The question is innocent enough: when you were a kid, what did you do for fun?
NatureValley sat down and asked three generations a question, and the answers from the older two generations are similar. They played games with neighborhood kids. They fished and hiked. They made forts with siblings. Their answers come with smiles and an air of nostalgia.
However, the twist comes when they ask the current generation how they spend their time. The answers are sobering. Video games, texting, binge watching movies or television shows are the most common answer. But the motivations behind these confessions are even more heartbreaking.
One boy says that he plays video games when he’s upset because it makes him feel normal. Two girls animatedly express that they would die if they didn’t have access to their tablet. Another little boy says while he loves his family, he can get lost in the world of video games for hours. You can see the full video below:
The point of the video is to reconnect kids with nature. However, there seems to be a bigger theme at play. It’s not only about getting kids outside to play and exercise, but to connect and be present with the people around them. Tablets, phones, video games, and the ability to binge watch television provides kids – and adults – to tune out of life when it gets tough. The dependency on electronics and gadgets is so pronounced; it officially has a name: nomophobia (no mobile phone phobia).
While it’s up to parents to tackle this issue with their kids, there are ways that youth leaders can help kids disconnect from their phones and video games.
Make youth group a smartphone free zone. Ask parents to keep their kid’s cell phones. Or have a phone check (like a coat check) where each kid has to drop their phone off for the duration of youth group and can pick it up afterward. Another idea is to make a stack of phones on a table. Whoever grabs their phone first has to do ten jumping jacks or a lap around the room. (One job I had did this for team lunch meetings and if you grabbed your phone, you had to pay for lunch!)
Go on a retreat, leave the phones behind. Make sure that responsible adults have phones so that parents can be contacted in case of emergency, but the kids can’t bring them. Plan creative ways for teens to connect on the retreat. Plan hikes, game nights, and nights around a fire pit (or fireplace depending on the season.) Help your kids learn the value of face-to-face conversation.
Set an example. Make an effort to be present with your youth group. Talk about technology fasts or how you Sabbath from your phone or video games in your life. Be honest about if smartphone addiction is an issue for you. By setting an example for kids, you can influence their behavior. It may not be in a week, a month, or a year. But you will make a difference.