on camera looking at their smartphone.
Watching TV used to be a time when teens would get together with the family and watch their†favorite†show. Now, in the days of ultra-technology, teens no longer just simply sit and watch; teens have to play.
Teens spend a large part of their days looking at a digital screen. Whether it is a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, there are now a number of ways in which teens communicate with others.
But it’s not just about looking at a single screen anymore; now while teens are watching television, they are also likely to find†themselves†enjoying a ‘second screen experience’ or a gaming experience. It may just be that they update their Facebook status or send a tweet about what they are watching. To many young people today it is not enough to just watch something on TV, they need to look at another screen to be fully entertained.
What I am beginning to notice is that these “Multi Screen Teens” are finding it more and more difficult to have face to face communications with each other. They can spend hours at a time with other teens and their families, but hardly interact in a meaningful verbal conversation. They are finding it difficult to even look someone in the eye when they are talking. That used to mean that someone possibly had low self esteem, but that is no longer the case. It might merely mean that they haven’t yet acquired the skill to simply look at someone when they are talking to them. I have noticed this particularly with the 9th grade class this year.
I used to site statistics †to youth leaders that teens would spend 8 hours a day listening to music. Today I share the statistic that teens are spending 7 hours a day on screens. For many teens that is at least 2 screens at the same time that could realistically add more hours per day on screens.
So what’s a youth leader do to reach “Multi Screen Teens”?
1. Be patient and keep talking to them face to face - It might take some time for teens to start being more effective in face to face communication. Don’t get to a point where you give up on them. Small groups, Bible studies and impromptu one on one meetings are all great ways to strengthen face to face communications.
2. Use screens to bring Glory to God - Make sure at least part of your ministry with teens involves screens. Make sure you are showing video clips, graphics and utilizing large screen projection to connect with teens. Teens are so used to screens being around that having them in your youth room or Life Night will only help teens to realize the Church is relevant. Just look at World Youth Days, NCYC’s and Steubenville Conferences and how many screens are used to get the message out to the droves of young people attending. We should be careful not to condemn screens as they have a lot of potential to do good things.
3. Plan events where teens can unplug - Give teens ample opportunities to unplug their screens. Week long summer camps, retreats, mission trips and pilgrimages are great ways that teens can get away from the distraction of their screens. Dynamic prayer experiences like Eucharistic Adoration, Stations of the Cross or Living Rosaries are great experiences that help teens to focus more on prayer.
4. Model face to face interaction -†Don’t always be on your screen when around teens. Try to unplug yourself and focus on the teens and people around you. As a youth leader you are always on and teens look at you as a role model. If they see you thriving without always looking at your phone, then they may start looking at their phone less.
So what are some of the ways that you are using to reach Multi Screen Teens?