Teens committed to Scripture show more screen-time discernment, Barna finds

There is a strong correlation between teens and young adults who are committed to Scripture and practicing discernment when it comes to social media, according to a new Barna study. | Pexels

The majority of Generation Z believes their generation spends too much time on screens — yet there is a strong correlation between teens and young adults committed to Scripture and practice discernment when it comes to social media, a new study suggests.

A new report from the Barna Group and the Impact 360 Institute, Gen Z: Volume 2, found that three-in-five teens and young adults ages 13­ to 21 years old (60%) say their generation spends too much time on screens. 

The survey collected data from 1,503 U.S. teens and young adults ages 13 to 21 between June 15 and July 17, 2020. The sample has a margin of error of ±2.53 percentage points. 

When asked how they feel about their personal screen use, more than half of respondents (53%) admit they often feel bad about the amount of time they spend on screened devices like phones, computers or tablets.

However, one-quarter (25%) say they and their peers spend “just the right amount of time on screens.” About 13% assert that the amount of time their generation spends on screens doesn’t matter.

According to the data, more than half of teens and young adults (53%) say they “put off” or “procrastinate doing homework or other things” because of technology. 

About half (50%) blamed technology for feeling more distracted, while 36% blamed technology for feeling less productive. Fifty-four percent said that because of technology, they feel they are “wasting a lot of time.” About three-in-10 blamed technology for “shortening their attention span.”

Unveiling the data last month, Barna Group President David Kinnaman said that the average teenager spends five hours and fifteen minutes per day using their smartphones. Meanwhile, he said young adults use their phones over six hours a day, representing “incredible amounts of input that's coming in through screens.”

He defined Gen Z as the first generation of “screenagers,” adding that not only have they been raised with screens, their parents are equally tethered and shaped by screens.

“We're all, as human beings, in this experiment of what it's going to be like for us to be in a digital environment to be raised in a world that I call ‘Digital Babylon,’ where so many of the controlling factors are different than they would have been in the past,” he said.

Interestingly, Barna found a strong correlation between “resilient disciples.” 

According to Kinnaman, those committed to Scripture, to the local church, believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and want their faith to be active and alive in the world tend to practice discernment when it comes to social media use and technology. 

“There's this really interesting interconnection between being a resilient disciple and also how you use your screentime,” he said. 

Resilient disciples “are more discerning when it comes to their devices," he said. 

“They have a more positive outlook and greater mental and emotional health,” Kinnaman added. “Being a resilient Christian doesn't just mean you have a stronger faith, but you're actually stronger in some of the ways that matter most in real life.”

Kinnaman stated the research shows many young people use technology to deal with anxiety, loneliness and boredom. 

Yet just over half say that when they use social media, they feel “critical” of themselves. Overall, teenage girls and young women were more likely than teenage boys and young men to say they felt “critical of themselves, insecure or isolated” when using social media. 

Kinnaman said it’s important to pay attention to the trends surrounding technology. The goal of Barna’s research on this matter, he explained, is to equip youth leaders to better understand and disciple the next generation in a digital era. 

He encouraged asking: “How's your relationship going with social media? How's your relationship going with your screens? What are ways that we can help give you greater strength and be who God created you to be across all of these areas in real life, and digital life and everywhere in between?”

The President of the evangelical polling group challenged parents and youth pastors to help teens and young adults practice “discernment” on social media. 

“We need to manage screen time; sure, that's really important,” he concluded. “Yet, thoughtful discernment and better practices for these young people are the most important things that we need to do. … How will you embody this in your ministry?”

“Don't underestimate Gen Z,” he continued. “They're smart. They're connected. Take them seriously. I believe now more than ever after the pandemic, our old methods aren't going to work.”

As screens become an increasingly ubiquitous element of teen life, numerous pastors and ministry leaders have stressed the importance of approaching social media with care. 

Priscilla Shirer, the head of Going Beyond Ministries and mother-of-three, recommended placing boundaries around social media use. She told The Christian Post in 2019 that while modern advances are a blessing, any good gift from God can become an idol if it shifts our attention and worship off of Him.

“Social media can start to reshape our lives in a way that’s incongruent with the truth of who God has called us to be,” she said. “That’s with anything, but we’re seeing that happen in a crazy way with social media, not just with young people, but with adults, too. We can't even go to dinner without our phones in our hand, without checking it. Every buzz, every bing, causes a thrust of adrenaline to bolster through our body. And so we're being drawn into this relationship with social media and with technology that's consuming our lives.”

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