They are known as Generation Z. They are creative and collaborative. They are smart. They know more about the world due to the Internet then many of us knew by the time we were adults. They are concerned about their environment. They are true multi-taskers. They brand Life and what’s popular with a simple click of a “Like” button. They have never known life without technology. They thrive on user-generated content and self-publishing. They live for speed and instant access and gratification. Their resource for problem solving is asking, “Google it,” or “Is there an app for that?”
The generation between 1994 and 2004 are true digital natives. From the time they were toddlers they were exposed to digital media in the form of games, videos, computers, and cell phones. They have their own form of shorthand known as “texting” and “instant messaging.” Children in grade school can fix computer problems that baffle many of the older generation. Everything is digital, online, fast, fun, and accessible whenever they want it. They have countless friends of Facebook – friends they barely know at all.
Many children struggle in school due to A.D.D. – Attention Deficit Disorder. In the church and home I call it R.D.D. – Relationship Deficit Disorder. The current generation has found its identity in a digital world where emotions are expressed through combinations of keyboard strokes and thumbs up or down instead of a hug, time spent together, or a real conversation. Gamers find relationships with other online gamers instead of in backyards or playgrounds. In many cases these gamers will never meet yet they will spend as much as 50 hours a week interacting in an imaginary world.
Many of us previous to Generation Y or Z find this imaginary world frivolous and silly. To Generation Z it is very much real and it’s all they have ever known. The information they consume is all in bite-sized pieces. They cannot focus long on time-consuming tasks. If they cannot find the answer quickly they would rather search online or ask someone to give them help then to spend time trying to work it out.
It’s no wonder that when it comes to their relationship with Jesus Christ that they suffer R.D.D. Jesus doesn’t update Facebook. Jesus doesn’t play the latest video games. Jesus doesn’t text message. Jesus doesn’t have His own YouTube channel. Jesus doesn’t exist in their imaginary world. If the majority of their world is online then where can they find Him? How will they get to know Him? How will they “Like” Him? How will they communicate?
The answer to the dilemma is not in getting “plugged in” but getting “unplugged.” It’s getting our children back to the world of reality where smiles are on faces and hugs are given with two arms. It’s in having real conversations at a real dinner table. It’s having devotions in the home where parents and children talk about real problems instead of the latest gadget. It’s in training children to pray and worship a real God, in real time.
Many will agree with these statements but the question remains, “Who is going to pull the plug?” Parents cannot expect children to unplug themselves from what they see as their world. The modern child feels they have the right to their digital world and get offended when someone steps in to pull them out of their reality. Parents feel helpless because “all the other kids are doing it.” They themselves are often caught up in their own version of the same world. Babysitters are now computer screens and game systems while quality time is now recorded in the form of status updates.
If parents, guardians, or mentors do not pull the digital plug at times then we are, in effect, leaving children to spiritually parent themselves. A child cannot teach themselves things they don’t know; yet they are always learning. Where is their source coming from? Friends? Videos? Hollywood? YouTube? Role-playing games? Games can’t teach a child to build a friendship with a real person who has real problems. Digital entertainment can’t fix matters of the heart.
The day we live in is saturated with technology and there’s no way around it. In the beginning God created the world. We weren’t happy with that so we have created a digital world that is nothing more than humankind’s attempt at being their own solution. Now we have passed that world onto our children. Technology in itself is not bad, but it can never be a replacement for God. It can never be a replacement for fellowship with each other. It can never be a replacement for prayer. When mankind attempts to fix everything ourselves we become our own god, building another Tower of Babel. There’s an app for that – if not, we will create one.
The solution is found at the source of power. You must unplug your home from the digital world and plug into the real source of power, Jesus Christ. Relationship Deficit Disorder can only be medicated with prayer, and time with God and each other. As parents we must train our children to pray in a real world that has real problems. We must train them as to what is real and what is not. We must train them to find answers on their knees instead of on the Internet. We must train them how to talk to God and how to hear Him speaking to us. They can’t train themselves.
If the world our children are growing up in now is mostly digital and imaginary then what kind of world will they leave for their children? Who will pray to when war arises? Who will pray when disaster strikes? Who will pray when diseases overtake a loved one? Who will pray for our nation? Will they know how to pray at all?
When needs arise and the question is asked, “Is there an app for that?” the answer should be, “No; but there is a God!”
Get unplugged. Train your child to pray.
WNOP, Kids & Youth Prayer Coordinator