How to connect to young people using technology
Young people really want to connect. There’s a growing desire in teenagers for community and to be a part of something that matters.
Meanwhile charities and churches have so much to offer. Technology is an extended hand, a bridge allowing charities and churches to say to young people, “We can give you what you’re searching for.”
An immersive experience
We’ve discovered that young people are inspired by technology that pulls out all the stops. Counties UK founded a travelling multimedia classroom in a lorry trailer called GSUS Live. It gives young people a chance to get to know three fictional characters who are asking big questions about life.
A couple of years ago we helped redesign the GSUS technology to incorporate messenger chat, video clips, music tracks, animations and retractable touch screens. You could feel the excitement of the teenagers stepping into a technology wonderland. It gave Key Stage 3 students a chance to explore biblical stories in a way that felt a thousand miles away from an RE classroom.
When you work with a variety of technology, you can build experiences that transport young people in a way that resonates. You can take them into the heart of your charity, the frontline work, without ever requiring them to leave a room. You can create space for real connection to begin and stories to be told.
The latest thing
Sometimes it can seem that no matter how tech-aware you are, there’s a teenager that knows more than you. They probably do. While a lot of the older generation have only just got the hang of Facebook, young people have moved on to Instagram TV (IGTV) and Snapchat. They can sense tech-ignorance in the language charities and churches use and it does matter.
If you’re going to intentionally reach young people through technology, it’s worth becoming aware of the tech they are already using. Not so you can impress, but so you can connect. It doesn’t take long to download an app and explore how it works. But you can also talk to those who are already using it - the young people themselves. It’s another opportunity for connection.
Connection not isolation
Technology is exciting. It’s always developing and at a speed that makes lightning look slow. While it creates chances for connection and community to happen, it can also present challenges. The World Health Organization has now recognised 'gaming disorder' in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases, though not without some controversy. Increased use of technology has been associated with poor mental health and high levels of screen time can sometimes lead to increased isolation. Parents can struggle to put proper boundaries in place for tech they don’t fully understand.
It’s worth being aware of this. Not to be fearful but to ensure technology is building the connection we intend it to. Plan for how personal moments can happen. Imagine how the most isolated young people could find a sense of belonging. In the right hands, tech can take them into the heart of a community.
Purpose gives technology its place, rather than the other way around. Technology can be used to spark connection, to build friendships. Just look at Pokemon Go; a digital AR game that takes young people outside, encouraging them to work as a team, helping them have a blast along the way. It’s taking the World Health Organisation’s gaming disorder and turning it on its head. One study showed that the game created a 12.2% increase of those achieving the recommended 10,000 steps a day.
When we developed the GSUS technology for the travelling classroom, we built it so young people could explore pressing issues from rejection to forgiveness. It was a spectacle of innovation channelled towards connection.
Churches and charities are often purpose-driven by nature. If they stay true to themselves and put that same sense of purpose into the technology they use, there’s no telling what might happen. Young people are searching for connection; this is an opportunity for them to find it.
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