It’s OK to Put Down the Phone — honoring silence

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Breaking the Addiction to Technology Within Catechesis

MICHAEL ST. PIERRE

I can still remember the Confirmation class I taught years ago. There I was, with 15 teenagers, talking about the impact of the Catholic faith on our lives. Admittedly, it was an uphill battle. Some kids would arrive late due to soccer practice. A few would have to be caught up on last week’s material as they had missed class. Nonetheless, after an hour and a half (and some homemade brownies that would make even an atheist pay attention), we had found some common ground. I didn’t have any form of technology to “enhance” my lesson … just me and my students talking about the faith.

The Noise Problem 

Today’s catechist deals with a new kind of battle. Soccer practices and student absences remain, but the new tension is over-attention. We live in an attention economy with billion-dollar companies vying for our eyes, ears, and thoughts. Walk into your local grocery store and you’ll see what I mean. Ads greet you on the cart, in the aisles, and over the piped-in music — nudging you to buy something that’s not even on your shopping list.

Students face this noise as well, most often a result of the smartphone in their pockets. In less than a minute, they can use Google to fine the definition of the Immaculate Conception and transubstantiation. Add to this the excitement of Twitter, Snapchat, and text messages, and you have an outright tug-of war for the attention of young people.

Adults are not without our own culpability. We may use Google Docs to share meeting agendas and email as a means of parish communication. An app like Flocknote can be used to communicate with the parents of our students. These are good uses of technology, but the omnipresence of the internet makes it harder and harder to see the benefits of an “always on” culture.

Compelling Research

If you saw the 60 Minutes episode on June 11, 2017, you’ll know that companies like Facebook and Snapchat design their apps to get you hooked. Each click and “like” form a compounding effect of wiring your brain to keep checking your phone. (See the box on this page for more.)

The Pew Research Center reports that 92 percent of teens use the internet daily, and 24 percent indicate that they use the internet “almost constantly.” (For that research link, see the box on this page.) That equals six hours per day of screen time — checking for updates, hoping for “likes,” and keeping up with friends. I don’t know about you, but that sounds exhausting — yet that’s the reality for one in four of our teens.

Silencing the Noise

Knowing that our use of technology can impact us more than ever, it’s critical that we model healthy uses of technology with and for our students.

Here are five suggestions for making this work for you and the children in your care:

Honor silence in your daily life.

Silence is difficult in the age of the smartphone. Finding spaces for silence in your own life can cultivate an appreciation for the mundane times when we can pray and be attentive to God’s presence. This may be during our commute to work, when we are standing in line, or during a few minutes of morning prayer. As Thomas Merton said, “In silence we face and admit the gap between the depths of our being, which we consistently ignore, and the surface which is untrue to our own reality.”

Give students permission to observe silence. In my experience, young people need to be given permission to not use technology. This means that it’s perfectly all right to tell students that, during class or prayer or a retreat, we won’t be using technology. To most students, this will come as a relief.

Embrace technology if it serves the purpose of your teaching. If a short video clip can accentuate a point you are making with your class, use it. If a song can help explain something, play it. If a website provides an example of something of value, recommend it. We are not saying that all technology is detrimental, only its constant use.

Establish certain “no fly” zones. My wife and I have made it a point to establish the dinner table as a “no fly zone” where we don’t use smartphones during meals. This has given our four children license to be more present to one another. Which aspects of your ministry do you want to establish as a “no fly zone”? Many catechists find that class time and prayer time are better served without the aid of a lot of technology.

Practice a digital sabbath for yourself. This may be the most valuable strategy of all. By participating in a “digital sabbath” once a week, you’ll begin to cultivate a love for things “analog” in your own life. Reading, resting, and truly enjoying a sabbath will help break your own addiction to technology. You may find that your prayer life grows stronger and your relationship with Christ finds new space to expand.

One day a week will do that. These strategies are just that — methods for making sense of the technology in the lives of those we serve. As with any technique, these will take some practice. I suspect that, as with all things, practice will ultimately make perfect.

MICHAEL ST. PIERRE is the executive director of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association. His personal blog can be found at MikeStPierre.com

 

This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, February, 2018.

 

PHOTO CREDIT: SYDA PRODUCTIONS/SHUTTERSTOCK

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