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Teens and Cell Phones
The Effects of Mobile Tech on Kids
An article from David R. Smith at TheSource4YM.com
8/13/2009

Cell phones give teenagers round-the-clock access to their friends and the world. They also provide teens with in-pocket, on-demand entertainment. Many kids say they can’t live without them.

But how is 24-hour connectivity truly affecting our teens?

Sweet and Sour
Cell phone use by kids today is a lot like the chicken at my favorite Chinese restaurant: sweet and sour.

Yes, there’s plenty of “sweet” that comes with owning and using a cell phone, for instance, teens hail the sense of connectivity and safety the devices provide them. On the more vain side of things, cell phones have also become THE way for teens to impress their friends. Finally, there’s the hope that cell phones will help bridge gaps between parents and kids.

But there is also a lot of “sour” that stems from teens’ misuse of cell phones. Educators have recently begun to realize the proclivity students have for using their mobile phones to cheat. No doubt, all of us have witnessed teenagers who are texting while driving… that is, if we look up from our own phones in traffic. And of course, there’s the whole sexting phenomenon, too.

And now, researchers are figuring the overuse of cell phones as a major player in chronic sleep loss amongst teens. Teens who forego sleep so they can text into the twilight hours are more susceptible to headaches, impaired concentration, and behavioral issues.

Like that sweet and sour chicken, misuse of mobile technology can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.

Solutions or Pseudo-Solutions?
These lists make it clear that cell phone use by teens can be a two-edged sword.

Yes, text messaging provides teens with instant communication to friends and family, but can also be deadly if combined with driving. The dangerous activity has alarmed a number of parents, and has become so severe that 14 states (plus Washington D.C.) have made the practice illegal. It’s almost certain that more states will follow.

On the sexting front, it seems like hardly a week goes by without a report of some teenager who is facing the consequences of embarrassing photos, or the threat of jail time for child pornography. Several lawmakers have also involved themselves in this racy affair, hoping to decriminalize the penalties associated with sexting and child pornography.

But do these solutions – making texting while driving illegal and reducing the penalty for naked pics of minors – really solve the problems? Illegalizing armed robbery hasn’t eliminated that problem, and lowering the punishment for any crime certainly won’t.

As usual, the best solution comes from careful instruction.

Teaching Tech
Yeah, I know all the jokes about adults asking teenagers for help when it comes to technology; after all, teens are definitely the experts on the subject. However, even though many adults never learned how to program the timer on their VCR’s, they still recognize dangerous behavior when they see it. It will be up to us as parents and youth workers to help students understand proper, godly, responsible, and respectful ways to use cell phones.

  1. Practice what you preach. As adults, we probably don’t face too many Geometry tests we’re tempted to cheat on, and we’re too embarrassed with our aging bodies to be sexting, but the temptation to text while driving is a very real one. But if have any hope of teaching our teenagers safe use of our vehicles, we’re just gonna have to wait until we get back home to respond to that incoming email or SMS.


  2. Consider others. It’s ironic that we don’t do this more often while using mobile devices, given that they were designed to connect people, but we must remind our teenagers that their use of cell phones can have a drastic impact on others. This girl learned that lesson the hard way when Dr. Phil – in classic fashion – ripped into her on his TV show.


  3. Let God weigh in on the subject. It’s His prerogative, after all. How we present ourselves at all times matters to God. Since youth ministry is often the crossroads between culture and faith, this is a topic that could definitely be given some attention. I’m not suggesting that we change the words of Sunday School songs from, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see,” to, “Oh be careful little thumbs what you text,” but I do think the conversations need to be had. TheSource4YM.com even has a free podcast (#13) that addresses some cell phone concerns. And here’s a really FUN EVENT you can pull off using kids’ cell phones.

Cell phones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We need to invest the time it takes into helping our teenagers learn to use them responsibly so that they avoid the consequences so many other teens unfortunately face.


David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.



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