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Conflict In The Internet Age

 —  January 21, 2013 — 8 Comments

I remember a time when I didn’t have an email address, when I had a friend in high school who had Napster and in a good evening where no one picked up the phone  and cut the connection we could download 3 songs and couldn’t believe how fast it was. I remember a time before Facebook and Google and I don’t know if I liked it better but it was definitely different. Working with students today, they have never known a world without the internet, never learned the beauty of using a library card catalog to find a book or fumbled with a microfiche reader. There are so many redeeming and exciting things about the world that we live in now, but I am starting to think that there are some unfortunate side effects that will cause some new challenges that we need to know how to take on.

Case and point: Conflict

In the past few weeks I have had some tough conversations with several students about their life and the road it was leading them down and talked to others about pride, attitude and spiritual arrogance. In both cases ;as kindly and gracefully as I could tell them, neither have not been back to the group since our conversation. I have reached out, called, messaged and apologized for the way the conversation made them feel. As it says in Galatians 4:16 Have I become their enemy for telling them the truth? There seems to be a growing trend for students to not know how to engage with people they disagree with and would rather avoid the conflict and part of the root of this I feel is coming from the fact that:

Students don’t have to put up with anything they don’t like.

Whether its music, TV, or conversations, young people today have the world at their finger tips. If they don’t like the song, they have thousands available to them in seconds. Gone are the days of waiting for the song on the radio to finish or turning it down. Today they don’t have to put up with anyone else’s music because they can bring their own. Have you driven past a school bus of students recently? Its white ear buds from front to back. No more 99 bottles of beer on that wall. They have hundreds of TV channels plus DVRs, Youtube, Hulu, Netflix means that they never really have to watch anything that they don’t have to. Entertainment is on demand so why should people not be the same?

So logically the same expectations of instantly getting what they want enters the realm of relationships. They know what they want, and they know what they don’t. With hundreds of friends on Facebook, the moment that a relationship is not what they want anymore they switch and go find one they better. Sadly this is exactly what is happening when students experience conflict. The modern conveniences of our culture are teaching our students that compromise is not necessary or important. Teenagers can block anyone from my newsfeed whom they disagree with or don’t like. With phone in hand, the moment an event gets remotely boring or uncomfortable they reach for the phone to find something or someone better or at least less awkward than what is in front of them. They can find engaging community online with every area of interest in their life. Friends who they share common interests and  with are only a text or app away, so why would they talk to someone who might not share their thoughts / opinions? That just seems like work.

This is the challenge we are going to engage in, how do we teach students the value of healthy conflict and that you can be friends with people you don’t always agree with?  How can we go make disciples if we are unwilling to engage those whose opinions differ from ours.

In the next 2 weeks I am going to be writing a 6 part series on things we need to teach our students with our lives before we preach to them. I pray is helpful and encouraging to you. Working with students is never easy and this new generation that wants things their way or no way at all is going to be even harder to reach.

-Geoff – Twitter geoffcstewart 

Geoff Stewart

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8 responses to Conflict In The Internet Age

  1. Geoff,

    the question I have is “How is this going to affect the church at large in 10-15 years (or less) when today’s teenagers will be primed and trained for leadership positions in churches?”

    • Brent – you are hitting the nail on the head. A friend of mine is trying to find Pastors for his growing Church and he is looking for young leaders and is having trouble finding anyone with a pulse. Young leaders are hard to find.

  2. SO very true! Social media has taken the “social” out of many people’s lives….people (adults included) are many times trading in “cyber friends” for real face to face friendships and relationships, and as you stated, are losing the art of communication and growth as a person you receive when you are challenged by the differences in others.

    What is truly scary is how this trend will also impact relationships and marriages…. If you don’t have skills in dealing with conflict, learning how to weigh words spoken as they relate to you and take what you need to learn from it (or ask forgiveness for etc.), how to deal with other points of view and still remain friends, how what other share with you can help you grow as a person though the growing part may be a bit painful, never mind learning how to communicate with someone who has a conflicting point of view or who cares enough about you to share the truth with you for your betterment and accountability….

    What scares me is how this can very easily become the seedbed for self centered lives and “irreconcilable differences” in marriages and friendships as people do not have the skills to work through conflict and grow as a person as well as become stronger in their relationships because of it. We all need people to “sharpen us as Iron sharpens iron” and though the process is far from pleasant at times, the rewards are very worth it in multiple areas of our lives. Look forward to your next posts.

  3. cool – i really look forward to reading this.

  4. Hey Geoff,

    Great thoughts and insights for us to look forward to. Definitely questions I have been asking lately while thinking about getting some students to engage and others that need forms of discipline.

    Can’t wait for the next 5 parts

  5. As a Mediator who works with conflict for a living I can say that dealing with conflict is a skill. We are just not hard wired to deal effectively with it but we sure can learn the tools to navigate these waters. What is missing is a willingness and or motivation to deal with it. In this day and age, it is just too easy to walk away. I am looking forward to reading more. You have tapped into some real challenges, Geoff, that teens face today. Thanks for shedding light on this.

  6. Fantastic post, dealing with some of the same things in our ministry. Looking forward to reading the 6!

  7. Great post and great topic to wrestle with in youth ministry. I am working on a series right now about how technology has changed our lives and has affected every area, especially our faith. I look forward to your future posts on this.

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