In a word, it was gossip. Cell phones allow for unchecked gossip to spread like wildfire through cliques within a group completely outside the attention of the rest of the group or any of the adult leaders.
So this year, in a new church and with students I barely know, I proposed a complete ban on cell phones to our leadership team. The team is on board. No phones. As nuanced as I try to make my view of technology, and as resistant as I am to demonizing exaggerations of its impact, especially on teenagers, my experience last summer burned me badly. I could be overreacting. I’m willing to admit that.
Yet my last attempt at this taught me that leaving a teenager’s phone at home for a week is as difficult for some parents as it is for the teens. Almost all the kids we caught with phones two years ago reported that mom or dad instructed them to bring it. My colleague here used to work at a camp that disallowed cell phones, and she once saw a parent drop their son off and then covertly drive around the back of his cabin and hand him his phone through the car window.
Cell phones enable connection between teenagers and their parents and between teen peers, and I think connection is tremendously valuable. Yet the connection they enable with people back home is the connection they short circuit with the people with us on the van or in the church basement. We want to create the conditions on our mission trip for community to grow amidst face-to-face conversation, listening, even boredom.
Yes boredom. The Bored and Brilliant BOOT CAMP has me high on the prospect of boredom as a generative force. So along with the list of all the leaders’ cell phone numbers and all the phone numbers of all the places we will be during the week, along with the address of the blog we will be maintaining every day during the trip, we’re sending the BOOT CAMP link out to our teens and their parents before the trip so they can practice.