By Frank Wessling
There’s a new way to teach the meaning of religious fasting: ration the cell phone. This could be an especially penetrating lesson for teenagers who can’t imagine how people lived before cell phones.
It would also be a big help to high school administrators trying to cope with students whose brains are so wired to their little phones that they can’t attend to a class topic for more than seconds at a time. Anything and everything is more “boring” than imagined connections with a friend through chatting or texting.
The teen years are a time for learning more of how and who we are through relationships. It’s a tense time, and the cell phone seems to have become a favored way to relieve that tension through nearly constant chatter, either by voice or thumb. The kids don’t know how that cripples their inner life. They allow no time for being alone, for letting aloneness become familiar and OK. Thus they are slow in developing space and time for the inner silence that allows God to penetrate deep into their spirit.
It’s a paradox they won’t understand or appreciate, but we could help the kids by limiting their cell phone use, or encouraging them toward limits.
One study of Italian teens found that among those age 13-16, an average of 47 text messages were sent each day. That sounds like desperation, as if life will end without that connection. If our teens are in the same condition, they need the help of adults who know life is healthier when connection is balanced with the development of interior peace.
During Lent we could introduce the kids to a radical idea — that prayer can be even better than the phone as a reliever of tension. It can also lead to healthier and happier relationships in the long run.