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What Tech-Savvy Kids Need From Your Ministry

Meet the tech-savvy kids in your ministry — and discover what they need from you.

Statistics paint a picture of digital saturation in childhood. According to KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), kids (ages 2 to 18) spend an average of five hours and 29 minutes per day using media. Larry D. Rosen, professor and research psychologist at California State University (Dominguez Hills), found 35 percent of children ages 6 months to 3 years have a TV set in their bedroom; 10 percent of kids ages 4 to 8 have a computer in their bedroom; and 51 percent of those ages 9 to 12 have a cell phone.

Children ages 2 to 6 are just as wired as their older siblings. Market data firm NPD concluded in their report, “Kids & Digital Content,” that close to 15 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds use cell phones. Children in this age group don’t own these portable devices; they share them with a parent or older sibling. Soon-to-be tech-savvy toddlers are crawling through the nursery at a church near you.

Today’s children, regardless of location, class, or education are the most digitized generation in history. This “reformatted” generation, which spends countless hours in front of a digital screen each week, has developed a reformatted worldview with several distinct characteristics. Understanding these characteristics will make us more effective in reaching their generation.

Tech-Savvy Kids Collaborate

Today’s kids share what they create because they love to collaborate. Take a look at the PlayStation game, LittleBigPlanet. It allows players to create and share their own game levels and play the game levels created by others. LittleBigPlanet players have created over 10 million pieces of game-related levels, challenges, and music for more than 10 years.

With all that sharing online, kids need a clearer understanding of the permanence of content. For today’s kids, whatever they share digitally (comments, opinions, ratings, artwork, video, status updates) resides online forever. There’s a certain level of risk associated with that longevity.

KidMin Tip

Kids need to share meaningful creative work with more people than just their parents. And adults still need to provide caring oversight to ensure appropriate things are shared.

Tech-Savvy Kids Create Media

Jay Rosen correctly identifies this generation as “the people formerly known as the audience.” When YouTube launched, it birthed a generation of content creators. And create they have. YouTube boasts 24 hours of content uploaded to its servers every minute, the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of videos per day. Once the Flip cam came to the market, media production became financially accessible to more children. Whether at home or working in a classroom, children actively respond to the media they view. Unfortunately, much of children’s ministry resources center around lectures. Because kids are no longer passive learners, they’ve become far less responsive to traditional teaching methods.

KidMin Tip

Experiment with video in your ministry context. Invite tech-savvy kids to help produce the content. Upload it to YouTube with parents’ permission.

Tech-Savvy Kids Socialize Online

Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Togetherville aren’t separated from reality; they’re integrated into it. Social networking in virtual space connects with education in physical space.

This connection is a premise in Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus. “Social media tools are being used to coordinate human contact and real-world activity,” he writes. In other words, kids aren’t going online to waste time. They use social networking tools to maintain and build relationships and to make a positive change in the world. Consequently new generations have developed changing definitions of relationships that clash with older generations who are unaccustomed to nurturing friendships in digital spaces, a skill tech-savvy kids use almost daily.

KidMin Tip

Leverage the power of social media tools to connect tech-savvy kids to your community of faith.

Tech-Savvy Kids Are Wired for Games

Technology, most commonly in the form of gaming, is deeply integrated into the life of a tech-savvy kid. Research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, part of the Sesame Street Workshop, confirms findings that up to 84 percent of children ages 2 to 14 are gaming on a computer, video game system, portable digital music player, or cell phone.

Jane McGonigal, a video game designer and author of the book Reality Is Broken, advocates the power of video games to change the world. The gamer’s sense of confidence and feelings of control tie directly to video games. So according to McGonigal, “When we play games, we are tapping into our best qualities, our ability to be motivated, to be optimistic, to collaborate with others, to be resilient in the face of failure.” Screen time, outside of videogame addiction, is fostering the real-world application of these skills learned in digital space.

KidMin Tip

Use games and the principles behind game design as powerful teaching tools, not just mindless entertainment.

Tech-Savvy Kids Expect More

Today’s children live in an era of technological abundance. The typical American child lives in a house with multiple TVs and videogame consoles. Kids up to 12 years old send and receive an average of 1,178 text messages every month.

Access to content is growing as well. Websites are too numerous to quantify. Web tools such as Google answer every question with countless results. Children’s Technology Review reveals “more products have been published in the past 48 months than in the first 27 years of children’s interactive media.” A simple search in the iTunes app store reveals thousands of apps tagged for kids. In today’s era of technological abundance, kids expect more: more options, more answers, more friends, more screens, more tasks, more time — just a little more.

KidMin Tip

Understand that with so many options at their fingertips, tech-savvy kids have difficulty understanding or comprehending digital scarcity locally and globally.

Tech-Savvy Kids Make Connections

The Internet is a natural environment for tech-savvy kids. Even the language used to name and describe the Internet is connective at its core. Consider the term “World Wide Web.” When introduced around 1990, the “web” consisted of links that connected to other links. Now those web connections involve more than hyperlinks; they involve people. Children long for a linked, nonlinear world that allows them to think and dream about their future but also enables them to go back in time.

Tech-savvy kids have learned that it’s easy to make connections when they watch and rate a video on a sharing site, comment on and publish posts, read and reply via messaging, invite and play with Game Center, or post and brag on Snapchat. You can help parents and kids develop digital literacy so they can wisely navigate the wealth of connections they can and want to make.

KidMin Tip

Tech-savvy kids are nonlinear thinkers; start integrating nonlinear tools to help them learn.

Tech-Savvy Kids Participate in Learning

Tech-savvy kids who create media, share their work, and spend their lives connecting to others want to be part of the learning process. A key term in thinking about these emerging cultural shifts is “participatory learning.” Participatory learning includes the myriad ways that kids use new technologies to participate in virtual communities where they brainstorm, plan, design, implement, advance, or simply discuss their practices, goals, and ideas together.

Participation in the digital learning process is dramatically different from the traditional model, which tends to be more hierarchical (teacher talks, child listens). In participatory learning, kids help fashion the learning experience. The difficulty is designing environments that are engaging without depending too much on making those environments entertaining. Children want to participate in the process of their learning, and this desire requires a new sensitivity on the part of the teachers and leaders involved.

KidMin Tip

Stop asking kids to sit and listen; start asking them to help you teach.

Tech-Savvy Kids Move at Light Speed

Remember being a child and thinking that certain shoes were “faster” than others? For me, moving fast is a thing of the past. But when I watch television, check my email, or interact with an entire small group of children during a weekend service who have their smartphones handy, I’m reminded that the world is getting faster, not slower. Mobile data, the Internet, computers, gaming scores, and operating systems are all gaining speed. The lives of children echo the changes in technology.

Tech-savvy kids think, adapt, and live faster than I do. Older generations may have difficulty keeping up with the pace of kids in addition to the rate of change brought on by the reality of our digital world. The risk for older generations who hold the responsibility for teaching tech-savvy kids is becoming obsolete and irrelevant.

KidMin Tip

Wrestle with the tension between slowing down to help kids experience and respond to God and keeping up with the changes in their world.

Matt Guevara is a veteran church leader, author, and the associate director of digital initiatives at the Cory Center for Children’s Ministry

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