During last summer’s international mission trip, I didn’t allow participants to have cell phones. Throughout our time away, we did, however, keep a blog.

Teens often joked at the irony of being totally disengaged from their cell phones and technology while their parents sat at home, refreshing our blog every 30 seconds eagerly waiting for updates.

In some ways, it’s easy to forbid cell phones on an international trip. Even if teens bring them, without the right SIM card or an expensive international data plan, theirs won’t work. It’s often much harder to ban cell phones on domestic mission trips or overnight events.

Yet, I do so because I’ve found that forbidding cell phones…

  • Forces teens to take a much-needed Sabbath from them. It gives them space and quiet – the kind that God often reveals himself in. It deprograms them from something that many are actually addicted to.

  • Decreases homesickness. When teens are simply cut off from their parents and friends, it reduces the tendency to think about what’s happening at home or worse, to obsess over problems they can’t control or things they’re missing.

  • Prevents conflicts from escalating unnecessarily. During extended times away, fatigue plus fluctuating emotions make for an environment ripe for conflict – even between people who normally get along. Such conflicts can be easily dealt with during a trip… Unless, that is, they make their way home. Here’s what I mean. Before I learned to ban cell phones from trips, teens and adult leaders on the first mission trip I led became embroiled in a conflict. In the midst of the conflict, teens called home in tears, something that both angered and worried parents. By the time we got home, we’d resolved the conflict. The problem was, parents didn’t know that. Although they’d received the initial call, they hadn’t received the one saying “It’s all good!” As a result, they were still angry. Their fury caused an already resolved problem to resurface and grow, something that could have been avoided had teens not been able to call home in a panic.

  • Builds community by forcing teens to connect with those who are in the room with them rather than those who are at home. Not having their cell phones encourages teens to be present, to live in the moment.

  • Fosters good old-fashioned communication and face-to-face relationships. It’s amazing to see the depth of conversation and the creativity of teens when there are no screens to inhibit them.

To be sure, a decision to ban cell phones will initially be met with resistance. Shortly after instituting this policy, I remember standing in an airport before a mission trip, watching as parents pried a cell phone from the hands of their daughter, who was clinging to it for dear life. And that’s the best case scenario. The truth is, some parents may not support support your cell phone ban because they’ll be unhappy (or fearful) about the prospect of being unable to communicate with their child.

The longer your cell phone policy is in place, however, the more favorably people will react to it. I’ve been at my church for seven years now and I rarely receive complaints – or even questions – about this policy. In fact, both parents and teens have now expressed appreciation for it.

During our last domestic trip, my teens noticed an adult leader from another church who was constantly on her phone. Several commented on how much of the trip she was missing because her focus was clearly on other things. By the end of the week, multiple teens thanked me for not allowing them to have their cell phones, admitting they had a better week without them.

It’s moments like these that reinforce my decision not to allow cell phones on trips and to trust that in their absence, teens will learn something and God will move.

So – what about you? What’s your cell phone policy & why?

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