IN THEORY:

According to a recent article in the Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor, today’s young adults struggle to engage in life outside the digital realm. How can teens stay connected without losing touch with the outside world?

God’s fundamental desire for everyone is that we would love Him with all our hearts and love others as we love ourselves. Technology can help us in those pursuits, but it can be a distracting hindrance as well. Following a few of God’s basic guidelines can help teens stay in touch without having to give up their iTouch.

The most important source of goodness for anyone is to have a personal relationship with God. James encourages us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .” (James 1:7). Everyone who is spiritually alive is led by God’s Spirit. So if anyone has a personal relationship with God, He will lead them toward what is healthy and honoring to Him, and away from what isolates and alienates us.

Jesus Christ claimed to be the one and only “door” through which we enter a relationship with our Father in Heaven. Being personally involved in a local church keeps us connected in a healthy way. There we lift our focus up to God through prayer and worship and instruction in scripture. We interact with others of all age groups in uplifting and caring ways. Worship gets us out of the weekly rut of chores and duties and away from the TV or video game screen.

If any of us seeks God first, He promises to give us every good thing we need to lead a meaningful life. So I would encourage anyone who wants to stay connected with others to be rightly related to God through Christ, to be regularly involved in worship and to be purposeful in giving God priority in every area of life.

PASTOR JON BARTA

Valley Baptist Church in Burbank

Like a lot of people, I attended graduation events recently, and I noticed that there were clear generational differences in how the audience was experiencing the day. The grandparents had all gotten there early to get seats up front, so they could see and hear the ceremonies in person. The Boomers were all watching the big-TV-screen images. The 30- and 40-somethings had their camcorders glued to one eye, and their cell phones to one ear. And the 20-somethings and teens didn’t care where they sat, and hardly ever looked up at the stage — they were all texting one another, from wherever they were on campus, and sending real-time photos of backstage hugs and goofy grad shenanigans.

Which of us had the most “real” experience of the day? Got me. I can really see, though, that it might have been those young people, who were using the digital realm to be both broadly and immediately immersed in the present moment, in all its dimensions, expanding the boundaries of that moment’s truth beyond any one person’s physical locale.

Maybe the shorter way to say it is: Since I’m too old to understand and participate in the digital realm and the community being created therein, I’m trying to have the humility not to judge it as any less real than my own outside world. And Lord knows there are plenty of days that I march through the outside world absolutely oblivious to it, without any excuses of digital technology taking its place, only my own shields of self-absorption to blame. How many roses did my own generation never stop to smell? Each generation and every culture has to find its own answer, apparently, to how to be vibrantly alive, and live closely connected to one another, to the Earth, and to greater truths and causes beyond ourselves.

It’s said that the spiritual practices of all great religions boil down to the effort to be fully attentive to the present moment, in all its holiness. If digital technology is the latest version of that attentiveness, then more power to it.

AMY PRINGLE

Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in La Cañada

Over the last 15 years, we have witnessed revolutionary changes in the way we communicate and share information. And while the advent of these new technologies is largely positive, it is also true that we run the risk of weakening our direct human connections if we become too fixated on computers and cell phones.

We need to create positive, “real life” events that appeal to teenagers and encourage them to engage in constructive dialogue and interaction with others. It is also important to establish specific times in our homes when all electronics are turned off and only communication with family members is allowed.

Although this is easier said than done when the average teen seems constantly preoccupied with one digital gadget or another, we must actively strive to boost face-to-face dialogue. As parents and teachers, we ultimately bear the responsibility of raising our youth. In addition to setting reasonable limits on texting and Internet access, we must lead by example.

This issue is not just afflicting teens but society at large; without even realizing it, many of us have gravitated toward new forms of communication, entertainment and information-sharing where contact with other people is no longer necessary. Today, a person can text his wife dinner plans, e-mail his brother-in-law the weekend schedule, send his mother a birthday e-card and top it all off with a visit to YouTube or Hulu. If this is the picture our children see when growing up, how can we expect them to be more social as young adults?

Spiritual teachings instruct us to harness all innovation for positive purposes, including these latest and most powerful digital methods of communication. It is absolutely wonderful that today we can disseminate religious teachings and spread valuable information across the globe in seconds. At the same time, we must remember that there are potentially serious downsides to a digital society, and we need to protect ourselves and our children from falling prey to these negative effects. This is done by taking a proactive, decisive role in the lives of our teens, showing interest in their daily activities and expecting the same of them.

New technologies can complement and enhance our social interactions, but they must never dominate or replace them.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills

Every action in the outer world can be traced to an inner desire. Some people have the opinion that our desires are so deeply buried in our subconscious mind that we may never really know what our inner desires may be and how they manage to rise to the surface of the conscious mind and ultimately find expression as our outer actions.

When young adults, or teens, immerse themselves in “the digital realm,” they are expressing a desire for connection. This is a good thing. Let’s acknowledge fascination with digital technology is an attempt to feel connected with life. However, it is a temporary connection and a diversion from the reality of life. It is an illusion and does not provide the inner connection or peace that the seeker really wants.

All of us, no matter what our age, seek connection. We want to feel connected with others. We want to feel valued. We want to feel that we have purpose in life and that we contribute to the greater good. It seems to me that we can find the answer to this process with a spiritual approach to life. The way for young adults to feel connected with life is to find the ultimate connection with God, their Higher Power, through meditation. Meditation provides the connection that satisfies the soul. Sitting in the Silence provides the “peace that passes all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7)

THE REV. JERI LINN

Unity Church of the Valley in Montrose

Modern technological advances provide both a blessing and present a challenge. Clearly, there is much good to be said about the Internet, cell phones, iPods and similar technologies. These technologies have revolutionized our society in many ways and have changed how we do things and interact with one another.

Yet, the power of these technologies has created challenges that affect both youth and adults alike, with the youth being particularly vulnerable. As a church, we recognize this and have encouraged parents and youth to confront technology issues head-on. This does not mean that technology should be avoided or blamed as “evil.” Rather, parents have the responsibility to work with their youth on how to handle these technologies appropriately and to develop well-principled boundaries for them.

Over the years, the Latter-day Saints Church has established standards and programs to help the youth and their parents. In 2001, the Latter-day Saints Church provided guidelines for our youth by issuing the “Strength for Youth” pamphlet. These guidelines include counsel on how to handle these new technologies. These guidelines can be found at www.lds.org.

Moreover, all youth are invited to participate in our youth programs, which provide a wide variety of experiences that are targeted to expand our youths’ experiences. They include service projects, youth conferences, skills development, social activities (including youth dances), outdoor activities, sports and public speaking. In these programs, our youth are challenged to better themselves, set goals and learn to function in an ever-changing world. Parents are encouraged to participate and work with their youth in these endeavors.

BISHOP FRED L. CARPENTER

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As a father with techno-kids myself, I am ever wondering about the results of so much digital life. Certainly our parents worried when TV became steady fare in all our homes. Their heads also shook when our teenage phone chats went on endlessly, and when Walkmans launched, we all had wires hanging out our ears, and surely we should have gone deaf.

Yet, here we are, defining another generation with newer appliances and greater advances that hold younger interests. The problem with the latest electronics is that they are so easy to reach for, and within seconds, time becomes immaterial. Left to themselves, teens and tweens can game, chat, and text to the tune of every spare waking moment. Mine often bring their hand-held gadgets to church. They aren’t allowed to touch them during services, but when everything concludes and the adults visit in the foyer with coffee, the youth congregate elsewhere exchanging ideas about games, swapping digital characters, and linking their devices in collective play.

Reflecting on this reminds me of an alarmist film I’d seen from the 1950s that showed boys “wasting” their youth reading comic books instead of being out playing ball or doing something less destructive to their development. Solomon once said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV), and perhaps our current dilemma once again proves his wisdom.

As in times past, our parental duty is to train them by deliberately stoking alternative interests and providing other activities. Be proactive. When we were kids, we might have sat on a stoop asking each other, “Whatta ya wanna do? I dunno, whatta you wanna do?” Today’s kids don’t ask this. Is it better or worse? They’re kids. Be thankful we won’t have to deal with whatever their kids find especially captivating.

THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM

Montrose Community Church ?

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I think the struggle in question belongs more to “the outside world” than it does to our teenagers. We — the parents, teachers, pastors, and adult friends — don’t want to lose touch with our teens, and we’re frightened at how out of control their subterranean lives have become. Rightfully so.

As the article in Our Sunday Visitor observes, why does it seem like a good idea to post nude photos of yourself to digital space? That stuff will torpedo you today and then follow you around forever. An old high school friend has posted our jazz band performances from 1981 on Facebook. Fortunately, we were really good, and this is not embarrassing. Today’s teenagers will not be able to say the same about 28-year-old sextings.

It is really an adult responsibility to create environments in homes, classrooms, and faith communities in which the wisdom of sexting and the parameters of civilized conversation are modeled and discussed? When our youth minister (an avid texter) told the confirmation class that they couldn’t take cell phones on retreat, there was initial panic, but guess what? They got over it.

Since setting expectations for our young people and ushering them into adult life has always been what adults are supposed to do, we should be asking ourselves when we became afraid of doing our job. Or maybe we are setting expectations, but going about it in the wrong way. Professor Chap Clark wrote a book about CV teenagers in which he concludes that adults stress kids out with unrealistic expectations on things like standardized test scores (do they really matter?) and over-achievement on the sports field (“have fun!” becomes “win!” very quickly) and don’t help them sort out what is important. Stressed out and abandoned, teenagers retreat to their subterranean world and just try to survive.

I tried this theory out on some young friends. They didn’t disagree; in fact, they seemed to appreciate that an adult got it right. This question of connection — digital and real world — is rich. It’s worthy of further public conversation from thoughtful teenagers, perhaps via this column.

THE REV. A. PAIGE EAVES

Crescenta Valley United? Methodist Church?


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