Teaching Digital Natives

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Here’s how to keep today’s techno kids from “powering down” the minute they walk into your room…

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Recently I casually observed a mixed-age ministry program in a small church I visited, and something caught my eye. I noticed something about the kids that I don’t think I’d ever really seen before–though I’m sure I’d witnessed the same thing previously.

Five-year-old Kira followed her teacher around the room, toting a DVD and endlessly imploring the teacher to get the remote so she could watch her favorite Christian video. Eleven-year-old Maria fiddled with her iPhone, playing games, texting friends, and running new apps she’d downloaded, while 8-year-old Jordan played with his dad’s new Flip phone, making goofy videos of the kids and then replaying them for laughs. Two other kids sat huddled together at the room’s lone computer playing a Christian video game and lamenting the lack of an Internet connection so they could play with others online.

So what struck me about this small group of kids? It wasn’t the abundance of media and tech gadgets in a humble ministry. What I really saw for the first time was how all the kids–from the youngest to the preteen–were naturally integrating all the technology at hand into their casual experiences that evening.

We used to say that today’s kids were “wired.” While this is still true, we need to add “wireless” and “unplugged” to the mix. Kids are connected to technology everywhere they are–whether it’s at a home computer or walking down the street texting. Today’s kids are uniquely adept at and equipped for our technological global existence–much more so than many of us adults leading them.

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A conundrum has been developing in public education that’s left a majority of professional educators truly at a loss: They watch as students, who outside of class quickly master every technological advance unveiled, walk into their classrooms and glaze over, check out, or “power down” because the lecture-based style is so outdated and undeveloped that it’s rendering the classroom experience irrelevant.

The common refrain of students who’ve been interviewed about the topic is essentially, “I’m bored stiff when I go to class.” Many say they feel they must turn off their brains when they walk into classes because their teachers don’t understand how they learn best. Students today are rejecting the lecture-based classroom. “My teachers just talk and talk and talk,” kids say. “It’s not Attention Deficit–I’m just not listening” one classic T-shirt reads.

So many educators, while loaded with expertise, knowledge, professionalism, and dedication to their calling, are frustrated when it comes to connecting with their students in real and meaningful ways because technology has in essence rewired their students’ brains. This digital divide is a generational issue that’s arisen essentially unforeseen out of the technological age we live in–and it holds implications for our children’s ministries.

For those of us navigating the church halls every week seeking to equip our kids with a relational knowledge of God, it’s more important than ever to open our minds–and hearts–to the reality of kids’ unique wiring and capabilities. Even if we ourselves don’t navigate emerging technology with the casual dexterity our kids do, we can learn to become interlopers in their world. A mere willingness and openness to learn, to try, to adapt will help us avoid the “power down” effect with the kids we minister to.

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About Author

Jennifer Hooks

Jennifer Hooks is managing editor for Children's Ministry Magazine and a contributing author to Sunday School That Works (Group).

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For more great articles like this, subscribe to our magazine, Children's Ministry Magazine.