I just wanted to let everyone know that I will no longer be submitting posts to this blog. I have, instead, started a new blog that covers the topic of my new book, Reboot. Instead of looking at how technology impacts teens, I have begun looking at how technology impacts us. With a more general topic, I will be able to cover lots more issues related to technology so please stop by my new blog at: peggykendall.com
Youth Worker Blogs
I just got back from an excellent conference in Kansas City at St. Paul School of Theology. Here are the powerpoint slides from the 2 presentations I gave.
I recently found a fun youtube video that kids love and helps prep them for a conversation about romance or online communication or both. Its a 5 minute performance by Nick Tune. You can view it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__3EZmzmIQs
If you are looking for a Facebook opener, try the Facebook song at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSnXE2791yg
Netsmartz.org is a non-faith based organization that also has produced some excellent videos that make kids aware of the dangers of the internet. The videos are well done and have discussion questions that go along with. You can access those videos at: http://www.netsmartz.org/resources/reallife.htm
If you don't have internet access but want to show a youtube video, try http://www.zamzar.com/ a free video conversion site. (Use of the site is predicated on the fact that you will use the converted files in a way consistent with copyright rules)
Remember when the term "community" had some clearly defined characteristics? Whether it was a neighborhood, an ethnic group, or a church community, we spent time together--face to face time. And that time was important--it helped define who we were, how we fit, and what was expected. I grew up at First Baptist Church of Coon Rapids, a small church in a small suburb of Minneapolis. That church was my community. It was made up of old and young men who always seem to be sipping a hot cup of coffee, church ladies who kept their eyes on every kid that ran through the speckled, vinyl floored hallways, and families who shared a long-term, deep-felt commitment to one another. That community taught me how to be a Christian, they encouraged me as I went away to school, and they supported me as I went through very difficult journeys with a handicapped child. Even though I am no longer part of that church, I still identify with the community--they are part of who I am. In fact, they helped make me into who I am.
The question I have been contemplating lately is how has technology changed how we define and experience community? Shane Hipps, in his book entitled The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church, describes how tools like Facebook, blogs, and chat rooms have created a sort of "cotton candy community...it goes down easy and satiates our immediate hunger, but doesn't provide much in the way of sustainable nutrition. It spoils our appetite for the kind of authentic community to which scripture calls us" (p. 111). True community involves permanence, proximity, and can not be based on "intimate anonymity". Hipp also says that true community is full of diversity and conflict. If we can't figure out how to work through difficulty, we can never really be close to each other.
So think about how the technology our kids use may be reshaping their experience of community. First of all, the idea of "place" has certainly changed. Kids feel more comfortable talking on cell phones and computers than in engaging the people sitting next to them. The idea of being together in a physical space has more power than we probably understand. Conflict has also changed. It is much easier to hit and run with a text message or a Facebook comment than to sit down and actually work out differences. Conflict has become more a means of expressing rage and negative emotion than a means of building cohesiveness and understanding in a community. Commitment to a primary community has also been impacted as kids are involved in busy schedules and social networks that connect them, in a cursory way, with multiple groups, each having very little to do with one another. Finally, because kids can really pick and choose who they will hang out with, they often choose homogeneity over diversity. They are rarely "forced" to interact with people who are different than them or who may force them to see themselves from a different perspective.
So what does this changing idea of community mean for a youth leader who is committed to helping young people grow up to become mature men and women of God? Part of the equation HAS to be a strong community. For instance, how can kids see what a Christian businessman or a godly woman in leadership, or an unselfish senior citizen or a loving single adult might look like if it isn't in a Christian community? How can they find out who they are and what they can become and what it looks like to trust God for the big and small things if it isn't through community? And how can they truly experience the love of God if it isn't through people of all ages coming around them and helping them in the growing up process?
Community is no longer a given in our culture. We can't assume our kids understand it or engage in it. Technology has changed how we spend time together. It has also caused one of the biggest generation gaps we have ever seen. We need to do all we can to help our kids value the idea of community. We need to re-engage them into the church community. We need to help them work through conflicts in youth group in a way that builds cohesiveness and understanding and long-term commitment. Basically, we need to help them value and understand the concept of Christian community that is so clearly taught in scripture.
We can't help these kids on our own. God has something even better in mind. Hilary may have actually gotten part of it right. It really does take a village to raise a child.
Let's not let technology take that village away.
Did you have a diary growing up? I did. It was a Barbie diary with a little lock in the shape of a heart. It didn't work so well for me. First I lost the key and had to break the lock. Then my dog chewed off the corner. Then I just decided I had nothing important to write about so I gave it to my little sister. As incompetent of a diary writer as I was, there is still some real value in writing down thoughts and feelings--especially when you are in the middle of adolescence and dealing with hormones, dating, zits, parents, and lots of other things that seem so confusing when you're not sure who you really are.
Luckily, our kids have found a place to work through those complexities. They can articulate complex emotions--right at the time they happen. They don't have to really meditate, contemplate, or process what those emotions might mean or where they are coming from. Instead they can turn on their computers and simply spew. Unfortunately, the spewing can make a mess.
One thing you may have noticed is that kids are much more willing to self-disclose VERY deep parts of themselves online. On one hand, that can be good. It becomes a place where they can be honest and take off their masks. On the other hand, it can be bad. When they take off their masks and share their hearts, they often have no idea who is on the other side. They often have no idea who may be reading their Myspace or Facebook blog. The person they are Instant Messaging may be disinterested, disengaged, or distrustful. What feels so good to get off their chest may come back to haunt them in the form of hurtful comments from their friends or enemies or may catapult unhealthy romantic relationships into dangerous territory. I believe our kids are struggling with unhealthy boundaries on a scale that we do not even comprehend.
So, what do we do? First of all, we need to role model healthy self-disclosure. That usually means a deep conversation that begins online should quickly move offline. We tend to be much better equipped to manage our boundaries in a face to face environment. Second, why not encourage kids to engage in the old-fashioned tradition of journaling. That way they can get their feelings out AND maintain control over who might see what they have written. If kids really want to share their heart with someone, challenge them to write it down, then wait a day or two. That gives them time to think and process before they share.
We live in a complex time and our kids need space to work through what it means to grow up. A little encouragement to move offline to work through that process can help them develop healthy boundaries that will ultimately serve them well as they grow into thoughtful young men and women.