If you work with the youth of America in any fashion, be it youth ministry or as a parent, you know that we have identified this generation by the inventions that they have been raised among. Some call them the Internet Generation or the Digital Gen, which leads many to assume that this generation not only is always online through a digital interface some how, but that they actually prefer it.

That notion could not be further from the truth. But before we get there, let’s look at how they got that name.

  • 90% of teenagers are connected to the Internet through phones, laptops, or gaming devices. In fact, there are more ways to get online now than ever before.
  • 68% of teens text daily, girls more than guys
  • 51% visit Facebook daily, sometimes for more than 3 hours a day
  • Some rough estimates believe the average teen is on a digital device up to 13 hours a day and can be as high as 18 hours!

While those numbers seem to scream that they have a problem, what those numbers do not reflect are what the teens know about this heavy usage and their desires for something more.

  • 1/3 of teens actually long for time off from the Internet while 36% of teens wish they could go back to a time when there was no Facebook.
  • 49% of the surveyed teens prefer a face-to-face conversation above any other form of communication.
  • 41% of teens consider themselves addicted to their phones and 43% wish they could unplug (half of those wish their parents would join them too!)

[Study from CommonSenseMedia.org]

The question for you, be you youth pastor or parent, teacher or just someone who sees teens at church, how are you helping or hindering the situation? They had to learn these habits from somewhere and be given permission (even if it is an unspoken one) from someone. Are you perpetuating the problem or offering a solution?

If you do not get anything else from this article, hear this: teenagers not only want face-to-face conversations, but they want to be heard. Sometimes it comes across as needy and whiny, but they are navigating a turbulent time in their lives where their identity is shifting from being within a family to developing into an adult and it is not a safe journey by any means.

What can you do within your context to promote a healthier way of communicating that honors the teenagers?

Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.