Technology has been a mixed experience for youth. While today’s kids have never lived without being surrounded by tech, their experiences have been positive and negative. Computers enabled many adults to continue earning a living from home during the pandemic, but kids remember separation from their friends and the challenges of learning online.

Challenges included technology failures, password difficulties, and hours staring at a computer screen that left them complaining of feeling lazy. While they enjoy tech activities like playing video games online with friends, most crave face-to-face interactions. Kids prefer to use tech to enable relationships rather than conduct them. Youth are willing to use technology when it makes life easier, but they prefer to learn and have fun face-to-face, so a careful balance is needed.

Education and Technology

Technology can be used in fun ways to grab youth’s attention, but it is not their preferred way of learning. A screen with pictures of a text message conversation, including familiar text (mis)spellings, abbreviations, and emojis, can be an excellent way to grab attention and introduce a Biblical subject. However, technology should be limited in learning sessions.

For kids, learning through videos can feel like an endless lecture. It is one-way communication with no opportunities to learn hands-on or ask questions. Limit technology to attention grabbers and focus learning together on person-to-person interactions.

Instead of relying on technology to teach youth, engage them with mentoring and peer-to- peer interactions. Remember, kids spend plenty of time in front of screens. They can even feel like they compete with screens for adults’ attention. Imagine a teacher busily typing away at her desk on a computer while kids sit unengaged. Imagine a parent at a restaurant glued to their cell phone screen while their child plays with their food or handing their cell phone to their child while they talk to other adults. When teaching the important lessons learned inside the church, give kids the attention they crave and need to stay engaged. Get down on their level, such as sitting at a table or on the floor with them. Have plenty of adults available to work with small groups so kids get individual attention. Use object lessons, acting (role-plays/skits), and hands-on activities to reinforce lessons. Remember, kids will likely turn to their cell phones if you lose their attention with your technology, and they will not receive the important messages you are trying to send them.

Entertainment and Technology

When it is time for fun, kids also crave face-to-face interactions; however, some may be unpracticed. Regarding games and entertainment, think about introverts versus extroverts and find activities that suit both or a choice between activities. Do not force any activity on any child, no matter how “normal” it may seem for you or your group. Rather than boredom or a lack of interest, kids may be uncomfortable, particularly in large or unfamiliar groups they encounter in churches.

If there is no choice of activities, present youth with an “out.” One example is what is commonly called “icebreaker” activities, where a question is posed, and each group member has a chance to answer. Icebreakers are great for many kids. One kid may answer with a serious answer and another with a funny one, causing giggles or roaring laughter.

However, other kids dread the time when they have to answer. Rather than forcing the interaction, offer an option to pass. In other group activities, such as dodgeball or a craft project, also give the option to sit and watch with others who are uncomfortable participating. Not everyone is athletic or crafty, and an option to observe provides time for relationships to build between those with similar interests and relational styles. Kids will less often turn to their phones if they have an option for comfortable interaction.

Balancing Interaction and Technology

Sometimes, adults can become frustrated with what seems like kids’ overreliance on technology. However, they use it much the same way as adults. It offers safety and convenience. While adults may rely on a cell phone after a vehicle breakdown, kids rely on it to escape uncomfortable situations or check in with their parents. Adults and kids would be similarly frustrated with losing the sense of safety a cell phone brings. So, do not abandon technology entirely or try to force kids to abandon it.

Admittedly, it can be frustrating when youth pay more attention to their cell phones than what is happening around them. When it comes to kids and their personal tech, remember to “let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5). Sometimes, to keep attention, limits are needed, but use consideration when setting those limits. An invitation to “set your phone on silent and place it face down on the table so you can get involved with the group” will set a better tone and give an option. The invitation allows some to keep their safety net intact while alerting everyone that they can have the face-to-face interaction time they crave.

To achieve the best balance for your group, a good practice is to ask youth how technology works best for them. For example, please do not assume they all have an email address they check regularly. Instead, discover what form of communication works best for them. Because each group can be different, give kids a choice of activities as you plan for the future. There is a good chance they will want a balance of tech and non-tech activities. Also, survey youth occasionally after learning sessions to see what parts they enjoyed and which were not as helpful. Overall, be open to changing how you do things concerning technology as you seek to strike the best balance for each face-to-face opportunity so kids walk away understanding the love of Christ you model and teach them.