Written by Sarah York.
“There’s no WAY I’m going a week without my phone.”
We’ve all heard that one before… right? The first time we break the world-ending news to our high school friends that no-phones is, yes, an “actual, legit, no-lie thing” at Young Life camp. Even for fall-weekend, just a few days away from the world of emoji-language and double-taps seems too hard to let go of. Not to say I don’t get it… I’ll be the first to admit a rush of panic occurs when I can’t seem to find that little black rectangle somewhere deep in my Mary-Poppins work bag. But you see, something is changing within the technicolor world our high school friends are living in… and we must learn how to adapt.
I remember the first time I had to break the no-phone news to a group of sophomore girls I’d been pursuing for months. We were sitting around their cafeteria table. Each girl held a bright-yellow Windy Gap flyer in one hand, and hot-pink iPhones with matching stickers in the other. Their eyes shifted, flyer to phone, flyer to phone. Finally, the leader of the girl-squad looked up at me.
“So, I’ve heard that you take away our phones for this thing. That true?”
She set down the flyer, picked up her shiny, green apple, and took a large bite. Eyes never leaving mine. I gulped.
“Girls, I can tell you this. It’ll be the best weekend of the year. I want you to come with me.”
I smiled, still determined, no matter how much each crunch of the apple made me jump inside.
“So, phone or not?”
“No phone… But what if I told you you wouldn’t want it back the moment we got back?”
“What about our streaks?!” Two girls, who had yet to speak at the table until this moment, piped in unison.
They saw my visible confusion… “Streaks?” I asked, ignorant of this new-found form of quick connection.
I was then given the break-down of the Snapchat go-to: A daily, quick photo that keeps score of your “best friends.” In other words, the people you send a momentary “snap” to each day. And if you miss a day, your “streak” and “best friendship” with this person is lost, and you have to start over. Some of the girls proceeded to inform me that a few of their streaks were over a hundred days, and that they had dozens of them – a plethora of people they kept up with on a day to day basis. This blew my mind… Talk about commitment!
By God’s grace (and the grace of the girls’ siblings who kept up the streaks while away), those girls got on the bus that fall, and yes, indeed had the best weekend of their lives. I’ll never forget what one of my high school friends said as we pulled back into the school parking lot late Sunday night. She looked at me, bags under her eyes from lack of sleep, and her voice scratchy from singing at the top of her lungs all weekend.
“Sarah, you were right. I don’t want my phone… I want these real friendships.”
We both glanced around the bus, watching the beauty of our phoneless friends, using their hands to tell stories and their eyes to really see the person in-front of them, rather than thumbs flying, always scrolling, eyes glued to the screen.
Last spring, I had an incredible professor who assigned our class a Washington Post article by Jessica Contrera, titled, “13, right now: This is what it’s like to grow up in the age of likes, lols and longing.” And boy, did it blow my mind about the world my high school friends live in. The Apple-driven world, that is.
You see, we can’t blame our high school friends for their sore thumbs and screen-glazed eyes, and we certainly can’t critique their inability to un-grip the twenty-four-seven attached rectangle from their hand. Why? Because that’s all they’ve ever known. And we’re following right behind them.
Have you heard about the crazy new workout program called MIRROR?
Their aim? “No wait lists, no crowded parking lots. Just your home, the mirror, and you.”
We can now pick up groceries without even going into a store. We can watch movies without going to the theatre. And now, we can even exercise in classes without going to the gym. People are longing for actual community, but finding themselves in isolation behind a screen.
So… What do we do? We do what we, as Young Life leaders, know so well.
We meet our friends where they are… deep in the valleys, hidden behind the screens, and we help them lift their eyes. Because sometimes, all we need is someone to point and say, “LOOK!”
Take a high school friend you know that’s drowning in the unfulfilling self-gratification of likes and views, and invite them on a mini-adventure. Whether that be a field near a local airport to watch planes land, or a gas-station for an extra-large ICEE, or a park on the edge of town to see an end-of-summer sunset. Leave your phones in the car, laugh a lot, and don’t Instagram it. Whatever you do, don’t post it. Live in it. Drink it up. Be.
As my sweet high school friend said – “I don’t want my phone, I want real friendships.”
Me too. Let’s go make them.
For Sarah York, everything changed in the back row of the club room at Windy Gap on a cold, late-November fall weekend trip in middle school. Sarah grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and graduated from Wake Forest University in May of 2018, where she led Young Life at Reagan High School. She currently works at WFU in their Personal & Career Development office as a part of the Wake Forest Fellows program. If you would like to submit a post for The Young Life Leader Blog, here’s how you do it.