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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Discipling Teenagers in the Smartphone Age

At what age do you give teens a smartphone? And are you happy with what it's doing in our culture and your family? How about in your youth group? And... do we disciple teens when they have one?

The role of technology in our lives—and particularly in the lives of teenagers—has become a hot topic of discussion. The smartphone, a device that has revolutionized communication and access to information, presents unique challenges and opportunities for youth ministry and family discipleship.

I feel this struggle personally. I'm a dad of 7 kids (ages 20 down to 7), and I'm also a 20-year pastor with a youth group at my church.

What to do about this problem?

Are Smartphone Devices Good for Teens?

Pros of smartphones for teens:

  1. Access to Information: Smartphones provide teens with instant access to educational resources, Bible study apps, and inspirational content. This can enhance their spiritual growth and understanding. Bible apps like YouVersion offer reading plans and devotionals tailored to youth, promoting regular engagement with Scripture.

  2. Communication: Smartphones enable teens to stay connected with family, friends, and mentors, fostering relationships and providing support networks. Platforms like GroupMe or WhatsApp can be used to create group chats for youth groups, enhancing fellowship outside of church meetings.

  3. Safety: With GPS and easy access to emergency contacts, smartphones can enhance the safety of teenagers. Parents can track their children's locations and ensure they are safe, providing peace of mind.

Cons of smartphones for teens:

  1. Distraction: The constant notifications and endless entertainment options can distract teens from their responsibilities, including their devotional practices. Studies have shown that excessive smartphone use can lead to decreased attention spans and hinder academic performance​​.

  2. Mental Health: Excessive use of smartphones has been linked to anxiety, depression, and sleep issues among teenagers. A study by the Barna Group reported that high screen time is associated with lower levels of personal contentment and higher rates of depressive symptoms​​.

  3. Social Skills: Over-reliance on digital communication can hinder the development of face-to-face social skills and deep, meaningful relationships. Teens might struggle with in-person interactions, leading to feelings of isolation despite being constantly "connected."

On balance, my decision is that my kids never, ever have a smartphone of their own until they are 16 or older. But that still doesn't answer the next question:

Should We Allow Teens to Have Smartphones in Youth Group?


  1. Engagement: Smartphones can be used to engage teens through interactive Bible studies, polls, and social media challenges related to their faith. Apps like Kahoot! can make learning about the Bible fun and interactive.

  2. Accessibility: Teens can easily access Bible apps, notes, and other digital resources during youth group sessions. This can be particularly helpful for scripture references and note-taking during lessons.

  3. Communication: Group chats and social media can help youth leaders stay connected with their group throughout the week, reinforcing messages and offering support. This consistent communication can foster a stronger sense of community and belonging.


  1. Distraction: The potential for distraction is high. Teens might be tempted to check social media, play games, or text friends during youth group. This can detract from the focus on spiritual growth and fellowship.

  2. Exclusivity: Not all teens may have smartphones, creating a divide and potentially making some feel left out. It's crucial to ensure that youth ministry activities are inclusive and that no one feels excluded because of their access to technology.

  3. Boundaries: It can be challenging to monitor appropriate use and ensure that smartphones are enhancing rather than detracting from the experience. Establishing clear guidelines for smartphone use during youth group is essential to maintain a respectful and focused environment.

How Can We Disciple Teenagers in the Smartphone Age?

Practical Tips for discipling teens:

  1. Set Boundaries: Establish clear guidelines for smartphone use during youth group. For example, create specific times for device use and times for focused, device-free interaction. This helps maintain a balance between leveraging technology and fostering in-person relationships.

  2. Leverage Technology: Use smartphone apps for Bible study, devotionals, and prayer reminders. Encourage teens to follow faith-based accounts on social media for daily inspiration. Apps like Scripture Typer can help teens memorize Bible verses in a fun and interactive way. Alternately, you can use it to access discipleship videos, like I do with NewStart Discipleship's modules.

  3. Model Behavior: Demonstrate appropriate smartphone use by being present and engaged during youth group sessions. Show teens how to balance technology with real-life interactions. Lead by example in using smartphones to enhance rather than detract from your spiritual life.

  4. Encourage Digital Detox: Promote regular digital detox periods where teens unplug and focus on face-to-face relationships and spiritual practices. This can be done through retreats, camp experiences, or designated tech-free times during youth group meetings.

  5. Discuss Digital Discipleship: Have open conversations about the pros and cons of smartphone use. Help teens understand the importance of moderation and the potential impact on their spiritual and mental health. Create a safe space for them to share their experiences and struggles with technology.

  6. Create Online Communities: Develop online groups or forums where teens can discuss faith-related topics, share their experiences, and support each other in their spiritual journeys. Platforms like Discord can be used to create moderated, faith-based communities for teens.

Bottom line: This is going to require a balanced approach. Devices can be great in some ways, but they also pose real challenges.

Let's set boundaries, and encourage healthy habits, we can guide teens to use their devices in ways that enrich rather than hinder their faith journeys.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2 ESV).

What strategies have you found effective in your ministry? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

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