By Paul Masek, Coordinator, Reap Team
I love my cell phone as much as anyone else does. If you ask my wife and my kids, they will tell you that I love it too much, and sadly I must agree; it’s a challenge for me to set it aside for any significant amount of time. But I’m sure you understand, right? People might be calling me, texting me, tweeting important things, posting awesome Facebook status updates and/or pics, and publishing cool Instagram photos! I, for one, certainly don’t want to miss anything. And of course I’m regularly updating, too, so that the world knows what’s going on with me – since inquiring minds need to know. The temptation to look at and use my cell phone is awfully strong…besides, what time is it? What is the latest weather forecast? Is it my turn to play in Words with Friends?
I suspect that many of the teens that attend our retreats share my struggles. I recently read a statistic that here in the United States 75% of all teens own cell phones, and cell phones are a constant source of temptation and distraction for most of us who own them.
Recently, we did a retreat at a parish where the staff has come up with a great plan to help their teens resist the temptation to use cell phones on their Confirmation retreat, and I thought you might be interested in their thoughts, to which I will add a few of my own.
First of all, students and parents are asked, in all communication in advance of the retreat, to have students leave their cell phones at home. This seems to all to be a reasonable request – to set aside one’s cell phone for five hours in preparation for such an important sacrament.
Second, as students sign in for their retreat, an adult leader asks if they have brought a cell phone with them – and if the answer is yes, they are asked to place their cell phones in a container until the retreat ends.
It’s really as simple as that.
Of course, if a student is seen on their cell phone during the retreat, any adult leader can simply take it from them and place it in the plastic container until the retreat ends. No yelling, it’s simply retreat policy.
Of course, students and parents might object to this policy by asking, “What if a student needs to be contacted in an emergency?” and the answer is quite simple – all adults can be given the name and phone number of a parish/school staff person to prior to the retreat and this person can be contacted at any time, though only in the case of an emergency.
This policy came into effect after an adult from this same parish had noticed a strange trend. Before the policy was enacted, students had been asked to simply keep their phones put away during the retreat, but this adult leader noticed that students were regularly asking to leave the retreat during our sessions to “go to the bathroom” and that on every break multitudes went rushing to the bathroom. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to ascertain that the students were going into the bathroom to check their texts and do some texting of their own. Now that this new policy is enacted, students rarely ask to leave the room during our sessions, and they actually hang out with one another during breaks and do some great mingling.
I really love my cell phone, but I love people more. The ways I have already seen students benefit from this phone-free policy has convinced me that eliminating that distraction on retreats (and in church, and at dinner, and in meetings…) helps us all to listen more attentively to one another. Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may become wise.” It’s a lot easier for me to listen when I’m not distracted. And I can think of few things more distracting than the vibration (or phantom vibration) of my phone in my pocket.
Most importantly, if we’re able to leave our cell phones behind, if only for a relatively short time, perhaps we just might be better able to hear God – the last time I checked, (and it was just a couple of second ago) that incoming message wasn’t from Him.
This post originally appeared on stlyouth.org