Not only am I fascinated by trends, I believe they hold predictive indicators. When studied, these trends allow us foresight into coming areas of need and potential for ministry opportunities.
I recently read a report with compelling evidence showing a strong correlation between increased amounts of screen time among teens and increases in depression and suicidal ideation and attempts.
This trend is particularly alarming because the new “normal” is actually quite abnormal. It’s become natural for this generation of digital natives to spend an average 7.5 hours on screens daily just for purposes of entertainment–not including school or homework. However, this much isolation is unnatural to our physiological and biochemical makeups. God created us to be in community.
Most disconcerting about this report: the two main factors contributing to youth suicide are perceived loneliness and stress. Perceived loneliness and stress…the lies social media and digital interactions are perpetrating in the minds of our young people.
What can we do now?
While suicide is now the second leading cause of death among school age youth, the bottom line is that youth suicide is preventable.
Our global studies indicate that we can combat these perceived feelings of stress and loneliness that lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts by encouraging youth to engage in non-screen activities like sports/exercise, homework, and attending religious services along with strong family interactions and engaging with God’s Word. We, as role-models and parents, need to be sure we are setting a good example for our children by limiting our own screen time, staying active, and pursuing healthy friendships and communities. Setting aside time each day or week to spend screen-free time with our children will help create a space to discuss any stress or worry they are feeling and help them navigate their friendships both on and off screen. Remember, when it comes to social media or the internet, there is nothing your children should be engaging with that you don’t have access to and an understanding of. Create rules for screen use in your home and have regular discussions with your children about what they are encountering and how they can always come to you should they have negative experiences or encounter things they don’t understand. Screens such as phones, tablets, computers, and televisions are a privilege and not a necessity. So, if you feel your children are being negatively affected by these kinds of technologies, don’t be afraid to place strict limits on their use, or not allow their use at all.
Secondly, since our children are going to have to learn how to navigate technology one way or another, we need to make sure we are filling them with truths about who they are in Jesus. We can do this by reinforcing what they are learning in church or youth group. It’s not enough to take our children to church and assume what they are being taught is being understood. We need to help them navigate what they are learning about Jesus and do our best to answer any questions or concerns they have. They are searching for answers about who they are, and if we don’t help them find the answers in Jesus, they will try to find them elsewhere. When our children perceive they are alone and misunderstood or feel stress because of their interactions on social media or the internet, we need to help them find truth and hope in Jesus. Regularly arming ourselves and our children with the Word of God and helping our children navigate the ever-changing, fast-paced world of technology will help them understand that with Jesus they are never alone and can handle anything this world – or the virtual world – may throw at them.
Technology is not something to be feared, but we must inform ourselves about the benefits as well as the dangers of entering the online world and help our children do the same.