Are Your Students Phone Addicts? (Yes, They Are.)

February 2nd, 2017

Bzzzzzt. It’s a familiar sound. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll hear it from Facebook, ESPN, or Pokémon Go (is that still a thing?) before the end of this article. It’s so familiar that you might have experienced a “phantom vibration” and not even had a notification at all. If we youth workers are hyper-aware of our phones, our students experience it ten-fold. So how do we engage students that are constantly waiting for the next notification?

Acknowledge it

First off, doing nothing should not be an option. Students are thinking about their phones, even when you’re crushing that message you worked all week to prep. Students are masters of glazing over. You need to at least acknowledge the phones’ presence. There’s no “right” answer to this dilemma, and in fact, our SR High and JR High ministries take two different approaches.

Turn it on

The easier (at least to begin with) approach would be to simply meet students where they are. They have smartphones, so capitalize on it! Let students pull them out for games that involve taking pictures, scrolling through Instagram, or taking polls. Get creative (or if you’re not creative, find stuff online).

Our SR High program begins with an anonymous “text-in” environment. We set up a Google Voice number (which is free) and put it on the screen before the evening’s discussion. The leader has an iPad on stage with the Google Voice app, and texts come directly to the iPad. Once the questions start, the answers begin pouring in. By reading answers aloud, the leader can moderate answers coming in and also text back later if something needs following up. Students are remarkably vulnerable when answers are anonymous.

Once students have taken time to use their phones, they are more likely to put them away when it comes time for the message.

Turn it off

Our JR High Wednesday program is called “Unplug,” and the theme of the evening revolves around unplugging from distractions. We’ve worked hard to create an atmosphere where students feel free without their phones. At the beginning of each night, we have a moment where we all turn off our phones, leaders and me included. If you try this approach, make sure to communicate it to parents! As expected, we got pushback from students, but they’ve grown accustomed to it.

Being separated from phones has helped students realize their addiction and has given them freedom to be themselves in our ministry environment. Now, students look forward to unplugging from the outside world and focus on being present in community.

Now these are just a few examples of how to engage students with phones. Every student and every ministry is different. What approach do you take? What resources do you use?

Lane Gramling has worked with EPIC JR High at Montgomery Community Church since January 2016. He is passionate about equipping students with gospel-centered resources to KNOW, LIVE, and TELL the story of God. Before joining EPIC this past year, he worked full-time at Sky Ranch Camps in Texas. Lane is a graduate of Taylor University, majoring in Christian Educational Ministries. When he’s not with students, you can find him drinking fair-trade hipster coffee, playing soccer, or telling terrible puns.


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.