The Unexpected Truth About Students and Their Video Games

I’ve heard the complaints from youth workers, and I’ve even voiced them myself …

Students find a dozen hours every week for video games, but they can’t make time for youth group?

That’s the frustrating reality we’re living into right now, isn’t it?

Parents let their teenagers play video games unchecked for hours and then tell us that they’re too busy for our programs.

Students say the same thing, and that’s obviously a lie, right?

Not so fast. The truth about teenagers and their video games is a lot different than you’d expect.

Let’s start with the data. A recent Harris poll found that teenagers spend, on average, 13 hours a week playing video games; and you already know that some of your teenagers are spending 30 or more hours a week playing video games.

So far, the youth minister’s complaint seems to be holding up. How can a student claim to be too busy for youth group if he’s spending a full day playing Destiny?

But the problem with the research is that it tells us how much time they spend playing video games, but not when they play video games …

… and as it turns out, that seems to matter quite a bit.

This is how your students are really playing video games …

On mobile devices in small spurts. The rise of mobile gaming has impacted that cumulative number significantly. Students play iPhone games on the bus, in the car, in the lunchroom or while they’re sitting at their sister’s orchestra concert.

That means that as many as seven to 10 hours of their gaming time is filled in 10- to 15-minute chunks when they would otherwise be doing nothing. They’re choosing gaming over normal, human interaction, which may be its own issue …

… but this significant chunk of time isn’t what’s making them miss youth group.

On consoles in binge sessions. If you’re a gamer, you know how this goes. Order a pizza when you get home on Friday, turn on the Xbox, and play games for six to eight hours. Repeat the process on Saturday afternoon.

Again, this might be an unhealthy behavior that brings enough of its own issues, but unless your ministry meets late at night on Friday or Saturday, youth group attendance probably isn’t one of them.

(I’ll allow that some students miss our Sunday evening programs because they have homework that they otherwise could have done instead of a binge-gaming session. That’s a conversation on priorities that might be beneficial to have.)

… and what it means for your ministry.

There are probably students who aren’t at your your programs because they’re at home playing video games, but it’s almost certainly fewer than you think.

I have a student who’s a prolific gamer at 20 hours per week, but doesn’t play any video games Monday through Thursday. He attends every Sunday, but is too busy to make it on Wednesdays because he’s trapped beneath three to four hours of homework per night.

And it’s not like he could get a jump start on that homework over the weekend, because it’s typically not assigned until the day before.

That’s exactly how a student can be too busy for youth group, but still have a ton of time for video games.

So the next time a student (or a parent) can’t make time for your program, give them the benefit of the doubt. It might be legit.

Instead of trying to figure out how to fix the societal ill that’s keeping them away from youth group, ask yourself this question:

How can I minister to them anyway?

And that’s the question I’d love you to take a stab at by leaving a comment below.  

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Aaron Helman
Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes at Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like leading volunteers, managing money, and communicating effectively. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.