My 15-year-old daughter, Lucy, is facing a dilemma. Lucy was recently invited to serve in a new mentoring program that connects senior high girls with grade-school girls for a weekly gathering focused on preparing the younger girls for the world of middle school. She’s the only freshman among the nine girls selected for this program; most are juniors or seniors.
So far, no dilemma. Lucy’s been involved in community service for more than five years. And she loves Jesus with an all-in fervor. That’s why Jeff Storm (GROUP’s Art Director) suggested she be the cover model for this issue of GROUP.
But from the beginning, the woman leading this program expressed concern that Lucy doesn’t have a smartphone, and has purposely chosen not to get involved with texting. She’s told her girl mentors that she’ll be communicating via texting—a lot. Over the years Lucy’s heard a lot from me about cultural and psycho-social research on “over-connectedness,” but past that, she’s seen firsthand how the introduction of smartphones has radically changed her relationships with friends. We had to talk her into getting a basic phone when she started high school, just to stay in touch as her schedule ramped up.
Anyway, we’ve told Lucy that if she wants to be involved in this group, she’ll need to agree to the leader’s stipulations. But the leader is already sending out a flurry of texts even before the program begins. Lucy doesn’t understand the huge focus on non-essential communication via texting, and we’re all realizing that if she participates in this program, it’s going to force a lifestyle change that she resents. I’ve tried to tell the leader, in a lighthearted way, that Lucy (and we) have made some counter-cultural choices about connectivity, and have given her some brief reasons why. But this leader has written two rather forceful emails to us, emphasizing how important texting is to her. Though Lucy really, really loves the goals of this program, she feels stuck. So I asked my youth ministry friends to “pastor” me as I wrestle with all of this, and I promised to pass on their feedback to Lucy:
Doug Richards—My advice is to let Lucy be Lucy. If they can work with that, great. But if they can’t, it’s not going to hurt her to move on.
Jeremiah Isley—Questions to help you sort through this: Is the leader possibly gauging commitment/enthusiasm of the mentors by their “pre-program” participation/communication? Might she be particularly skeptical/mindful of Lucy because of the age difference? Does texting with the leader completely break your cross-cultural conviction? Or is it just a quicker and effective way for the leader to contact 10 people all at once with the same information? My gut says that the leader was up front about her weapon of choice when it comes to communication, and if that hill is insurmountable it becomes a matter between Lucy and God.
Darren Sutton—I want to assure you that Lucy’s decision to be less “connected” technologically will in no way stunt her impact or future. If the leader has a smartphone, then she should be well aware that texts can also be sent to email addresses. And I would remind Lucy that any communication involves a response—even if it’s just an acknowledgement of receipt.
Liz Simmonds—My go-to is always “Help me understand _______.” In this situation: “Help me understand what you’re looking for in a response from participants.”
Jon Batch—You and Lucy are agreeing to be connected to an organization that uses texting to communicate—you either comply or not. You have a great opportunity to help Lucy deal with conflict. She can develop leadership skills she’ll continue to use throughout her life.
Melissa Rau—Any form of communication can be perverted and distorted. In a culture that is over-saturated with noisy messages, the trick is determining how to communicate effectively. In baseball, the pitcher and a catcher understand each other through their finger cues and head shakes. When they agree on the way the ball is going to be thrown, the catcher knows where to be, and the pitcher trusts he’ll be there. In this game, the chosen “pitch” is texting. You need to know how many pitches will be thrown, and what expectations the leader has of her catchers.
Tony Myles—I’m a huge fan of where you’re trying to direct Lucy. This is a tension she won’t just face today, but even as an adult when her future peer-group will navigate what “everyone is doing.”