I pulled out another pan of cookies from the oven and took a whiff. The beautiful scent of perfectly melted vanilla, sugar and chocolate rose up to meet my nostrils.

And all I wanted to do was gag.

I had just baked so many dozens of cookies that I was just plain disgusted by even the scent of a warm chocolate chip cookies.

Have you ever eaten yourself sick?

Think about that feeling you have immediately after your Thanksgiving feast–or perhaps after you bake oodles of cookies at Christmas, like me. We’ve all experienced it at one time or another, right? That urge to enjoy something you love a little too much, and then find yourself suddenly overwhelmed when you’ve had a little too much of that good thing?

Well, that’s precisely where I suspect many of us are at today with technology.

No doubt you already know that culture is shifting more rapidly than ever before, with new trends and fads coming and going at lightning speed. An online game or viral video that might be everywhere you look will likely be gone in a week. Movies, shows, books, celebrities and athletes have their brief minute in the limelight, and then people move on to the next emerging “big thing.” Short attention spans and technology in the palm of our hands–literally, at all moments of the day–have turned us
into a culture of overly stimulated, overly connected and overly exposed individuals.

As I deal with and watch teens, however, I’m starting to notice something: they’re increasingly sick of trying to keep up with this fast-paced world.

I think it’s the same conundrum as overeating cookies or turkey and stuffing–we’re gorging on technology, and we’re starting to get sick of it.

Over the years, I’ve been a keen observer of culture. I’ve grilled kids left and right–as any of the youth in my youth groups could readily tell you–and I’ve watched this shift in our teenage culture with growing interest.

Several years ago, I hosted my first retreat where we didn’t allow our middle schoolers to bring their cell phones to the retreat. My kids groaned and complained for weeks, and several tried to sneak their phones in to use furtively when they thought I wasn’t looking. It was a constant complaint throughout the weekend, that I was being unfair in banning cell phones. I countered with explaining that, just as a phone needs time to be plugged into a wall to recharge, we needed time to be plugged in to God–without interruption.

Over the years of hosting that same retreat, however, I discovered less and less resistance when it came to banning cell phones. Kids stopped complaining, and hardly anyone even attempted to sneak a phone along.

I realized something profound: kids wanted to disconnect, even if for a brief while. And they needed an adult to step in and give them some healthy boundaries for disconnecting from technology. And starting with temporarily ditching our personal cell phones meant dealing with it in a very meaningful, powerful way.

Testing that theory, I took it a step further, banning the use of cell phones during our youth events. To my surprise, there wasn’t a word of complaint from any of the dozens upon dozens of kids who came to youth group.

Now, one might say that it was just that particular church where it wasn’t an issue. However, this phenomenon wasn’t just limited to this one group–it’s been the case in every youth group I’ve led or conference of kids I’ve spoken to in the last several years. From California to Texas to Virginia, the kids I’ve dealt with have happily clicked off their phones and handed them over.

Today’s teenagers want time to themselves. They’re tired of trying to keep up with this fast-paced world, and this weariness even extends to how they feel about their cell phones.

I truly believe that teenagers need more time to unwind and socialize face-to-face–basically, they need to be kids. They need to goof around, be rowdy, wrestle, giggle and run around in the grass. Their brains need time to create and invent. Their bodies need time to move, and their poor fingers sure as heck need some time away from
those tiny keyboards. After all, they have the rest of their lives to sit behind a desk and try to keep up with the demands of paying bills and juggling responsibility.

What I’m not saying is that youth are completely done with their phones–that’s not true at all. They now use them seamlessly with basically every moment of their lives, documenting their meals, feelings, classes, vacations, friendships and relationships, movie and music preferences and outings. It’s very likely that your average teenager is never more than five feet away from their cell phone at any point in the day–nights included, as most use the alarm feature on their phones.

What I am saying is that you can model healthy use of technology to the youth you work with, and you can incorporate safe times where teens can unplug and engage in the things that actually matter–like building relationships within the Christian community and learning about the vast depth of our Savior’s love for us–without trying to compete with the constant temptation and burden of cell phones.

My gut tells me that most of our youth, if they’re being honest, crave a time to just be apart from their phones–and that they’ll eventually admit it to us. As youth leaders, it’s our responsibility to start having these conversations with our teenagers, to help guide them along in their journey to adulthood and set realistic boundaries that will benefit our kids for the rest of their lives.

Depending on your particular situation, it might work to set the first half an hour of an event as a designated “phone free” time, or it could be beneficial to have students turn in their phones in at the door when they arrive for youth group. Ask them yourself what they think is reasonable–just start the conversation and see where it goes.

Really, it’s worth the risk when it means that we’re helping our kids connect one-on-one with Jesus…without the beeping and buzzing of a phone in our pockets.