A while back I wrote a blog post explaining why we don’t allow students to bring cell phones (or any other devices) on mission trips; you can read it here. I was actually surprised at the amount of conversation it triggered on Facebook and elsewhere. One of the reasons I feel that we are able to ban devices on our mission trips is that we communicate the heart behind it over and over … and we allow them on everything else.
The last thirteen years as a full time youth worker have been fascinating when it comes to technology. When I first started, teens almost never had cell phones. The only devices they had that were remotely portable were discman’s and Gameboys. We wouldn’t allow them on trips, retreats, etc., because we were concerned somewhat about what was being listened to, and far more importantly, the purpose of the trips were building connections and relationships and the devices really got in the way of that. It was an easy ban to enforce; discman’s seemed small at the time, but they couldn’t fit in a pocket, and even a cd wallet is still somewhat bulky. The same went for Gameboys; once you factored in the charger, cartridges, and other assorted gear, it wasn’t something that was easy to hide. So all in all, the rule had a good value (protecting the purpose of the trip) and was mostly easy to enforce.
Flash forward a decade or so … and these cell phones are more powerful than the computers we had back then. One small phone can access the internet, call, text, contain movies, tv shows, stream videos, house a massive library of music (and stream whatever is missing), as well as be a video game hub. It’s also teens’ primary camera (usually the only one), and socially, a must have device more important than just about any other possession.
More significantly, parents are used to being able to contact their kids wherever, whenever. I used to complain about this all the time; that didn’t use to be the reality, why are people so dependent on it now – but I get it now. Sending my older boys to peoples’ houses, events, activities, sports, etc., is unnerving at times and I feel better when I send a phone with them. If something is wrong, I want them to text or call immediately, not be looking for someone to borrow a phone from (payphones are virtually non-existent now a days). The reality is, when phones are banned from events, overnights, retreats – you name it – many of the parents tell their children to bring the phone anyway and keep it hidden.
Which is why we allow phones to everything (other than mission trips) now. Why have a rule that is incredibly difficult to enforce, that parents don’t buy into, and basically has the bulk of the group immediately violating it? It’s just not worth it. Talk about setting up for failure!
So we’ve changed the rule to say that kids are not allowed to use devices during any group functions; this includes the van/bus ride (we are together as a group!), any scheduled activities, meetings, after lights out, etc. The consequence being a warning, and then confiscating it (a system they’re very used to in school). Basically, they’re allowed to use them during the limited free time periods, and the rest of the time they need to be in their pockets, out of sight and silenced. The benefit? They can contact, or be contacted by their parents at any point, while we are still protecting our intent of group connections and relationship building.