Nurturing Faith in a Digital World

Pastoral Messages | March 21, 2024

How much money would you need to be paid to deactivate your social media accounts? In a recent study by the University of Chicago economist Leonardo Bursztyn, about 1,000 college students answered this question. Their answers averaged around $50. Then, the researchers had the students imagine that every young adult took the $50 and deactivated their social media accounts. They then asked the same question: How much would you need to be paid to deactivate your accounts? Their answer? It averaged below $0. In fact, many of them were willing to pay to have this happen. In other words, most people connect to these social networks because their friends also use them. Toward the end of this study, the students were asked, “Would you prefer to live in a world without Instagram or TikTok?” Fifty-eight percent answered yes.  

Phone-based childhoods are beginning to raise red flags for psychologists. Starting in 2012, the rates of depression and anxiety among teens skyrocketed, the same year that social media platforms like Instagram exploded.  

A long-running study of teenage Americans discovered that from 1990 to 2010, teens were less likely to agree with the statement that “Life often feels meaningless.” Yet, as soon as smartphone use among teens became widespread, things changed dramatically. From 2010 to 2019, researchers saw a 70 percent increase in teens who agreed that their lives are meaningless. That’s about 1 in 5 teens surveyed.  

“We have overprotected our children in the real world while underprotecting them online,” says author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. 

How do we respond to this emerging problem? It’s a question many parents, teachers, psychologists, social scientists, and government officials are asking, and I hope some clergy as well. When we think about how our Christian faith might inform us, it brings me to scripture, and it’s in Paul’s letter to the Romans that he touches on an eternal point of wisdom for us who follow Christ: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Life lived together, in person, is valuable.  

It’s one of the lessons COVID taught us. For many, it only exacerbated addictions to screens. As we ponder the sin in the world and our lives this final week of Lent, let’s also imagine what new things Christ seeks to have risen in our lives, and what we might need to put down for that to happen. 

-Max Franks, pastor in residency

One comment on “Nurturing Faith in a Digital World”

  • Deb Lamp

    March 23, 2024 at 7:04 pm

    Very good thoughts and a reminder for everyone. Thank you

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