Teenagers may seem like foreign beings that speak an unknown language, but rest assured they, like all other age groups, seek the same thing – relationship and belonging.
They are searching, open, enthusiastic and are often as confused as the rest of us.
Currently, I am working full time within a Sydney high school as pastoral support plus developing the schools marketing and communication. Recently I have found myself reflecting on how technology is woven into relationship and belonging for our youth?
Many of us remember our teenage years with the blissful absence of cell phones, Aunty Google or anything App related. If as a teenager I had said to a friend, “Hey, I’ve ordered shoes on Wiggle, tagged the Pope, Lago filtered on Insta…” I would likely be sent for a mental health check! (#LostThePlot). These were simpler times; we navigated the murky swamp of adolescence by founding our relationships and sense of belonging through note-passing, limited landline calls, face to face conversations and when we left school property our interaction mostly ceased.
Today our youth navigate the same murky swamp that is filled with confusion, hormones, friendship loss, searching (where do I fit?), but they have the added element of technology. For many, Social Media (Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook etc.) is a beacon of light helping them to navigate through the swamp haze; it is a vehicle creating connection, inspiring, helping them find where they belong. But for some, Social Media (if used incorrectly) can fuel the fire of bullying, isolating instead of connecting, leaving them stuck in sinking mud.
Our teenagers either love Social Media or loathe it; opinions are strong and clearly divided. I recently surveyed 200 high school students: ‘Love’ was born of a desire to chat and connect with friends instantly, sharing, journeying, learning with each other. ‘Loathe’ is founded in a preference for more tangible face to face relationships and is often rooted in soil tainted by previous bullying or misuse of social media by themselves or others. This often creates fear of Social Media either through what has happened to the person, or what has happened to their friend (“I don’t want that to happen to me”). No wonder opinions are intensely divided as they navigate the murky swamp.
To LOVE or to LOATHE — that is the question…
My spirituality and faith are based primarily around relationship and communication. I believe Jesus was communicating a message, a presence and he used the communication methods available in his time. Now in our time I find myself wondering… If Jesus were here would he would have a Social Media account? How would he use it? What would he ask Aunty Google?
Like it or loathe it, it is here to stay; Social Media and technology are part of our lives. Future employment will be based in technology, creativity and innovation. I feel passionately that in our emerging global society Social Media and technology can be used for good, it can create connection and relationship. But we must also be aware of bullying and malicious use, and continue to be open to its development.
It seems to me that we as adults have a choice to make: Do we say, “Oh, it’s too hard, I just don’t know how it works…” And with this option I find myself imagining a freight train carrying connection to our youth getting further and further away from the Relationship Station…
But if I choose love and curiosity perhaps as an adult I can learn with our youth. When I ask curious questions not only do students self-identify but I also learn; finding solidarity in curiosity. Not only can technology connect our youth but it can also be a train line to connect generations.
As an example I recently created an Instagram account for ministry (@msj_light) and have achieved amazing results in a matter of weeks. There is a new buzz among students, teachers and parents, the spirit of connection and belonging is alive. This is a powerful tool.
How it would be if we openly ask pastoral questions of our youth as they search and experiment?
- What’s your favourite App?
- How is it for you when you use Snapchat?
- What does it feel like when you use that App?
- Can you show me something you learned online this week?
- What’s the best photo filter for me to use, and why?
And how can we help our youth with guidelines regarding appropriate use of Social Media? Visual aids? A check list of simple question/s they need to ask themselves before posting anything online? Can we model this ourselves and in our organisations?
Pope Francis has addressed Social Media and its use many times, most notably in his 2015 papal encyclical Laudato Si. He wrote: “Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.” (1)
Papa Francesco seems to be saying that we need balance, and I think he’s onto something. Social Media and technology are wonderful, yet we need to ensure that our youth can learn to use technology in moderation through appropriate education in our schools and churches.
Love or Loathe, in this Year of Youth what will you choose?
I hope you will join me on this curiosity train to relationship station…
Jane Maisey rsj
Images used with permission. Creative Commons.org
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