The Character Movement


Smartphones — It’s time to put them down.

Youth Frontiers builds community and connection with young people. We inspire and help kids see the importance of critical values like respect and kindness.

Two things that I am increasingly concerned about that counter our efforts are the unrestrained use of smartphones and the prolific use of social media.

A few of many examples:

1. Recently, I watched a teenage couple on a date at a local restaurant. The girl was texting and talking on her phone the entire date while the boy just stared at his food and slowly ate.

2. A superstar English literature teacher shared with me that once her students all got iPads, none of them looked her in the eyes while she tried to engage with them from the front of the room.

3. A pediatrician told me she’s greatly frustrated that parents allow their children to use smartphones in their bedrooms at night — despite the negative health effects, like sleep deprivation and increased anxiety.

This year, we will lead more than 850 retreats involving more than 128,000 students. I recently shared with my leadership team that I believe the greatest threat to the quality of our retreats is the challenge of getting kids (especially in high school) to put their phones away during the retreat.

The Challenge of Smartphones

Why is this a threat? Because on our retreats, presence is a prerequisite. If students are focused on their smartphones and not on our staff or their fellow students, they jeopardize the community we aim to build. And in the absence of community, character suffers.

For this reason, we are restricting cellphone use on our retreats. This will not likely be popular with kids (although I’ve heard many teenagers say they wish there was no social media). However, we promise schools and our other stakeholders that the quality of our retreats will be best in the world. To maintain that quality, we must take a strong stance. It may be somewhat of a quixotic challenge, but it is a worthy one and an important one.

Help Us Build Community

We will also be speaking more directly with parents and schools about the problem with unchecked smartphone and social media use. Research on its negative impact on our kids and grandkids continues to emerge, and we need to get ahead of it. Young people need healthy boundaries. Adults and elders must provide those boundaries for the well-being of our young people and for the sake of healthy communities.

I invite you to join us. Continue to put down the phone and talk to each other — whether at the dinner table at home, or during the work meeting at the office or in the lunchroom at school. My hope is that taking a stand on this serious and growing issue will help you as a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, a mentor. My deeper hope is that our action will play a part in regrowing community filled with respect and kindness in our society.

Written by Joe Cavanaugh, Founder & CEO of Youth Frontiers. Post originally appeared in The YouthFront.

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