Our culture has a crisis going on. You may even be holding it in your pocket right now. It’s probably within arm’s reach. If you lose it or leave your house without it, you may just go into full-blown panic mode. Yes, I’m talking about your cell phone. That shiny, portable little device that has the power to capture our attention like nothing else ever has.
I was an early adopter of this technology. I’m old enough to remember when Motorola appropriately dubbed the first mobile phone “the brick” when it debuted in 1983. Approximately the size of a WW2 walkie-talkie, this thing was huge. The battery lasted around 8 minutes, but hey, you could take it anywhere, and that was a huge deal.
Fast forward to 2007. Steve Jobs releases the first ever iPhone, and the world was in complete awe. In fact, The Wall Street Journal breathlessly described it as “Apple’s new Jesus phone” because it combined a phone, iPod and internet access all-in-one. Herein lies the problem. For so many people—especially young people—these phones have literally taken over their lives.
A massive study of over half a million 8th -12th graders found a 33 percent rise in depression, stating: “Adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronics such as smartphones), were more likely to report mental health issues, and adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities (in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media and attending religious services), were less likely.”
Kids often live in the virtual world of texting, snap-chatting, and gaming that disconnects them from reality. They fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others’ seemingly perfect lives online and it only exasperates the problem. There’s also social media bullying that threatens to steal the self-esteem, worth and joy of young people all across the globe. It is no coincidence that the suicide rate among young people has risen dramatically.
So, what do we do about this? I have a two-word answer: Be still.
We need to make a conscious effort to disconnect from this barrage of media. This doesn’t have to be a permanent thing (though that wouldn’t be the worst idea ever) but it does need to be intentional. According to a survey, when given the choice between a text-only phone vs call-only phone, 75% of millennials preferred texting! But even if most young people did prefer phone calls, that still wouldn’t be enough. We need to sit down, look at each other, and talk.
Licensed family therapist Dr. Linda Mintle recently stated that social media is to largely to blame for relationships not offering the benefits of real, in-person connections. "They need to be real-time, face-to-face, intimate," she said. "There are so many studies that show the support, the community you get from being in a relationship with other people sustains you in so many ways. They need to be more than the superficial ones that we often have online."
This is a critical time for the Church and faith communities to step forward. This doesn’t mean we have to offer our version of everything culture has, but rather something the culture is severely lacking. I’m talking about authentic, loving community filled with people who go out of their way to engage with others—especially those who are young—and then take them under their wing to mentor and “disciple” them.
This is how those who are older can connect with younger people in a way that even their peers cannot.
So many Millennials and those from Gen Z, those born from the mid-90s to the early 2000s, are coming from broken homes. They need godly father- and mother-figures in their lives. Someone did this for me when I was 17-years-old, at a time when my alcoholic, single-mother had just divorced for a seventh time. I was desperately searching for community, family, and reality. In the early 70s I was the exception, but now it’s sadly more the rule.
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
We don’t need the “Jesus phone”. We need Jesus.
We don’t need instant, digital connections. We need deep, authentic ones.
We need to put down the phone and pick up the Bible.
We need to connect with God and his people.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon