Snark, Crackle, Pop Culture: Multi-tasking Youth, Multi-tasking Ministry

Recently the Kaiser Family Foundation published the third in a series of studies about media use in youth ages 8 to 18. In one of the biggest national surveys taken about this topic, over 2000 students answered a 40 minute written questionnaire about their use of TV, movies, computers, video games, music, and print; and, nearly 700 students wrote a detailed seven day media journal. The Kaiser Family Foundation hopes the results will start a discussion of how media influences all facets of life for youth people. As Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation so succinctly put, “The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it’s even more than a full-time work week. When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it’s affecting them–for good and bad.” I would like to spend several blogs discussing just some of the results of this comprehensive study.

The study found that youth take in an average of seven hours and 38 minutes of media a day. However, about a quarter of the time youth are using media, they are using more than one medium at a time. If we count each medium separately, they manage to pack almost 10 hours and 45 minutes of media into those seven and half hours a day.  This is also true for homework time as nearly one-third of young people either talk on the phone, instant message, watch TV, listen to music, or surf the Web for fun “most of the time” they’re doing homework.

By itself this is not a surprising statistic. Even as adults we are used to using multiple media mediums at the same time. I hardly ever just sit and watch TV without surfing the web. It’s not uncommon for music to be on in one room and the TV in another. This did get me thinking about how we use or don’t use media multitasking in our ministries.

My mindset tends to be that when my youth are participating in youth ministry, they should only be participating in youth ministry. I often fight the battle to get rid of the cell phones. I chide the kids who want to play video games rather than play outdoor community building games. In many ways, youth ministry is a media free zone. I am beginning to wonder if this is realistic.

If youth are so used to multi-tasking, are there ways to incorporate it into our ministries? I think it might be reasonable to stop fighting the battle to get rid of cell phones, especially during our weekly youth night. While there are still circumstances where I want them put away, my youth don’t seem to be any less attentive if they read and respond to a text or two during our breaks. I’ve considered having music playing in the background during our Bible study to help ease the tension of the silence between my questions and their answers. While I might perceive gaming as something that limits interaction between students, their multitasking skills may make it a viable way to build community. Allowing media multitasking within ministry may be beneficial in some circumstances.

The flip side to multitasking is that it becomes harder to read in-depth material. If youth are not focused on single media (Facebooking while watching TV for example) they aren’t going to read long, in-depth diatribes. I find the shorter and more succinct my texts/Facebook updates/emails are to the youth, the more likely they are to read them. Condensing material into what they can consume while doing several other things hopefully prevents them from ignoring the communication completely.

What are your thoughts on how we can respond to the norm of media multitasking? Does it give us some opportunities to add media to ministry without fear of it being distracting?  Does it change how you present media to youth?

Published March 29, 2010

About the author

Julianna Shults is a DCE serving a Program Manager for LCMS Youth Ministry. With a BA in Psychology and a Masters in Community Development, Julianna served congregations in Florida and Chicago. She writes for the Youth E-Source, co-authored Relationships Count from CPH and co-hosts the podcast End Goals. Julianna is a self-proclaimed nerd, coffee snob and obsessive aunt.
View more from Julianna

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