Tech & Teens: A Parent’s Guide By Michael Guyer

February 23rd, 2017

Perhaps one of the most pressing parental issues of today is helping teenagers use technology with wisdom and discernment. During Christmas this issue is magnified even more as teenagers are asking for the newest phone or device. Part of the problem for parents is that technology seems to develop faster than you can adapt. As soon as you get your teenager’s smart phone figured out, they release a new one. You got on Facebook, but now your teenager is on Instagram and SnapChat. How can you keep up?

One of the first steps in helping guide teenagers with their technology is often changing your thinking about the issue. It is easy to be controlled by fear or go with the flow out of exhaustion. Instead, parents must make it their primary aim to help their teenagers learn how to use technology with wisdom, discernment and self-control. In order to do this, parents must also understand and use technology in the same way.

One essential element we cannot miss in teaching teenagers discernment with technology is the impact it has on their relationship with Christ. One danger of technology and social media is that it can push out communion with God and the desire to think deeply about Him and His Word. How many times are we distracted by our phone when we sit down to read our Bible? How many times do we lose concentration out of a desire to check a status update, score, text message, etc…?

Let me give you two examples of how technology impacts a teenager’s relationship with Christ and their communication with others:

  • Technology, especially social media, increases fear of man and desire to please others. Students are tempted to post so that others follow like, or view them in a certain light. Students are tempted to present themselves in ways that may or may not be true out of the desire to impress or please others.
  • Technology, especially social media, increases the tendency to promote ourselves rather than promoting the gospel and God’s glory. All of us are naturally bent toward ourselves. Social media tempts us to focus primarily upon ourselves and our world. Sometimes without realizing we are so wrapped up in our social media constructed world that we become disconnected from those sitting next to us in the same room.

Both of these tendencies exist within all of our hearts apart from technology. Technology only brings out what has been in our hearts all along. Tim Challies has wisely pointed out:

“While technology can be an idol in and of itself, far more commonly it serves as an enabler of other idols. In this sense, technology has a secondary function, enhancing the power of an existing idol by strengthening its grip on our heart. Technology becomes a tool of our existing idols.”

Ultimately, we must help our teenagers to see and use technology as their servant rather than their master.

Below you will find some help in how to use wisdom and discernment when thinking about teenagers and technology. 

1. Educate


Your Children

  • Talk to your teenager about the benefits of technology and social media
  • Talk to your teenager about the dangers of technology and social media

2. Protect

  • Use Accountability Software: Covenant Eyes ( This is by far the most well rounded software. It provides both filtering and accountability services for all devices. In my opinion, I don’t think a teenager should use a computer/device without this type of accountability software.
  • Don’t Forget Your Smart Phone and Tablet: Most teenagers use these kind of devices to access content online and fall into temptation. Here is some specific wisdom related to these devices: Letter to Teens Unboxing Their First Smart Phone, 5 Tips to Accountability on Smart Phones and The Porn-Free Family Plan
  • Set Guidelines: Location of computer in home, time guidelines, technology curfew, technology Sabbath, limit information that can be shared, set boundaries on downloads, familiarize yourself with and use parental controls

3. Guide

  • Observe your children’s use of technology. Keep an open line of communication with your children about their use of technology. Ask about their online activity. What they are seeing, hearing, etc… Let them know your still involved/concerned with their use of technology.
  • Disconnect regularly from technology and social media. This is especially needed for helping students manage responsibilities, complete homework, develop meaningful face-to-face relationships within your family and with friends.

4. Trust

  • The goal has to be to prepare students to live in a world with technology in a way that glorifies God.
  • This trust grows as your children get older and have demonstrated responsibility and wisdom with their technology use.

5. Model

  • Good technological management and use of social media (e.g., cell phone use, Facebook, Twitter, etc…)
  • Be accountable yourself and let your children know that you are (e.g., make your spouse your accountability partner w/Covenant Eyes)

*These points are drawn and condensed from David Murray’s excellent resource: God’s Technology: Training Our Children to Use Technology to God’s Glory (see link above).

Walking A Child Through Heartbreak – Posted by Sarah Anderson

February 7th, 2017
Going back to my parents’ house is like going through a time warp. My old bedroom is exactly how I left it when I graduated high school. This past Christmas, while visiting, I came across an old journal. I picked up at the start of my Senior year, Homecoming was just around the corner, and pages were filled with schemes of how to plan the perfect night with all my best friends. Of course, there was One Guy in particular involved in this dreaming.

But then came the inevitable entry:

“This Guy asked someone else…who couldn’t go. So he asked another girl, who also couldn’t go. And then he asked a third girl. And they went.”

I didn’t even make the top three. And the reality of the deathblow this was to my pride finally hit me. I wasn’t going to my Senior Homecoming.

Reading over it again, I remembered exactly what it felt like to think I would always feel this way. That I would never recover. That this wasn’t mere teenage drama, this was a genuine life-altering tragedy.

My 17-year-old self could never imagine my 35-year-old self married to the love of my life. Or the two little boys who laugh, play, and love with such gusto that they inhabit every inch of space in my heart.

In that journal, in those moments, the hurt was consuming. The good news? I was surrounded by people who didn’t try to tell me otherwise. Who weren’t hell-bent on trying to point out silver linings and long term perspective. Who weren’t trying to fix things for me, but were determined to feel things with me.

I had parents who let me feel the way I did, knowing I wouldn’t always feel that way. They knew teenage drama doesn’t last forever—but the emotions in the midst of it aren’t any less real at the time you are experiencing them. They knew time tempers all of it—because time heals all wounds after all. But it takes time to know that.

Reading the journal entries of 17-year-old me, I was reminded that emotions tend to operate in a vacuum. In the moment of hurt and pain and anxiety, we are incapable of seeing the big picture. In the instances from childhood that feel like they will define us and shape us forever, the truth—that they won’t—is a balm we are incapable of receiving. And that’s okay. 

Perspective is a skill, only time, enables us to develop. And when you are a kid, it is a luxury you don’t have. So as parents, when we willingly come alongside our children anyway, and show compassion in spite of knowing more and knowing better, we’re offering them an unparalleled gift.

Because, as it turns out, our kids need far fewer fixers in their lives and far more feelers.

Parents who, even knowing the bigger picture, stoop down into the smaller one. Who step into the emotion, the angst, the drama and bear it on their own shoulders, certain, though their heartbroken children can’t yet see it, that “this too shall pass”.

So what do you do when your child’s heart breaks—from a relationship (or lack of one) from a disappointment, fear or failure?

You let them feel it. Because the only way to the other side is through.

You walk with them. But don’t rush them.

You believe the best is yet to come, but you don’t tell them that, because they may not be ready to hear it yet. (That’s okay. Your belief is enough for the both of you.)

You let them feel like their world is falling apart, and then you stick around long enough to pick up the pieces of their world, with them, when it does.

You parent them in the most agonizing way possible—by feeling alongside them while not being able to fix it for them.

You survive it. Together.

And someday, nearly twenty years later, you may find you were right—something that surprises you both. Life does go on. You hoped it was true, for their sake, but now you are sure of it.

I like having reminders when I go back to the house I grew up in that, though it appears time has stood still, it hasn’t. Reminders that, as I walk my kids through heartache, the best way to help them through it is to be present in the emotions and drama when they are happening. To be allowed to experience them, and then let time do its thing as it moves forward. And takes us with it. And somehow heals us in the process.

Helping Kids Cope With Loss During the Holidays Posted by Dr. Chinwé Williams

December 21st, 2016

Around this time of year, I often reflect upon my first job as a school counselor. Helping students navigate the complex journey of adolescence left very few dull moments. One student on my caseload that often comes to mind was Eve. Eve was extraordinary with an exuberant personality and brilliant mind. As a teenager, she spent many summers volunteering in developing countries-something that I had not done as a young professional. Her senior year, Eve became class valedictorian and received a full scholarship to attend UNC-Chapel Hill.

Five years later, after I left to pursue my doctoral studies, I received the fateful call. Eve, that young brilliant mind, had been killed. There must be some mistake. Not kind, open-hearted Eve. Oh my…her parents! I felt an intense heart-wrenching pain.

Because of Eve’s popularity and success at UNC, her death topped national news headlines. Instantly, I received a flood of emails and Facebook posts from former students and my heart raced as I opened each message. The thought of responding was mentally draining. How could I possibly be there for students? I am mourning myself! Headaches, fatigue, poor concentration. I immediately recognized the symptoms of grief. But me? I was trained to manage this.

I’d studied grief in my Human Development course, ran grief groups, and had guided many families through this murky terrain. I’d suffered losses myself, however, the tragic and unexpected nature of this loss was different.

Ask anyone who has experienced a loss, and they will say that loss changes you. And when the holidays and seasons for celebration come around, it makes it even more complicated.

Even years following a loss, loved ones may experience intense feelings of sadness and loneliness, particularly around special occasions. As a therapist, supporting families through grief remains one of the most rewarding yet challenging aspects of my work. I want to share six ways parents can help their children through the holidays after experiencing a loss:

1. Acknowledge grief

Grief brings many unwelcome emotions: sadness, numbness, irritability, which can be confusing to children. It’s important to understand that grief is not always about loss, but about separation from an important and meaningful figure. Encourage your child to make space for grieving. For a younger child, this might involve reading a story about grief. An older child might prefer spending time with friends or process feelings by journaling. No matter the age, it is important to check in regularly, gently encouraging the expression of thoughts and feelings.

2. Lower expectations.

Expectations run high around the holidays. Attending holiday parties or searching for that perfect gift can be exhausting! Experiencing loss can take a significant mental, physical, and emotional toll. It’s not realistic to expect to complete tasks at the same pace as before. Encourage your child to openly communicate needs and desires to be alone, or to do something low-key.

3. Find the funny.

One of the most healing aspects of the grief journey is listening to friends and family tell stories that bring smiles and laughter. Experiencing joy doesn’t take anything away from the relationship you had. It’s important to encourage your child to celebrate the person and their life. Remembering the gifts your loved one provided restores your spirit and offers renewed strength.

4. Nurture relationships.

When experiencing significant loss, feelings of isolation can set in, so be generous with your time, allowing others to be there for you. When offered help, accept it! The chaotic holiday season is the perfect time to reduce activity and increase connectivity. Creating new, beautiful memories can make the experience more bearable.

5. Practice self-care.

Remember to take extra special care of yourself. Even during dark times, model to your children that you are present and plugged into what they are experiencing. Take the time to do something fun, Be active, see a movie, or take a mini-vacation. Spiritual practices such as praying, reading devotionals dedicated to grief, and meditating can be comforting.

6. Seek professional support.

Grief is a long journey with no precise timeline of when the pain will subside. Perhaps your child was not willing to talk to someone immediately following the loss. However, now may be a great time to speak with a trained professional. Convey to your child that receiving additional support is a sign of strength. Therapists who specialize in grief work can help your family process difficult emotions.

Along with joy, unfortunately, the holidays sometimes include grieving over a significant loss. Feel the pain of the loss, but acknowledge your many blessings. Focusing on things we delight in helps us to celebrate the beauty and joy within each moment. We intentionally set our mind towards the reason for the season—the profound miracle that is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

This blog is written in loving memory of Eve Marie Carson. To learn more about her private practice, please visit Dr. Chinwé Williams at


December 20th, 2016
So you probably think you would be a much better parent if you had more hours in the day, don’t you?
Bummer that life doesn’t work that way. When you have another child, it’s not like someone shows up and magically hands you another 4 hours a day. Nope, now you have to manage 100% more kids (or 50% or 25% more kids) with exactly zero extra time. No wonder parenting feels hard.
To complicate things, time feels like it’s speeding up as your kids get older. Although some days feel like an eternity, as Sandra Stanley has often said, the days are long but the years are short. The kids will be in college or the workplace before you know it.
So what do you do? How do you handle the time pressures of parenting and life in the stage you’re in?
I’ve discovered a few things that really help me. I hope they can help you.
1. Abandon balance
If you’re like most people, you’re hoping for some kind of balance in your life. A better balance of work and home, of time for yourself and time with your family or even a few hobbies.
But you ever notice this? Greatness and balance never seem go together.
In fact, most truly great people aren’t balanced people. They’re passionate people.
Passion gets you further than balance. Imagine approaching everything you did in life with passion.

Your faith
Your work
Your kids
Your marriage
Your hobbies
Your rest

Throwing your heart into all you do can really make a difference. Even when you rest…rest well. When you’re home, be home.  Passionately pursue your top priorities.

I think passion creates a far more compelling story than balance does.
As John Wesley famously said, “Light yourself on fire with passion, and people will come from miles around to watch you burn.”
2. Decide ahead of time how you’ll spend your time
So you want to have a date night with your spouse, but life keeps crowding it out. Ditto with family night. Family night way too often becomes homework night or clean-up-dinner-because-we’re-running-late night. Same with your devotion time. etc etc etc.
A simple fix is this: Decide ahead of time how you will spend your week. I did this years ago when I moved to a fixed calendar. Leadership puts a lot of demands on my time, and I realized I could easily work non-stop and miss the most important things in life.
So I started booking appointments with myself, my family, and my priorities. Every Friday night became date night. Every Saturday was family day. Every Sunday afternoon was family time to rest and relax. Every Monday was a writing day—with zero meetings. Etc etc.
The value in plotting this out ahead of time is simple: When someone asks you what you’re doing Saturday, you look at your calendar and tell them as much as you’d love to join them, you already have a commitment. You don’t need to tell them it’s with your family.
3.  Stop saying you don’t have the time
Your best friend asks you when you’re going to get that bathroom finished, and you instinctively reply “I just haven’t had the time for that yet.”
Your boss wants you to take an another project at work and you say, “I really don’t have the time for that.”
Well, that’s actually not true. You have exactly the same amount of time as every other person on planet earth. You have the same amount of time today as someone running a multi-million dollar company, as the President of the United States and as a researcher who just won the Nobel Prize. We all get 24 hours a day.
A few years ago, I made myself stop saying I didn’t have the time. Because the truth is, I did. Instead, I started saying (to myself) “I’m not going to make the time.”
That’s a massive shift in mindset, and you have to be careful not to say it out loud or you’ll lose all your friends. But when you admit to yourself that you’re not going to make the time for date night, that you’re not going to make the time to read a story to your five-year-old, or that you’re not going to make the time to exercise . . . it changes things.
So stop saying you don’t have the time. Start admitting to yourself that you’re just not making the time. Things will change.
These three time hacks—abandoning balance, deciding ahead of time how I’ll spend my time, and refusing to say I don’t have the time—have helped me spend my time far better than I used to.
Imagine spending the time God gives on the things you really should do. Now, you’re a little closer to knowing how.

Mom, Can I Have Snapchat? Posted on October 5, 2016 by Jonathan McKee

October 13th, 2016

Mom, Can I Have Snapchat?
Posted on October 5, 2016 by Jonathan McKee


Remember the good ol’ days when our biggest concern was the 3,000+ texts our daughters averaged per month?

Sure, young people still text, but with 84% of 12-17-year-old mobile subscribers having smartphones this year… apps are the new gateways of communication.

So what is the favorite communication app used by young people today?

Snapchat, “by a landslide.”

“Snapchat because it’s pretty much just texting, but with pictures of my beautiful face” — a 16-year-old

Snapchat probably needs no introduction. It’s the extremely popular app that allows kids to take a picture or video, type about 40 characters, and then send it to whoever they choose…. but then the content disappears between 1 to 10 seconds after being viewed.

Kind of. (More on that in a minute)

Snap is going gangbusters. They even expect to launch Snap glasses, called Spectacles, later this year. It’s a fun way to communicate. Young people love sending Snap’s quick pics to each other with its creative coloring options and it’s cool filters. That’s probably why it’s become one of teens and tweens favorite communication tools.

Yes, it’s kind of confusing when people talk about teens’ “favorite” apps. You’ll read one article talking about how kids favorite “brand” is YouTube (no doubt, a very popular site among young people), then you’ll read countless others (Statista, AdWeek, Pew…) citing Facebook and Instagram as the social media site most teens have, with Snap coming in third. Just bare in mind, some of those studies are now a year old, which we all know, in tech years is like a zillion years old! And some of those studies aren’t asking, “What app do young people actually USE when they want to talk with their friends throughout the day?”

This is where Snap rules the roost.

Ash SnapMy own daughters and their friends (now 19 and 21) use it constantly. That’s why Lori and I have it. We can keep up with what our girls are doing day to day (they are in college 500 miles away).

“So much homework!” – sent with a picture of their laptop open next to a stack of books.

“Morning coffee run!” – sent with a picture of their favorite Starbucks mug.

“Jealous!!!” – sent with a selfie, with jaw dropped, in response to Mom’s snap of the piece of cake she was eating.

Snapchat isn’t that perfect photo that users spend 7 minutes doctoring to look better than reality. It’s a tool people use to show their friends what they are doing or feeling at that very moment, with an image that won’t be posted on a wall somewhere forever. It’s a “less demanding way to share than Facebook or Instagram.”

But it’s that very perception that pics are “ephemeral” or “temporary” that had most experts concerned about the app on the onset, myself included. It’s no secret that when the app launched, it was created as a safe way to sext.

After all… the picture disappears… right?

This is where parents really need to educate their kids about apps in general. Parents shouldn’t just provide a list of good apps and bad apps. That list will become outdated before the ink dries. Instead, parents should help their kids learn how to make wise social media decisions. For example:

Nothing you send or post is ever temporary. Snapchat is no exception (More about that here). So be careful when an app claims that the content “disappears.” Don’t ever post a comment or picture that you don’t want your dad, pastor, future boss, and future spouse to see. 93% of hiring managers will review a candidate’s social profile before making a hiring decision. And even if your boss misses it… there’s a day when all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open (Luke 8:17). So live your lives in a way that silences any accusers (I Peter 2:15).
Anonymity is actually only perceived anonymity, and it breeds carelessness. The world is embracing anonymity because people like a lack of accountability. But the truth is, we are all accountable for our actions and our comments (I Peter 4:11).

So if you decide to let your kids use Snapchat, then make sure they understand two things:

These pictures and comments are being routed through a server where people have access to them. Yes, some random tech guy in Venice, CA can see what you just sent to your boyfriend.
Your boyfriend can screenshot that picture and message you just sent. Sure, now Snapchat has a notification when someone screenshots you, but isn’t that a little too late? And many are discovering ways to circumvent these speedbumps.

So let me ask the question that I’m asked frequently from parents at my parent workshop:

Should I let my kids use Snapchat?

And my answer is: depends.

Again, I’m not one to provide you lists of good and bad apps. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when media experts like Common Sense Media post articles about the anonymous apps kids are using. But parents must always remember to not just give our kids a fish… but teach them to fish.

So if your kid wants Snapchat—consider this:

How old are they? Most experts say that kids shouldn’t even have a phone until 12-years-old, and most social media platforms don’t even allow kids under 13, thanks to COPPA, the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). And Snapchat has had its fair share of runins with COPPA already. So if your 11-year-old asks you to be on Snapchat, you have an easy out. “Sorry Brianne, it’s the law.”
Do they understand that Snapchat pictures are not truly temporary? Educate them about some of these realities before they hit download.
Are they exhibiting good discernment? Like most apps, Snapchat users have the ability to follow and view all kinds of people posting all kinds of content posted as “stories.” So kids must learn good discernment with Snapchat just like they do with TV, music, Google and every other entertainment media and social media outlet.
If you do decide to let them have Snapchat, then you get it too. Use it as a fun way to communicate back and forth with them throughout the day. Monitor their stories to see what they are posting (realizing, all their posts aren’t posted to their “Story”).
If they’re older- like 16 or 17- educate them, and let them make the decision. Learn to ask them good questions that lead them toward truth. Remember, when your kid turns 18, they have the freedom to move out and start making these decisions for themselves. Then they can download whatever they want. Are you using your time with them to prepare them for that day?


JONATHAN McKEE is the author of over 20 books, including 52 WAYS TO CONNECT WITH YOUR SMARTPHONE OBSESSED KID. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide. Bring him to your city.
About Jonathan McKee
president of The Source for Youth Ministry,is the author of twenty books including the brand new 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; More Than Just the Talk; Sex Matters; The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
View all posts by Jonathan McKee →

My Top 5 Ways to Connect with Today’s Young People…

September 22nd, 2016

“Will you put that stupid phone away!”

An all too common complaint in American homes today. But does whining about it do any good?
The problem is undeniable. Common Sense Media actually took a survey asking both teens and parents if young people spend too much time on their devices. 66% of parents feel their teens spend too much time on their mobile devices, and 52% of teens actually agree! (Perhaps the other 48% of teens never looked up from their phones.)
The only dilemma is how parents can actually connect with over-connected kids… without having to say, “Will you put that stupid phone down!!!”
That’s a question I’ve been asked countless times in the last few months in radio and TV interviews about my new book on the subject…and here are the TOP FIVE WAYS I return to again and again:

1. Maximize No Tech Zones
▪    It’s a little counter intuitive to think that any “boundaries” we impose would actually help us bond with our kids. Sounds crazy, right? What rule is going to make our kids want to be with us more?
▪    I’m not advocating turning your house into military school. What I’m suggesting is a few helpful boundaries that free our kids from the enslavement of 24/7 connectivity.
▪    I’m not alone in this. Most parenting experts recommend “no tech zones like “No Tech at the Table.” This reasonable boundary isn’t typically perceived as unfair or harsh. Most kids will actually find the uninterrupted conversation nice, especially when 73% of parents use the phone at least once during a meal
▪    No tech at the table is for everyone—even Mom and Dad!
▪    No tech zones help everyone connect with the people sitting right in front of them.

2. Join Them!
▪    They always say, “If you can’t beat em, join em.” And that’s exactly what I recommend if you see your kids playing video games or
binging on Netflix
▪    Instead of always saying, “Put that away and do your homework!” Try sitting down and joining them every once in a while. Ask your daughter, “Whatcha watching?” And watch it with her. Ask your son, “Whatcha playing?” And play with him.
▪    Some of the greatest conversations I ever had with my son were when I sat down and played video games with him. 2-Player mode created an arena of communication where my son always opened up and began talking.
▪    This doesn’t mean you should never correct your kids if they are spending too much time in front of screens. Just ask yourself: when you walk in the room is your typical response to be the chaperone who always shuts them down… or the Sherpa who walks with them and guides them through life?

3. Notice
▪    What are your kids’ favorite apps? Where is their favorite place to eat or favorite coffee house? What is their go-to song or artist when they’re feeling upset?
▪    How are we going to know any of this if we don’t pause and take time to notice our kids and listen to what they have to say.
▪    The number one complaint I hear from today’s kids about today’s parents is, “
They don’t listen to me.
▪    ” It sounds a little hypocritical to those of us who are parents. “They don’t listen to us either!” But the perception is there. Most kids feel that Mom and Dad don’t know them.
▪    Next time you’re driving your kids and their friends home school, sports or church… trying something. Don’t say a word… just listen. You can learn so much about your kids in a 10-minute car ride—far more than they realize! (Teens aren’t half as sly as they think they are.) Listen to your kids’ likes and frustrations. Listen to their heart. Commit these elements to memory to help you connect with them. If they are arguing with their friends about the best French fries in the city, remember when they say Five Guys. Then when you want to connect with them, simply ask them, “You wanna go get some Five Guy’s fries?”
▪    Most parents want to connect with their kids, but don’t know where to begin. It all starts with taking the time to notice.

4. Busy hands
▪    In a world where parents are having a hard time getting kids to put down their mobile devices, take notice of the activities where they naturally have to put down their devices. If your son is excited to learn to drive, then take him driving as often as possible (you can’t drive with your phone in your hands). Conversation is the natural byproduct of these settings.
▪    Think of all the settings where this occurs:
▪    Making cookie dough together
▪    Cycling/running/swimming
▪    Sitting in the hot tub
▪    Going on hikes
▪    Tucking them into bed at night
◦    As you discover these settings with your kids, maximize them! These are the arenas where conversation takes place.

5. No Signal
◦    One of the best ways to engage our kids without the distraction of technology is to go to places where it’s difficult to use technology. Where are the places you’ve discovered where WiFi is non-existent? Camping? Skiing? Hiking?
•    Find and frequent these natural settings that aren’t tech friendly. Kids will be forced to communicate the good ol’ fashioned way… and might even find it to be more pleasant.

So what have we learned?
The phone can be a great tool for connecting with people outside the room, when it doesn’t interfere with our connecting with people inside the room! Look for ways to help your kids experience pleasant communication with the people inside the room. You’ll find plenty of creative ways to do this without having to bark, “Put your stupid phone away!”

Jonathan McKee
Jonathan McKee
is the author of twenty books including the brand new 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; More Than Just the Talk; Sex Matters; The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

3 Simple Parenting Tips You Don’t Typically Hear Jonathan McKee – at

June 14th, 2016
  • As a parenting author, I’ve seen hundreds of parenting books and read countless articles. Often, they are echoing the same principles. I’m not knocking it… I’ve written numerous articles about the biggies that parents often neglect, like spending more time with your kids. But here are 3 tips you don’t typically hear:

    1. Wanna be a good dad? Then be a good husband first.

    Want your kids to feel safe, loved and valued? Then work on your marriage. We’re seeing more research emerging about one of the best predictors of cognitive success being emotional stability of the home environment. Bioengineering expert Dr. John Medina said it like this, “Do you want to know how to get your kid into Harvard? Go home and love your wife.”

    It’s this simple. When our kids are young, they are searching for clues in their home to see if they are safe. “Children look to their parents and the relationship they have with each other to assess whether that’s true or not,” Medina says.

    2. No Rules by 17 1/2

    Most people would agree toddlers need a lot of guidance. If your 2-year-old starts heading for the road when a semi-truck is coming… not many dads would say, “Leave him be. He’ll learn!” At the opposite end of the spectrum, everyone knows when our teens turn 18, they can legally move out and do whatever they want. The tricky part for parents is that time in between. How much guidance and control do we assert, especially in those teenage years?

    The answer is “a segue.” Start with heavy guidance and slowly segue towards less control, with a goal of “no rules by 17 1/2.” Sure, you could wait until 18… but why? Why not have them totally free while still under the safety of your shadow?

    I tried this principle with my oldest daughter, starting with realistic guardrails, then giving more trust over the years, and eventually parenting our 17-year-old like an 18-year-old. She is 18-years-old and on her own now… and it’s really no big deal. She’s been making decisions for a while now.

    3. Real Life Reality Shows

    Parents are always looking for teaching moments. When real life hardships appear, don’t be scared to talk about what you experienced. If your sister is getting a divorce, ask your teenagers what they think. What can they learn from the situation?

    Real life isn’t always a huge crisis. Yesterday I was driving down the road and came upon a lady trying to back her boat into a driveway… and it became quickly and painfully obvious she didn’t know how to back a trailer. Cars began lining up and honking. I pulled over, walked over to her with a smile and asked, “Would you like some help?” She happily got out of the car and let me take a crack at it. Moments like these are fun to dialogue about with your kids. Don’t lecture, just ask questions: “Why do you think people were so upset with her?” “How should people respond when they see someone struggling like that?” “What are ways we can show love to people in stressful situations?” “How could you help someone in need?”

    Look for these real life discussion moments, or even watch entertainment together that springboards discussion about real life.

  • Now What? Teens Who Use Social Media Are More Likely to “Pick-and-Choose” Faith Beliefs

    HomeWord -

    Teens who use social media are exposed to a wide variety of faith and values expressions from friends and those they follow. In a culture that places high value on tolerance and acceptance, and have peers who regularly hold non-traditional beliefs and values, it appears that today’s teenagers are more likely to embrace a syncretic approach to their own belief systems.

    A recent study appearing in the journal Sociological Perspectives suggests that teenagers who use social media are more likely to employ a “pick-and-choose” style for their beliefs than peers who do not use social media. Most recent data indicates that about eight in ten teens today use social media. The researchers determined that social media users were 50 to 80 percent more likely to be open to a variety of religious beliefs and practices.

    Lead researcher Paul K. McClure, of Baylor University said, “…the Facebook effect is that all spiritual options become commodities and resources that individuals can tailor to meet their needs.”

    Consequently, teens who use social media are less likely to feel beholden to the faith in which they were raised and are more likely to take bits and pieces from other religions that they find are a good fit for them personally.

    Now What?

    • Engage your kids frequently in morals, values, and faith conversations. These discussions help to transfer, build, and cement your teen’s belief system. The stronger their understanding of and commitment to being a Christ-follower, the less likely she or he will “pick-and-choose” from other religious beliefs and practices.
    • Make your home a safe place for your teens to talk about faith issues. Don’t belittle or lecture them during the typical adolescent season of faith development where they have a lot of questions and doubts. Walk alongside them and provide them with supportive encouragement. Take the role of a fellow-learner instead of a teacher by helping them find the answers to their questions.
    • Surround your kids with plenty of healthy role models for faith. Of course, your kids are watching your example, but give them more! Let them rub shoulders with other Christ-followers – both adults and peers – who you know provide healthy examples of integrity, authenticity, and faith.

4 Things I’m Doing to Help My Teenager With Anxiety By Kami Gilmour

May 26th, 2016

I could tell she had been crying the minute I answered the phone.

So it was going to be one of those talks.

On the other end was my tearful daughter (a college junior), who was having a panic attack trying to juggle the next week of projects, papers, and an internship.

Have a soon-to-be graduate in your life?

Her call reminded me of something I’ve become increasingly aware of: the rising rates of anxiety among teens and young adults. Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

I’m not going to lie: this anxiety factoid gives me anxiety.

As a parent of a student who suffers from severe anxiety,  I’ve been trying to figure out the best ways to help my daughter, as well as my sons who are both in high school and experiencing their own levels of stress. While I don’t have a fail-proof road map, I have learned a few things so far.

Here are 4 Things I’m Doing To Help My Daughter With Anxiety

1. I’m keeping the lines of communication open and honest

When my daughter first started experiencing anxiety, she did an excellent job of covering it up, both from herself and from those closest to her. It wasn’t until the anxiety got too overwhelming for her to handle on her own that she finally opened up about what she was experiencing.

Since then I’ve worked hard to maintain open lines of communication, and to reassure her that she can be honest with me about how she’s feeling. I don’t want her to worry about worrying me or disappointing me (and therefore pass off things as better than they are) so I listen calmly without reacting, dismissing her feelings, or immediately trying to “fix” things.

2. I’m helping her explore healthy ways to cope

Stress is a natural part of life, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But what I can do is help her recognize how certain choices might compound stress, and coach her through a variety of healthy ways to cope. I ask questions about the things that are causing her stress, and help her prioritize the things she can tackle, focusing on one doable item at a time. I also help her explore what things she can eliminate and teaching her how to give herself permission to let go or say “no” to certain commitments or pressures to please others. Another coping strategy I remind her of is to make healthy body choices – through regular physical exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy. Lastly – I try to point her back to God. A lot. I often text her Bible verses along with words of encouragement. I remind her that God is alongside her every step of the way, and to take her worries to him in prayer. She loves yoga, so I’ve also encouraged her to use her yoga time as a time of mind/body/soul nourishment with reflection and meditation focused on Jesus.

3. I’m helping her get connected to the resources and support she needs

There is a lot of help available for teens and young adults struggling with anxiety. Family doctors, guidance counselors, campus health centers, coaches, youth/young adult pastors, and friends are just a few places that can offer support.

With my daughter, I knew that she needed professional help. I also recognized she needed to “own” this decision by choosing her support, and that trying to force her into a specific group our counselor wouldn’t work. But I also knew that I could help provide her with information and options that she was too overwhelmed to collect herself. So I researched, I asked friends for referrals, I interviewed a few people. I shared what I found and then let her make her own choices. The only option that wasn’t an option was to do nothing.

4. I’m trying to not be afraid (or ashamed) to accept the reality of anxiety

Confession: it was scary to listen to my daughter share her anxious thoughts. I worried about her future. I worried about what her friends and peers would think–that they would treat her differently. I worried for her safety and health. And I worried that somehow I’d let her down as a mom because I’d missed (ignored?) some signs along the way.

The most effective solution I’ve found for these worries has been prayer. Giving my anxiety about her anxiety over to Jesus (sometimes every five minutes) has consistently reminded me that he cares for her even more than I do, and that she’s not alone. I can’t take away her anxiety for her, but he can. I can’t think clearly for her when she’s stressed, but his voice can break through her fear. And I can’t choose peace on her behalf, but his peace covers her.

By the time we got off the phone, both of us felt more relaxed and peaceful. We’re figuring this out, one conversation at a time. And as we head into the next six weeks of final projects and tests, I’m praying for all of my kids to reach out when anxiety shakes their confidence.

Parent, if you have a child struggling with anxiety, or know that these next few weeks will be particularly stressful, take one easy step with me: let’s pray right now.

Jesus, thank you for these kids. We love their courage and their desire to be pleasing to you and others. Help us give them wisdom and a listening ear, and to not freak out when they’re freaking out. Show all of us steps we can take today to invite peace and remove stress from our schedules. We thank you for your help with anxiety. Amen.

Middle Schoolers Are All About Change I Mark Oestreicher at

May 4th, 2016

I’m convinced that understanding middle schoolers is the second most important thing you can do to increase your effectiveness as a parent. Yeah, it’s the second most important thing. So we’ll return to it in a couple of paragraphs.

The most important thing you can do to increase your effectiveness, as a Christian parent of a middle schooler, is to deepen your own connection to God. See, parenting a middle schooler flows out of who you are, not what you know. You can have all the best tricks for getting conversation going, an almost mystical ability to motivate your child, a deep understanding of middle schoolers, and the relational ability of Oprah Winfrey, but if you aren’t authentically and deeply connected to God, how would you stand a chance of pointing kids in God’s direction?

But I want to focus here on the second most important thing you can do to increase your effectiveness in parenting a young teen. And that, as I’ve said, is to understand young teens. Deeply.

I’ve been working with and studying young teens for more than three decades. And I can honestly say that while I’ve learned a ton about kids in that time, I still feel as though I’m always learning new stuff.

Early adolescence is a profoundly unique period of human development. Really, it’s just astounding how much is going on and how different it is from other developmental life stages.

Where most people go wrong (especially those who don’t work with young teens or don’t care about them) is in making one of two assumptions. And historically, most cultures have erred in one of these two directions.

The first extreme is to assume young teens are just little adults. (Or, that they are little versions of high schoolers, which is slightly different, but still inaccurate.) Young teens seem like teenagers in many ways, and they certainly want to be treated like teenagers and don’t want to be perceived as children. So we parents capitulate to culture—and to the premature desire of kids themselves—and assume they’re slightly smaller versions of ourselves (or slightly smaller versions of their older siblings).

Historically, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have treated young teens this way (at least for the last couple of hundred years). And with a media culture that serves up more of what young teen consumers want, this perception has deepened in recent decades.

The other extreme, of course, is the assumption that young teens are really just oversized children. This, for many reasons, seems to be the default in lots of churches. I believe this often comes from a desire to protect young teens from rushing into adulthood and adult-like behaviors. In some ways this is a good motivation, and it carries some developmentally appropriate freight. But it can also be misguided—an overprotection that stunts the growth of kids during this critical transitionary time of life.

The dealio, as I’ve clearly tipped my hand, is that neither of these extremes is especially helpful.

One-Word Definition
If I asked you to summarize the young teen experience in only one word, what would you choose? I’ve asked this question from time to time during seminars and conversations, and here are a few common responses I’ve heard:

  • Stressed
  • Immature
  • Confused
  • Impossible
  • Annoying
  • Fun
  • Potential
  • Eager
  • Emerging
  • Spontaneous
  • Unpredictable
  • Challenging-but-full-of-possibility (People always try to get away with strings of hyphenated words when you ask for just one.)

If you asked me (Go ahead and ask. Say it out loud: “Marko, if you were to describe the young teen experience in one word, what word would you choose?”), I’d respond calmly: “Change.”


That’s it, in a word. The life of a middle schooler is all about change. As previously noted, it’s the second most significant period of change in the human lifespan. Stepping into puberty, and the two or three years that follow, brings about cataclysmic change in pretty much every area of life. It’s a deeply radical seismic shift that upends everything that was and ushers in a period of profound instability.

Think of a significant change you’ve experienced in your adult life—maybe a move or a new job. Remember how you felt during that time? You probably experienced a combination of uneasiness (from fear of the unknown) and excitement (from the prospect of what could be). That’s very much akin to the experience of early adolescence.

But the difference between a significant change you may have experienced as an adult and the significant change young teens are slogging through is this: Your feelings associated with change are mostly due to external factors. You likely experienced all kinds of internal stuff as a result of the external factors. But for young teens, the momentum of change is largely internal (although most young teens experience a host of external changes—such as a new school, new youth group, new friends, new freedoms—that further radicalize the internal stuff). The massive tsunami of change in the life of a 13-year-old is developmental, stemming from physical, cognitive, emotional, relational, and spiritual changes that are taking place in their bodies and minds.

This article is an excerpt from Mark Oestreicher’s book, Understanding Your Young Teen (Zondervan, 2011).

Mark Oestreicher is a partner in The Youth Cartel, and the author of multiple books for parents.

Mark Oestreicher Mark Oestreicher (Marko) is a veteran youth worker and founding partner in The Youth Cartel, providing resources, training and coaching for church youth workers. The author of dozens of books, including Understanding Your Young Teen, and Youth Ministry 3.0, Marko is a sought after speaker, writer and consultant. Marko lives in San Diego with his wife Jeannie and two teenage children, Liesl and Max. Marko’s blog:

3 Questions to Ask Before Your Teen Starts Dating

March 23rd, 2016

Dating starts at different ages for different kids.  

All of a sudden bodies change and hormones take over and our teens want the label of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” They’ve noticed that they have feelings for a boy or girl and want to do SOMETHING to express these emotions.

The trouble is that we don’t really know how to approach this topic of dating with our kids. Every form of media makes it seem casual and fun, often ending in sex. We know that isn’t what we want to teach them.

So we turn to other parents for direction, but none of us are on the same page with ages or approaches. Frequently all we walk away with is, “Well I know I don’t want to do that!”

Finally we look to our own dating experiences. If you’re like me, those teen dating years weren’t amazing, and so you think again, “Not going to direct them to that!”

Frequently this leaves us setting an ambiguous dating age out into the future, and then we still aren’t ready when it arrives. Truthfully (and I have no idea why) I’ve been fine with the concept of my girls dating, but when my son wanted to date, I went into a full panic.

So what do we do about our teens and dating?

Youth leaders like you love our Jesus-centered resources!

I’m realizing that if we can ask ourselves some questions, it helps us (and our kids) through this dating territory.

Not Sure How To Make Dating Rules For Your Teen? Here are 3 Questions To Ask Before Your Teen Starts Dating

Question 1: What’s Your Definition of “Dating?”

When our tween child comes home and says, “So and so asked me out,” we wonder what that means. They can’t drive, so “going out” is obviously not literal. We’re relieved when they tell us that they’re going to sit together at lunch and text sometimes. But before we know it, they start calling that person, “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” and we aren’t ready for that.

Because dating lingo can be confusing, it’s important to clarify what you mean as “dating” and to get specific with your answer. For instance,

  • How much time can they spend with this person in a group?
  • When will we let them be alone with this “girlfriend” or “boyfriend?”
  • How much time can they talk or text?

Spell it out for yourself, and then make your definition of dating clear to your kids. And if possible, don’t wait until they turn sixteen, because they’re likely to ask way before that.

Question 2: How Are You Handling the Labels?

As our children begin dating, it’s VITAL  that they don’t find their identity in a relationship. They may want the label “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” but it’s okay to challenge them on why it’s so important.

It’s easy for teens to not know who their true friends are, and to feel disconnected from parents; this makes it tempting for them to look to a dating relationship for comfort and love. Before we know it, they’re way too wrapped up with this person, and lose who they are in the process.

This happened to me in high school, and I want to be diligent to help my kids understand that their identity is in Christ, not in a dating relationship.

Question 3: What About Marriage?

Your twelve-year-old is probably not considering who they’ll marry…but should they? It’s easy to separate dating from marriage, but ultimately we hope that our kids will find that “one person” they can commit to for all time.

Because marriage is eventually the goal, it’s vital that we teach our teens how to protect their hearts. To help, my husband and I have taught our kids to look at dating through the lens of the future spouse. “Treat the person you like/date as if they’re someone’s future spouse,” is our advice. It humbles them, and changes the way they look at relationships. We don’t say this to put pressure on them to figure out who they’ll marry at fifteen-years-old; however, if marriage is the goal, let’s practice putting everything through that filter.

I can’t claim to know how you feel about your teens and dating, but my final thought is about intentionality. Dating, if handled poorly, can cause wounds and scars that our kids don’t need. It’s not all for “fun” when the heart is involved.

Let’s make sure our kids are secure in who they are, and to handle dating with purpose.

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