Advice on Youth Group Cell Phone Policies

March 12th, 2017

I remember the first time I saw a smartphone. I was at a pastor friend’s house that was always in the loop on the latest technology. As soon as the iPhone came out, he had to have it. Me? I prided myself in the Gospel-like simplicity of the Razr flip phone I’d been sporting. I didn’t need to be one of those American consumers by wasting money on something like a phone.

That was until I got my own iPhone one year later. Before I knew it, I was playing Harbor Master so much that I had to charge my phone three times a day. It pulls you in. I’m a sucker for the latest game, ranging from Angry Birds to Trivia Crack, Fruit Ninja to Clash of Clans, and, yes, Candy Crush – which I’m embarrassed to admit, I still play.

But the smartphone has added more to my life than just entertainment. I’ve become much more organized through administrative apps. I operate off of a to-do list now. I’ve lost a bunch of weight using a calorie tracker app. Heck, I even tune my guitar through this thing. It has changed my life for the better.

As youth leaders, we have a bipolar relationship with our phones. In our personal lives, we feel that the smartphone is our friend, giving us the necessary tools that we were not innately given at birth. Once we come together as a group, the smartphone is the enemy. It is the sole member responsible for ruining true community.

Revival could break out among the students, but even if it did they’d miss it unless it happened over Snapchat.

Are cell phone policies necessary? Absolutely. However, don’t fall for the common traps.

Trap #1: Don’t default to “no cell phones allowed.”

This goes against that voice that you hear inside your head. But creating an environment that is 100% phone free is unnatural for teens today. While the intention of cracking down on the phone use is to create better involvement, it may actually create a greater distraction – the anxiety of being disconnected and the focused energy on not reaching for your phone.

I get it – this sounds like a cop out. But I believe that there are spaces in your program that would benefit from some flexibility.

Trap #2: Don’t sound like your grandfather when talking about cell phones.

Erase these phrases from your vocabulary:

“When I was your age…”

“You all are so addicted…”

“How hard is it to…”

“Can you even survive without…”

“You ought to be reading from a physical copy of the Bible, not a digital copy.”

Your students are going to strain their vision by the severity of the eye rolling that will incur. Speaking of simpler times doesn’t help them in this fast-paced world in the now. Guilt won’t be a motivator. And every time something like this is said, the gap between student and adult is widened. These statements are ineffective and more harmful than you think.

Trap #3: Don’t leave out the “why” of a cell phone policy.

Today’s students must be shown the reason behind anything to fully accept it. Enforcing a policy without continually sharing the “why” will just cause frustration and distance. Think about it – you’re not against cell phones; you’re for something greater. You must make that connection for your students.

Our policy is that phones are fine during hangout time and games, but when it’s time for us to group up and talk they can only be used for looking up Bible verses. What we share is that we believe in being present with those we are around. Presence is always the “why.”

Having a cell phone witch hunt would be easier. There are kids that take advantage of the policy and use other apps than the Bible app. But it’s a wrestle that is worth having.

It’s time for us to show students how to meld technology and presence. We do them no favors by removing the source altogether. Our job is to teach them how these two can coexist.

Jonny Radcliff is the Student Ministries Director at Storehouse Church in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He lives nearby with his wife, Sarah, and two kids, Laelle and Levi. His almost ten years of ministry have been spent in Indiana and Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Grace Theological Seminary. It is Jonny’s hope that his efforts will help youth leaders all over the Philadelphia area operate as one unit. For more info, check out www.youthminlifers.com.   


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.