Much of the discussion of Gen Z and screen time focuses on the amount (or quantity) of time that students spend on their smartphones (or screens in general). But, that’s only half of the discussion. It’s not just about quantity when it comes to talking about screen time…it’s also about the quality of the content that students are consuming. In other words, if we want to help students have a healthier approach to the devices in their lives, we have to help them think about what they are engaging with. Otherwise, they just become mindless consumers.
As mentors, we can start the conversation with our student(s) first by learning what they are using their screens for. Generally speaking, their screen time is going to fall into a mix of the uses we mentioned in the March 1 Mentor Minute: playing video games, streaming video/TV, listening to music, and scrolling through social media feeds. But, you may also find that they have other uses that are more unique to their particular interests or hobbies (like film-making, or photo-editing).
Once you have an understanding of where the quantity of their screen time goes, you can start to explore the quality side of the conversation. Here’s a great question to start…
On a scale of 1-10 (1=not at all; 10=a lot), how much do you think about the content of your screen time?
And, a good follow-up question to that might be…
Why do you use your phone to ______________________ (fill-in-the-blank)?
So, for example, if your student is playing a lot of video games on their phone, you might ask them why. The answers could be anything from, “I don’t know” to “Because they’re fun” to “Because I’m bored” to “Because I need an escape” to “Because I like to play with my friends.” Whatever their answer is, you’ll learn a little bit about how much they think about the quantity and the quality of their screen time. And, that gives you an opportunity to engage them in conversation about how our screen time can be used in both healthy and unhealthy ways (remember…you’re trying to help them see the difference between thoughtful engagement and mindless consumption).
One more thing…before you have this conversation with your student(s), you might ask yourself the two questions we shared this week. Not only will you learn a lot about your own screen time, but you can also bring what you learned into your conversations.
Check back next week as we continue this conversation about screen time and talk about ways that we as mentors can help students have a healthier approach to all of the devices in their lives.
Jason Matthews is a youth pastor in Washington State, where he’s been serving students for over 20 years. When he doesn’t have to be in the office, he loves to be outside with his family, hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest. He also loves to network with other youth workers.