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Take a Trip & Lose the Phone

Take a Trip & Lose the Phone

Can I get super real for a minute? I think I’m addicted to my phone. I hate it. I’d love to go back in time to my original basic blue NOKIA phone. Do you remember that one? It only made phone calls in and out. It was free to use after 9 p.m. When texts were first introduced, they cost ten cents for each one!

It’s been an interesting journey to watch the cell phone evolution with students. There are a lot of positives that have come from our phones, but there are also a lot of negatives. How we balance them as leaders can set the standards for our students. What happens when we free students to live without the expectations/limitations of a phone for a short time? 

I’ve been on a lot of overnight student trips with different churches, denominations, and para-church organizations, and I’ve noticed that there are many different leadership styles for approaching cell phones. They are all good, and I’m not trying to disregard any of them. What I’ll suggest next is from an outsider’s perspective since most of the trips I’ve been on, I’ve been a volunteer. 

What I’ve noticed is that the trips that pack the most punch are the ones that force students to completely, one hundred percent, put down their phones for the entire length of the event. Phones are taken up upon arrival at camp and are not given back until they leave! It’s crazy, wild, and beautiful all at the same time. The degrees of separation are real, but in the end, most students will tell you it’s worth it.

Besides a complete take-up, what are other ways to tackle the phone situation? One is to ignore it and let students have their phones at all times. I would not suggest this method. Students may like it, but we aren’t doing them any favors by ignoring the issue. If this is you, I challenge you to consider what it would look like to slowly start introducing a different method/expectation.

Another option is to take up phones and give them back for part of the day. This is a great option but doesn’t completely break the addictive cycle for students. They are still anxiously awaiting the time they will receive their phones back and still checking all the socials immediately upon return. It’s helpful, but is there more?

The final method is what I already mentioned. Completely take up phones and not give them back until the end of the trip. Honestly? It’s my favorite, and here are a few reasons.

  1. Today’s students don’t know a life without personal cell phones. They don’t understand the freedom that comes from not being attached to a small device. It’s always been a part of their lives, whether or not they like it. Give them an experience of a lifetime. Most likely, there will never be another time they are “free” of their phones for an extended period.
  1. Taking phones up for the entire trip frees students up to be themselves and not worry about what they are missing out on or be afraid of what will be captured. If they have it the whole time, they consistently see what their friends are doing back home or posting themselves. If they receive it for part of the day, they can think about that all day until they get it back and check-in.
  1. It gives students the mental capacity to be present. I’ve already mentioned this, but when students know they don’t have to check in or even see their phones, it changes how they think. They are free to focus on what is before them in the moment.
  1. It allows for fewer distractions and gives them the ability to hear clearly. From you, your leaders, and most importantly, from God.
  1. Relationships deepen exponentially when students are outside their environment. Taking away the pressure of a phone only enhances that pace.

If you’ve never done a trip like this, I can promise you will get pushback from both students and parents. Here are a few rebuttals for you.

  1. I need my phone for pictures. Disposable cameras are back and make the best vintage photos. (I cannot even tell you how much it hurts to write that sentence!) Or leaders can take pictures and send them out at a later time.
  1. My child needs a phone so I can stay in touch with them and know what they are doing. Leaders will have their phones, and your students can check in with you at certain times of the day. They will be more eager to talk to you since they haven’t all day! 
  1. I need to keep up with my streaks. Y’all, some things are meant to be broken! But in seriousness. Ask them what’s more worth it. Something trivial now or investing in their future?
  1. My child has a health reason to keep up with his/her phone. This will need to be negotiated on an individual basis.

Ultimately, as the leader, you make the final choice. I can’t make it for you. These are just my observations of what I’ve noticed over time. And my final suggestion? Whatever path you choose for your group, could I encourage you and your leaders to set down your phones for as much time as possible? I recognize there are sometimes you can’t, but when your students see you doing the same, trust is built. And it’s good for you!

Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • How do you handle phones on the trips your ministry takes? Has that been fruitful?
  • What are some common rebuttals you get from parents and students about phones?

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