Technology and Teens

By Renée Goldfarb
Jewish Volunteer Connection

Over the last two weeks, it’s hard not to think of technology and its’ advances over the last few decades.  The mourning of Steve Jobs, a technological pioneer, and last week’s release of Apple’s newest iPhone has given me the opportunity to pause and think about how far technology has come in my lifetime.

My first computer class in middle school was learning the “BASIC” text-based language on Apple IIe computers.  My high school’s computer lab, filled with boxy Macintosh computers, sold 3.5-inch floppy disks so we could back-up our school work.  If I wanted to contact a friend, I used the only option that existed at the time: a landline-based phone.  I mailed letters to my out-of-town camp friends to save on long-distance charges.  And, in order to see my photos after youth group events, I had to wait three to four days for the film to be processed.

I come from a different generation than the teens I work with.  Today’s teens don’t know what life was like before cell phones, texting and social networking.  Technology allows teens to communicate with each other 24/7, instantly share pictures from life-changing experiences and now they can even zone in on a friend’s location using their cellphone’s GPS.

Adults working with teens have a choice when it comes to technology and Jewish education:  Ignore it and stick with old-school methods of learning.  Or use technology as an opportunity to connect to our Jewish teens.

The staff of THE ASSOCIATED’s Teen Leadership programs believe that it is our responsibility to meet teens where they are.  Each of our teen leadership programs embraces technology, using safe and secure methods to work with our teen leaders.  Diller Baltimore Teen Fellows, Students Taking Action for Change (STAC) and the Teen Giving Initiative (TGI) each have a private Facebook page so our Jewish teens build community with each other outside of our seminars.  Our Diller Baltimore Teen Fellows use webcams and Skype to connect with their teen counterparts in Ashkelon.  Even our seminars limit frontal learning and focus on experiential learning, utilizing internet-based learning “triggers” such as YouTube videos, Wordle text clouds and SMS (text message) polling.

Last summer, our Diller parents were tied to their computers or smart phones anxiously waiting for their teen’s latest blog postings or tweets from the Israel Summer Seminar.  Our STAC fellows learn about using social networking to raise awareness and advocate for important communal issues.  And for the first time, TGI will use an on-line platform to promote their fundraising efforts and secure donations.

One of the goals of THE ASSOCIATED’s Teen Leadership programs is to provide teens with the necessary tools to be the future leaders of the Jewish community.  It’s now time for the adults working with teens to step out of the past and use technology to help teens connect and embrace a vital Jewish future.

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Filed under Leadership Development, Teens

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