by Deech Kirk
I was reminded recently about how much technology is changing youth ministry. A friend had just returned from a youth trip and was dealing with the aftermath of a high school kid having shown inappropriate YouTube videos to some middle schoolers.
Gone are the days when we can feel safe simply asking the hotel clerk to turn off the movie stations and pay-per-view to our students’ rooms (though we should still do this). We don’t so much have to worry about them bringing along dirty magazines on the trip, either.
Instead, cell phones—especially smartphones—have opened a whole new world into youth ministry, particularly on trips. Five of the things we need to watch for include:
1. Texting. Though students can use them to send one another Scripture verses or other uplifting thoughts, they can also use them in secretly planning to sneak out or giving the “all clear” signal to each other because you’ve turned the corner to check on the rooms in the next hall.
2. Internet. Most of us don’t allow our students to bring a laptop with them on a youth trip but increasing numbers of our students are carrying web-enabled phones that bring the world of pornography into the palm of their hands.
3. Movies. Many phones, iPods, tablets, and other devices have enough memory for students to load an entire movie onto it. You may be showing a G-rated movie on the bus, but they may be watching an R-rated movie in the back.
4. Sexting. In staggeringly increasing numbers, teenagers are sending each other sexy images of themselves through their phones, alarming many parents, culture critics, and youth leaders.
5. Access to outside world. I remember when, as high school students, we daringly called the pizza delivery guy to bring us a pizza at our hotel. Cell phones give your youth access to a lot more than pizza. Web-ready phones give them maps and will help them find just about anything. If you are at a youth event away from home, cell phones give them access to call friends to come and meet them at your youth event (which could be good evangelism…or it could be a way for them to get around their parents).
Certainly these dangers exist not only on trips, but any time young people are together. Trips just tend to provide more unsupervised opportunities.
In response, we could take away cell phones on youth trips and have a sabbatical from the outside world. I have found that I get as much push back from parents as I do youth on this rule. Parents want instant access to their children. But there are some events when the pushback really is worth it. As kids unplug from the constant distractions, their abilities to sense God in their midst heightens.
We can educate parents on the new parental controls available for cell phones that monitor talk time, texting, word usage, and web restrictions.
We can also talk with our young people. Developing a healthy ministry means helping students think through the choices they’re making and helping them understand long-term consequences for those choices—not just managing behavior while under our watch.
For more information on sexting, check out this CBS News article.
To learn about parental controls for cell phone, read this ABC News article.