Teenagers & Technology: 3 Things you might be missing

July 31, 2015

Newsflash: Scientists say modern teenagers have grown another appendage.

Well, those are not their exact findings, but close. A recent Pew Research Study shows what any of us who have tried to look a teenager in the eye recently already know; they are superglued to their iStuff. Here are the study’s highlights:

In other words, they’re online. A lot. The hub of their existence is digital. It is how they connect with friends, vet new ideas and develop a worldview.

Teenagers’ hyper use of technology is not exactly new news. They have long been on the cutting edge of social media as natural early adopters. Just because that’s obvious doesn't mean we, as adults, have always responded correctly. Here are three three reasons to pay attention to what teenagers are doing online.

1. “I’m watching you Wazowski. Always watching you.”

That classic line from Monster’s Inc. is the gut punch all of us grown ups need as we post, comment and click away online. Just like Roz, the secretary slash head of a secret government agency, warned Mike Wazowski that her eyes were always on him, these numbers about the massive number of teenagers who are online are a warning: we are being watched.

While it may seem like teenagers have one world online and we have another, it simply isn’t true. Teenagers are watching how we behave online. They are reading what we post, and I’ve got to be honest, I think we’ve showed them just how low the bar can go.

All parents know that “do as I say, not as I do” is hogwash. So, why is it that we assume teenagers will ascribe to it when it comes to our behavior online? I don’t model Christlikeness online perfectly, but I’ve stopped pretending the teenagers in my world aren’t looking at my example through their Twitter and Insta feeds. For the next generation of social media loving Jesus followers, I’d like to urge us to raise the bar.

2. They’re hungry for human connection

Despite the fact that most young people have an average of 243 Facebook friends, it’s not translating into real-life friendships. Researchers theorize that they are spending so much time online that they no longer have time to go out with non-Facebook friends. Even with Facebook “friends” and Twitter “followers,” teenagers are lonelier than ever before.

“Skin hunger” is a real condition that is affecting more and more of us. Think of skin hunger as the adult version of failure to thrive. It has become such an issue that MIT students invented the Like-A-Hug inflatable jacket; a garment that inflates to “hug” you whenever someone likes your Facebook post. In 2006, the Hug Shirt was released. TIME magazine named in one of the best inventions of the year.

I can only assume that skin hunger has gotten progressively worse since then. In the absence of regular, meaningful human contact, we fail to reach our full potential. One study discovered that skin hunger was making young people as lonely as the elderly, the group typically seen as the loneliest among us.

The bottom line is this: the teenagers in your world need a hug. They need eye contact. They need someone to sit across from them in an actual coffee shop and carry on a conversation without emojis. Since Titus 2 calls all of us to invest in the next generation, this is important news. We don’t have to be cool. (Thank goodness!) We don’t have to develop slick programs. We don’t have to write or speak in teenager jargon. As we seek to disciple young people, the plan is simple: give them what they crave, human connection, and then point them to Jesus. You can do that!

3. The mission field is online

According to Barna, nearly half of Americans who accept Jesus as their Savior do so before the age of 13. Two out of three born-again Christians made that commitment to Christ before they turned 18. Clearly, evangelism is bearing fruit among the very young. My own walk with Christ is the result of a youth pastor who invited me and my sister out for pizza and then talked to us about faith. Evangelism and discipleship really can be that simple.

Since all believers are called to go and make disciples”as part of the Great Commission, sharing the gospel effectively should be our collective concern. The hearts of teenagers are one of the most fruitful mission fields on the planet. What’s more, the future of the Church sits squarely on their shoulders. We’ve missed something when we relegate the evangelism and discipleship of this people group solely to the guys with the cargo shorts and goatees.

While it’s true that we should seek to engage the next generation in person, we also need to go where they are: online. It is worth considering:

I’m glad we’re sending missionaries to places like Africa and China, but with the goal of making and training disciples in mind, I think we may be missing a potential gold mine. Teenagers are online, and their hearts are fertile places for seeds of Truth. As a church, we need reach out to this accessible and attentive people group with the Good News.

Stop the Eye Rolling

When it comes to teenagers and technology, we seem to have adopted a classic teenage posture. We roll our eyes, sigh and collectively throw up our hands about the fact that the young people in our world are glued to their phones. The facts are, they are attached to those handheld devices and that trend is unlikely to reverse. So, instead of bemoaning them, let’s engage them. Instead of dismissing them, let’s disciple them. I’m looking for a few good missionaries who are willing to raise the bar when it comes to who we are online and to look for ways to engage the teenagers in their world online and in person. Will you join me?

Erin Davis

Erin is a speaker, author and blogger who addresses women of all ages nationwide and is passionately committed to sharing God’s Truth with others. She is the mother of three boys and the author of 13 books which can be found on her website. Erin lives on a small farm in rural Missouri and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24