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Study shows multitasking with various digital devices hinders social development


A recent survey, published in a scientific journal (Developmental Psychology) by Stanford University, concluded that girls (8 to 12) who are most actively multitasking between different digital devices (texting, TV, Facebook, etc) are less likely to develop normal social tendencies.

One of the study’s lead professors, Clifford Nass, was quite disturbed by the findings.

“No one had ever looked at this, which really shocked us,” Nass said. “Kids have to learn about emotion, and the way they do that, really, is by paying attention to other people. They have to really look them in the eye…If you eschew face-to-face communication, you don’t learn critical things that you have to learn,” Nass said. “You have to learn social skills. You have to learn about emotion.”


What This Means For Youth Ministers

For a long time, I assumed my job was to provide a safe and lasting environment to explore, know, and seek God in a way that holds up well after they go to college and their world gets turned upside down. Further, I assumed it my responsibility to provide opportunities to explore, articulate, and live their lives (and futures) because of God’s love for them and others.

However with a theology that asserts that God is among and within everything everywhere, it becomes hard to prove or promote the need of the institutional “Youth Group” or even “Church”.

But alas, while the opportunities to experience God are all around us, the opportunities to experience the beauty of God in one another seem to becoming fewer and fewer.

Sad part is, our students may never realize their isolation.

Between the Pinterest, Google Plus, Facebook, Tumblr, iTunes, YouTube, FaceTime, Skype, iPhones, Twitter, Tablet, Fast-Food, T1-Speed options youth are given to feel “connected”, are plenty of band-aids to cover bullet-wounds for years to come.

It might be years until our teens understand the effects of the double-edge sword of constant saturation of less-than-human interaction.

Gone are the days when a student could come home from the gossip and pressure of their social environment to debrief, decompress, and recharge to be able to freshly start the new day.

And gone are the days when students were readily available to their own emotions through intimate interactions with their friends and peers.

Unless we continue to force the issue.

What to Do, What to Do

It’s clear that our teens have a desire to connect with others, otherwise, there would be no social media.

In many ways this quasi-connection has become a safety net. In the same way that many teens will operate the handheld devices as a buffer while in a conversation, these luke-warm connections keep them safe from their fears of being lonely on one extreme, and vulnerable on the other.

What used to be the luxury of organized play before or after youth group has now become a necessity. What used to be the expected conversation in a circle has now become endangered. The laughing, crying, sharing, and even being amongst teenagers in a safe space is becoming more and more rare, if not sacred.

We can no longer take for granted that our students (the generation that begins, sustains, and ends relationships through the screen of a cell phone) know and are comfortable with the norms of relating to one another in the flesh.

Youth groups have always been really good at creating safe environments for face-to-face contact. The trick for this day, I think, is realizing that our teens are less prepared and may require more patience, instruction, and build-up to these moments.

We must continue to assert that God is present “whenever two or more are gathered”; we must continue to assert that God’s embrace can often be found in the interaction with one another.

We must be willing to coach them, challenge them, and lead them so that they are willing to claim it!

Have you noticed differences, challenges, or successes in how your teens connect with one another? How do you create these valuable connections?