Playing My iPod at Youth Group: Lessons in Participatory Learning
The 7th and 8th graders I work with can’t leave my iPod alone. I play it to add to the atmosphere–relaxed, welcoming, familiar. But it takes mere seconds before one of them–and then several of them–are fiddling with it: switching songs, turning up the volume, and then finally plugging in their own music player.
Yesterday I had a “Back-in-My-Day” moment over this and exclaimed, “When I was your age, if someone played some music, you listened to it. You couldn’t just hijack what they were playing for your own music.” Actually, when I was their age we did take control of the music people played in public, only by changing the radio dial. Your frequency of choice was an important marker of identity in my teen years, and any car outing I take with students shows that it still is.
But this is way different. These students have entire radio stations in their pockets, and it’s nothing for them to plug it in and dj the youth group. That is, until someone else takes over. Honestly, the likelihood that any one song will get played in its entirety is very, very low.
I want to celebrate this and to say that these junior high students are comfortable taking control of their experience (read: church) without waiting for instructions. But I don’t see this tendency extending very far beyond the iPod. Ask them what questions they’d like to explore in youth group and you get blank stares. Invite them to take some ownership of the Biblical narrative–to rework stories or to pick and choose content for study–and . . . nothing.
What’s up with that?
Does their musical mastery presage something constructive? Or is it simply a loyal consumer reflex?