Welcome to our Summer Blog Series examining the impact of anxiety disorders on church participation and spiritual development in kids. Today, we’ll challenge you to think about how technology might be used to help kids with anxiety engage with church or share in Christian community with other teens.
Any parent of a teenager or anyone close to a teenager can tell you that most kids rely heavily upon electronic communication these days, either by cell phone or computer. The chart below demonstrates statistics examining cell phone usage and texting by age. Click this link to an article discussing the data in greater detail.
I don’t have hard data to support this, but kids with significant anxiety symptoms are often more dependent than their peers upon electronic modes of communication, especially text messaging and instant messaging. They can take time to contemplate their responses and perceive less scrutiny when communicating electronically. Most teens will text more frequently than they call. Kids with social anxiety may text almost exclusively. One teenage patient who was enrolled in a research study through our practice sent 18,000 text messages and used zero minutes of talk time in one month, according to her cell phone bill.
What if churches began to make use of available technology to keep kids who struggle to overcome their anxiety engaged with youth ministry? Could kids who are too shy to attend church or participate in small groups connect with a local church through an online worship experience, coupled with discussion facilitated and monitored by a youth pastor or group leader? How far away are we from online small groups in which kids could see and talk to one another and their group leaders in real time? Could they become comfortable enough with an online peer group that they could begin to connect with peers in person at their local church?
Are you aware of any churches using technology to reach kids with anxiety disorders, or any other disabilities? Feel free to contact me if you’re a youth pastor interested in exploring this idea as a pilot project.
I feel that using technology to help kids engage in a worship service or small group is excellent… and is definitely the direction things seem to be headed. I would hope that it would eventually lead to face-to-face community, but it’s a great way to break the ice and reduce or eliminate the anxiety that surrounds first getting involved. I would be cautious if the only Christian community one gets is while sitting in front of a computer.
I know that Internet Campuses are becoming popular among churches as well. They function the same as a typical church service (designated start time, worship music, announcements, message, etc) except that you “attend” via your computer. There are message boards and chat rooms for discussion, much like you described in your post.
The church I attend in the Indianapolis area is working towards opening an Internet Campus by the end of the year. I’m excited to see how it goes and to see how people with disabilities will be incorporated into this new type of environment. I’ll keep you posted on it.