The Reach of Bullying

Posted on: 11/30/10 3:37 PM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s been amazing to hear so many responses from the bullying article I posted a week ago, Voices of the Bullied. It’s very clear that I’m not alone in my observations and experience. Thank you all for your kind emails and comments.

Yesterday I received an email from a friend of mine from high school, now a parent. I wanted to share her thoughts with you. This issue isn’t limited to just public schools :

Dear Jonathan,
Your bullying article was very helpful to me. This is an issue we’ve needed to be aware of for our sonlast year he was in a Christian private school. There was a serious bullying issue at the school with four boys in his grade. It was very serious. The students were doing things that were along the lines of what you wrote in the article – drawing pictures of this one boy, who they had labeled with a code name, and then “killing” the pictures. This was third grade – third grade!!!
I’ve sent a link to your article to several of the parents in the school who were involved with this problem. The young man with the most serious problem – and whose parents insist that there isn’t a problem – is now in counseling at the insistence of the principal, who was not going to readmit him to the school without counseling.
The sad part is that the students all knew what was going on much faster than the parents and teachers did.  It took a while before several parents figured out the intensity of it, and then it took even longer for the principal to believe that group of parents.  This was the case with our son’s issue as well – so the problem had been going on at least a month before we took action. How hard for these kids!
Thank you for ALL that you and Lori are doing to make life better for so many young people.
Warm regards,
Thanks for sharing “Tonya.”
You can see many more comments and/or add your own at the bottom of the article.

Inside the Teenage Brain

Posted on: 11/29/10 1:26 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Ever wonder why teenagers might be better than us in video games, but seemingly inept at simple decision making and reasoning?

If only we could take a peek inside the teenage brain.

Well… they have!

Parade magazine featured an excellent article yesterday about the teenage brain. I’ve written on the teenage brain before— especially the fact that teenagers lack the neural circuitry in the frontal lobe necessary for decision making. Teenage brains are a “work in progress” until they are in their 20’s. (That explains a lot, huh?)

This new Parade article encored that research, and also shared a few other interesting tidbits:

  • The skills you practice as a child and pre-teen become much sharper in the teenage years; and those practiced reluctantly, if at all, will diminish on your brain’s hard-disk drive. “The brain is very efficient, allowing you to become more adept at the life skills you’re going to use — which is why these are the years to set good work habits in place,” notes Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.
  • The frontal lobes, and particularly the prefrontal cortex, are one of the last areas of the brain to develop. Researchers now believe that the prefrontal cortex — responsible for things like organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies, and controlling impulses — is not fully developed until the late 20s. (The article I wrote above cited research that said “early” twenties. Interesting that it’s now the “late 20s.)
  • Beginning in puberty and continuing into the early 20s, adolescents need from 8.4 to 9.2 hours of sleep on average a night.
  • Teens and adults used different areas of the brain to process what they were feeling. Teens rely much more on the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region in the medial and temporal lobes that processes memory and emotions, while adults rely more on the frontal cortex, which governs reason and forethought.

Lori and I talked about this article quite a bit when we read it. I was encouraged by a few things:

– Sometimes I second-guess myself when I’m not only teaching, but enforcing good work habits in our home. I wonder, “Am I being too strict?” It’s good to hear that this window of time sets these good work habits in place for the rest of their life. I even asked my son Alec (17) his thoughts on the issue. He said, “Looking back, I’m glad you made me get off my butt and do some of this, because I probably never would have done it myself.”

– Lori and I make our kids go to bed at 9PM. They always complain, “9PM!!! None of our friends have to go to bed at 9PM!” But when their alarm goes off early, they’re always grateful!

– It also seems interesting that research keeps showing “full maturity” to be later and later. Early twenties, now late twenties. I can’t help but wonder if we’re pampering this generation too much, helping them not grow up. I’ve always experienced great results when I “raised the bar” just a bit with my kids, both in ministry and in parenting.


A Lullaby

Posted on: 11/24/10 5:56 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m hanging with family for Thanksgiving. My brother Thom has two little ones, ages two and four. Since mine are 13, 15 and 17… I’ve almost forgotten what it is like. Fun… and tiring!  🙂

Tonight we were watching some adorable Elmo videos with the kids. I must admit… Sesame Street rocks! One of the cutest ones was definitely when Andrea Bocelli sang a lullaby to Elmo.

Good times!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

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An Interesting Interuption

Posted on: 11/21/10 10:19 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Last night I spoke to about 400 teenagers and youth workers at a Baptist conference in West Virginia. In the middle of my talk, an inebriated gentleman staggered in the back and started making a lot of noise.

I was speaking about the subject of bullying, preaching out of Philippians 2, a subject that is close to my heart (most of you have already seen the Youth Culture Window article I just wrote on the subject, a little different perspective on the whole Bullying issue).

Meanwhile, the guy wanders in and sits in the back pew.

As I shared some of my story and my son’s story of being bullied, this guy started crying… loud! It was an interesting time in the talk. I was challenging them to think how they treat others that are different than them. Each time I gave an example (not gossiping about that person that’s different from us), he started crying louder.

It was so distracting, not only to me, but to all the kids in the room (kind of funny thinking back on it. Oh man. I’m laughing now.) But more and more kids started staring over at this guy, right while I’m saying, “Don’t look down on others who are different or awkward.”

The situation just spiraled. Every time I said something, his crying got louder. The guy was literally bawling! Some of the event leaders were trying to sit by him and comfort him. I felt sorry for them. I could tell they wanted to bring him outside to talk with him, but they didn’t want him to feel like he was being removed.

By now half the room is just staring at the guy. So I start trying to speak “in code” to them about the guy to try to not make him feel bad. I said, “Often, there are people who we’re tempted to look at differently, but we need to remember to treat them as Christ would treat them, not making them feel in any way like they don’t belong!”

When I said that, the guy started bawling uncontrollably. I literally had to say to the crowd, “Eyes up here!” Finally he got up and left with some of the event leaders who talked with him in the back room.

I was so distracted, I don’t know half of what I said for about a 10-minute period, not that anyone was listening to me at this point anyway!

Anyway… I finally got their attention back and it seemed like the kids really connected with it. And the distraught gentlemen got to talk with some of the leaders before going home to sleep it off.

Hilarious experience… NOW! Not then.

An Inside Look at Bullying…

Posted on: 11/19/10 7:08 AM | by Jonathan McKee

“Anti-bullying” is the new hot commodity. And everyone seems to have an expert opinion… people who haven’t been bullied.

Two nights ago I was watching TV and an ad for the “news at 11:00” came on. A robotic anchorman declared, “A backpack that your kids can wear to prevent bullying… news, at 11:00.”

Simply hilarious.

Doing research on the subject, I found web sites where you can buy signs and banners where PhD’s argue, “This anti-bullying sign will motivate students to think positively and care for others.”

I’d love to line up a panel of 10 bullied kids and ask them. “How are those anti-bullying signs working?” If they were being completely candid, one kid would probably share, “Someone rolled up one of those anti-bullying banners just last week and beat the snot out of me with it!”

The fact is, bullying was a problem 50 years ago, it was 20 years ago, and it still is today. I’m not speaking as a guy who studies youth culture right now, or as a guy who’s been in youth ministry almost 20 years… I sharing as a guy who was bullied (and when you see my picture from when I was in elementary school… you’ll see why I was bullied). In fact, my dad was bullied, I was bullied, and my son was bullied… big time. Forget “anti-bully” signs for a minute. Let’s look at the problem for what it is, and how we can really take a dent out of it.

I went ahead and posted the article early. It’s the Youth Culture Window article for next week. It’s titled, Voices of the Bullied” (CLICK HERE). It was an emotional piece to write, especially the parts about my son Alec. Alec went through the article with me and gave input throughout. I hope it’s a help to parents and youth workers who work not only with bullied kids, but with bullies.

(Oh yeah… and you’ll see that picture of me too. Be nice!)

Too Sexy Too Soon

Posted on: 11/16/10 9:27 AM | by Jonathan McKee

They call it “Corporate Pedophilia.”

It’s when corporate America sells out by pimping material to our kids that they know is slowly destroying them.

This 8-minute ABC video is a must see. I post my two cents below. I’d like yours too! The video not only reminds us of the American Psychological Association’s research about the harmful effects of the sexualization of young girls- research that I’ve shared with you before, but it also shows you some great examples of this in the media today in tween role models like Miley, Katy, Ashley Tisdale, Amanda Bynes, etc.

Click here for the corresponding ABC News article.

Thoughts? Post your comments. Here’s mine…

My two cents: I thought the video was a great summary of the challenges parents face today raising emotionally-healthy girls. I’m really glad that the report was bold enough to take some pokes at music. Doctors have been warning us about these influences for years now… parents just aren’t listening.

I also liked it when New York Magazine’s Alex Morris, who recently reported on tweens fashion, chimed in with some great lines- like these:

“You go into a juniors department, you have a rack of clothing that is appropriate for an 11-year-old next to a rack of clothing that isn’t. It’s certainly blurring the lines. … It’s making it harder for parents to set boundaries.”

Then, talking about teen celebs like Miley, Britney, etc…

“The easiest way for a female celebrity to sort of transition from being a child star to an adult star– the pathway is through their sexuality.”

My last thought. The report makes it clear. “All this sexuality is harmful.” Could this officially be called “ironic,” that ABC, creator of shows like Desperate Housewives and Couger Town are reporting this to be harmful?


Stuff You Can Use

Posted on: 11/15/10 9:29 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m clocking out early today to get alone and write (I have to finish my last two chapter of my parenting book this week), but I wanted you to see some helpful new resources on our web sites.

1. David just finished an intriguing new Youth Culture Window article titled, The Gospel According to Hollywood, giving you a peek into celebs like Gaga, Bieber, Perry and Cyrus as they talk about their “Christianity.” David challenges parents and youth workers to talk with their kids about these claims and he gives us a few ideas to teach truth. Be sure to check that out, using the new “rating” and “comment” features on that page to give us your two cents on his article.

2. The second resource is featured in the SPIRITUAL GROWTH RESOURCE OF THE WEEK section on the front page of (I don’t know how many of you look at the front page of our site weekly, but it always offers new Youth Culture Window articles, OUTREACH resources of the week, SPIRITUAL GROWTH resources of the week and more). It’s a brand new discussion from our MUSIC DISCUSSIONS page using David Crowder’s “Everything Glorious” to talk with your kids about Demi Lovato’s recent struggles and how we can build strong and healthy self-esteem.

3. is almost completely finished. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a moment to look around. The site is live and kicking, with only one page to finish up (ASK THE SOURCE). You’ll see some 4YM favorites like the Youth Culture Window articles, the Slang Dictionary and my blog, but then you’ll also see some new stuff like MUSIC DISCUSSIONS specifically for parents and an amazing PARENTING HELP page with articles from Jim Burns, Wayne Rice, Al Menconi, David R. Smith and myself.

That should keep you busy!

Wholesome… and Not… in the Music Charts

Posted on: 11/12/10 10:31 AM | by Jonathan McKee

The music charts have had some interesting movement in the last few weeks, some wholesome stuff, and still plenty of the “not-so-wholesome.” I always find it intriguing to see what our kids are listening to.


1. Willa Smith (10-year-old daughter of Will Smith) found #1 on the iTunes video charts with her new song and video Whip My Hair. The song is well done and the video is really cute. (Wow, am I showing my age? Only a dad would say… “this is cute!”) No one is dressed risque’ in this video, the lyrics aren’t about picking people up in the club… speaking candidly, it’s a breath of fresh air. I saw it as high as #2 on iTunes for songs in the last week, it currently rests at #13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Not bad for a 10-year-old singing a clean song!

My only worry- in all honesty- is what fame can do to a 10-year-old. I hear from numerous sources (including Scott Derrickson when I interviewed him about Jayden Smith in his film “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) that Will and Jada are really good parents. So I hope the best for her. But fame creates a lot of pressure, as we’ve seen over and over again recently (Demi Lovato)

2. Glee did a version of Katy Perry’s racy song Teenage Dream this week and it immediately catapulted to #1 on iTunes and hasn’t budged since. This shows you the incredible draw and power of this show. Many of you read my two cents about the show before the launch of Season 2. Season 2 has proven to be edgier and even more risque’. I was bummed when I saw them redo Teenage Dream. If you wonder why I don’t like the Katy’s Teenage Dream, just google the lyrics of the song or… grab your accountability partner and co-watch the music video (And while you’re watching the video, especially at the 2 minute to 2 1/2 minute mark, realize that 28 million people have watched this video on YouTube alone! Yikes!)

3. Black Eyed Peas are back with a new dance song called “The Time (Dirty Bit).” The song is #2 right now, I predict it will go #1 in no time. Black Eyed Peas are amazingly talented, but keep putting out these typical “I wanna lose control” club dance songs. Sometimes the lyrics are clean, like I’ve Gotta Feeling,” but with really raunchy videos- I’ve talked about that before. Other times they try to slip some raunchy stuff under the radar– but our kids know what they’re talking about. I showed a sobering example of this (an insight into their lyrics and an interesting YouTube video of kids performing their song) with their song “Imma Be.” Regardless… they are back!

Other noteworthy observations:

  • Another clean option- Taylor Swift’s new “Speak Now” album is selling like gangbusters (what exactly is a “gangbuster?”), claiming Billboard’s #1 spot on the Top 200 Albums, the #2 album spot on iTunes, and with six of the songs from the album in iTunes top 200 downloaded songs.
  • Rihanna teamed up with rapper Drake for the song What’s My Name. That song flew to #1 on the Billboard charts, which isn’t as quick to move as iTunes (iTunes changes almost hourly- revealing trends like the Glee song, where Billboard won’t reflect those changes for a week). Don’t underestimate Rihanna. She’s getting racier and her new album “Rated R” will be releasing November 23- her first album to bare the “explicit lyrics” label. Hmmmmm.
  • Katy Perry still owns the charts, with her Glee song at #1 on iTunes, her new song Firework at #1 for videos on iTunes, #4 for song, and #10 on Billboard. My thoughts on Katy here.

Keep talking with your kids about the music they listen to. The lyrics do affect them.

Make use of our MUSIC DISCUSSION pages on both (for youth workers) and (for parents)…different discussions for each page. If our kids are already listening to this stuff, let’s use it to get to the Gospel!

Ministry BY Teenagers

Posted on: 11/10/10 12:32 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Have you ever considered what a youth ministry would look like if it eased back on it’s ministry TO teenagers, and focused more on ministry BY teenagers?

I just received the final proof of my brand new book, MINISTRY BY TEENAGERS, a book that will be in print and available on our site in the beginning of December.

I’m really excited about this one. In my book CONNECT I wrote about the balance needed in ministry between Outreach and Spiritual Growth. I think there’s a shortage of good resources out there that really help us develop Spiritual Growth in our students (those “right column” kids I talked about in CONNECT).

David and I combined our collective experience in youth ministry with this book to provide a practical and detailed guide for how to develop spiritual growth in teenagers.

The designer just sent me the back cover yesterday too. I like how it turned out:

Spontaneous “Hallelujah” at Macy’s

Posted on: 11/9/10 10:16 PM | by Jonathan McKee

A flash mob hit Macy’s in Philadelphia on Saturday– with more than 650 vocalist- thanks to help from the Opera Company of Philadelphia- who, unkknown to shoppers, had arranged to burst into song at noon, singing “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah accompanied by the world’s largest pipe organ.

Amazing video. Here’s the link.

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