The use of technology has permeated our lives. Despite age, income, education or location, the use of technology is a given for everyday tasks such as communication, navigation, shopping, research and convenience. Many of us can recall the days before we had the whole world at our fingertips but can’t quite recall how we coped without it.
If we keep the practice of religion separate from technology, then we keep religion separate from the everyday lives of young people.
Accompaniment is a word we throw around a lot in the world of ministry, but it is a term that means different things to different people. So how do we accompany youth in their relationship with technology in a way that allows them some freedom while giving them the benefit of our experience? I like to use the analogy of the Driver’s Ed Model. If you ever took Driver’s Ed in high school or recall a loving adult teaching you to drive, it is usually a pretty involved process. When preparing a young person to get behind the wheel, we take several deliberate steps to try to ensure their safety. You may have taken a class, had to pass a test and likely had to practice with a grown up by your side. Download a checklist for catechists and adults to use to navigate the digital “the rules of the road” of technology use with Catholic kids.
Looking at this model for forming young people in their relationship with technology makes a lot a sense when you think about it as a practical and teachable skill. Here’s how!
Discuss the Rules of the Road
It is important to set expectations clearly and openly as well as explain why the rules are there. When teaching someone to drive, we provide finite guidelines, rules and laws for what is and is not acceptable or safe. It may seem obvious, but how can we expect young people to know what they should and should not do online if we don’t tell them?
Understand and Mitigate Risks
Adults have a responsibility to become informed about responsible and healthy use of technology. Just as we would warn against distracted driving, looking out for hazards and how to respond to unexpected conditions, we have to be prepared to both practice and preach good digital citizenship.
Accompaniment While Learning
We don’t just hand a 16-year old the keys to car and hope for the best! Depending on which state you live in, there is probably some mandated period of time that a new driver must be accompanied by an adult with a learner’s permit. Children are exposed to technology at very young ages both in school and at home. This is our chance to ride in the passenger seat and give feedback, not only to keep them safe, but to help them engage with a larger world.
We expect young people to pass a written and practical exam to show that they understand the rules of the road and can operate the vehicle properly. In the same way, we should provide opportunities for young people to show us how they can be positive users of technology as well as responsible content creators.
Reinforce the Rules (with Incentives for Good Conduct)
Even with the best parental controls or filters, young people can be fairly ingenious in finding ways to work around them. Young people WILL make mistakes in judgement with their technology use. Recognition and reinforcement of positive behavior can be a powerful motivator for building trust. Try to catch and compliment good behavior and if they come to you for help with a problem or having made a bad choice, recognize the courage and trust it took to come to you for help.
Even after a driver is experienced and licensed, they still have to renew their license. Periodic check ins help keep your technology skills honed as well as serving as a place to discuss and reinforce your rules.
Trust is a beautiful thing, but there is no reason to set temptation at their door. Create acceptable use policies, use Internet filters and engage and inform parents as partners so they understand how parental controls and safety features can protect their child.
We should pray for our young people who are inundated with digital noise but also teach them how their devices can aid them in prayer and spiritual practice as well.
If we keep the practice of religion separate from technology, then we keep religion separate from the everyday lives of young people. Download the Accompanying Youth in a Digital World: The Driver’s Ed Model Checklist to reflect on forming young people in their relationship with technology and to prepare for our exciting Masterclass.
Andrea’s Masterclass starts February 4! Enroll now to take part in the Ministering to Catholic Kids in a Digital World Masterclass.
Andrea D. Chavez-Kopp currently serves as the Director of Advancement and Business Development for the National Catholic Educational Association. Prior to joining the staff of NCEA in 2015, Andrea spent 15 years as a parish youth minister and Catholic school teacher. She is a thought leader and national expert in the area of using technology for catechesis. Besides being a techie herself, she has two teenage boys who love their devices. Andrea writes and speaks around the country on topics related to ministry, educational technology and professional development.