Too Strict or Too Lenient

Posted on: 01/16/12 1:30 PM | by Jonathan McKee

One of the questions I am probably asked the most frequently after my parenting workshops is, “How I do I know if I’m being too strict… or too lenient.”

We’ve all thought it; sometimes it’s just hard to find the balance of where to land. (It’s something I’ve blogged about before–5 Principles Parents Should Remember When Setting the Bar).

I constantly come across articles and studies on each polar extreme. “Exert control over your children’s media choices.” No… “you might not be helping your kid when you try to control everything your kid sees, plays, and listens to.”

Who are we to believe?

Is there a balance?

A few days ago Psychology Today posted an article by Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, encouraging parents to think twice before limiting your kids’ screen time and video game play. Gray is pretty confident in kids’ abilities to make good choices about how to use their free time, especially when they’re given the freedom to play and explore in lots of different ways. Gray contends:

It is always a mistake, I think, to tell kids what they must or must not do, except in those cases where you are telling them that they must do their share of the chores around the house or must not do things that hurt you or other people. Whenever we prevent our kids from playing or exploring in the ways they prefer, we place another brick in a barrier between them and us. We are saying, in essence, “I don’t trust you to control your own life.” Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.

Gray’s article isn’t just talking about computer time, he includes TV watching in his list of activities that parents should consider not limiting, despite what some experts say. He provides a personal example:

I know well a kid who, for years, spent hours per day watching television shows that I thought were really disgustingly dumb; but, over time, I discovered that she was getting a lot out of them. They were making her think in new ways. She understood all the ways in which the shows were dumb, at least as well as I did; but she also saw ways in which they were smart, and she analyzed them and learned from them

He goes on to argue that parents shouldn’t limit reading, computer time, video game time and other activities. (I encourage you to read the entire article, even if you don’t agree with it)

Is Gray right? Or is this kind of thinking like the report I shared in Chapter 3 of my parenting book about the lenient parenting styles in the Netherlands, where parents often allow their teenage girls to have boyfriends spend the night in their bedrooms. Seem crazy? Then why are U.S. teen birthrates 8 times higher than the Netherlands?

Let me quickly insert, I don’t agree with these lenient parenting styles, but I include this kind of research in my reading frequently to see if there are any nuggets of truth we can learn from them. For example, in that Netherlands report that I noted in my book, the channels of communication seemed to be extremely open between parents and teenagers.

The question is, can we have good relationships with our kids without turning into a “yes” man? (“Yes, you can play video games as long as you want.” “Yes, you can go to bed when you want.“ “Yes, you can have your boyfriend spend the night.”)

At what point does leniency become advocacy of harmful activities?

So what do you think?
Is Gray right?

Should we be concerned about these “bricks” we place as a barrier between our kids and us when we prevent them from playing the way they prefer? (At what point are we trying too hard to be friend, instead of parent?)

Where do we draw the line? (What if my kid wants to play the new Zelda game on Wii for 9 hours on a Saturday? What if they want to play Grand Theft Auto? At what point do we know if we meet Gray’s definition of “things that hurt you or other people”?)

Should there be a limit to screen time? (in other words, do you agree with Gray- who says “no limit,” or the American Academy of Pediatrics who says, “yes- set limits.”)

Dad, You Aren’t Funny!

Posted on: 01/12/12 11:09 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I heard it again yesterday when I dropped off Ashley at school. I made a quick joke, that years ago would have had her in hysterics, but now… she just looks at me expressionless and says those words that I hear so frequently, “Dad, you aren’t funny.”

Is this true? What ever happened to my little Daddy’s Girl that used to laugh at every joke I ever said… even the lame ones? Did I lose the funny-gene somewhere after age 40? Around my own kids I feel like Bruno Kirby’s pathetic character in the movie, Good Morning Vietnam, who couldn’t face the fact that he wasn’t funny, and simply responded, “Sir, in my heart, I know I’m funny.”

As a guy who speaks for a living, it’s difficult when your toughest audience is your youngest daughter. I have no problem getting a whole sanctuary full of adults laughing, and whole campgrounds full of teenagers rolling on the floor. But Ashley now? I might get a chuckle one in five jokes.

At what point do parents cease being funny and cool?

In my house, it hit when my kids reached about 8th grade and it lasted well into their sophomore year. With my two oldest, Alec and Alyssa, they returned from “the darkness” (that’s what we call it in my house—the time when teenagers are just emotional, whiny brats that no one can please, no matter what you do) after just a couple years. But oooooooooh… those were grim years! I remember my little Ashley, back then, observing her older siblings’ antics and saying, “Dad, I’m not going to be like that, am I?”

And I would always plead with her, “No Ashley. Please don’t ever go to the dark side!”

But then it just happened! I heard about it from plenty of my friends and I read it in hundreds of parenting books. “One day your teenagers won’t want you around as much.”

I didn’t believe it. I thought, Not me! This is only something that boring parents experience. I’m fun! I’m funny! (Did I just type that out loud?)

But it happened, literally overnight. One day I just wasn’t funny anymore.

The other morning when I couldn’t get Ashley to laugh, I did the rookie mistake and tried harder. I was reaching deep in the bowels of my humor vault, finally resorting to some good ol’ fart humor. When in doubt, fart humor has always worked with Ashley.

Not even a chuckle.

Silent, but deadly.

In all seriousness, having teenagers of my own has been a learning experience. Each one has been different, but at the same time, they’ve gone through similar stages. Luckily “the dark side,” as we call it in my house, has only lasted about 2 years for each of my kids.

Sigh. Two years of not being funny.

I’m willing to wait. But, “In my heart, I know I’m funny!”

What about you?
Am I alone?

If you’re a parent of teenagers, did this happen to you?

Have you, like me, learned that the best thing to do is, not try?

Are They Worth the Trouble?

Posted on: 01/10/12 5:26 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I find it funny how much disagreement there is about the generation most commonly knows as the Millennials. The professional world is still trying to figure out whether this group of young people is worth the hassle! Ministries wonder if they make good volunteers.

What about you? Would you want them on your team?

Millennials, also know as Gen Y, born roughly between 1980 and mid to late 90’s (that means they are roughly between the ages of 16 to 32 right now, but most often refers to college students and young professionals), are often known for their attitude of entitlement, their lackadaisical prowess, and their dire need for a wireless connection. They’ve been described as narcissistic, uncommitted and ultimately unreliable.

Is this stigma fair?

As a guy who spends a good part of my week researching youth culture, attitudes and trends, I often find myself going to bat for this age group. Recently, a friend of mine read me a paragraph from a well-known Christian book about emerging adulthood, and I heard much of the same descriptors: lazy, uncaring, selfish. I can’t say that I agreed with much. I constantly come across research to the contrary about this generation who, in a recent study by Metlife, was 8 percent more likely than the general population to work extra hours and take a second job.

My dad and I have spent quite a bit of time studying this age group for our seminars about volunteerism, detailing a lot of our findings in THE NEW BREED, our book about recruiting, training, and even firing today’s volunteers. We find GEN Y precarious at times, and definitely fragile… but well worth it.

Maybe some of us are critical because we don’t understand them. Half of them would choose a smartphone rather than a car. No, seriously. An automotive analyst for Gartner did a study on 18-24 year olds, summarizing, “The iPhone is the Ford Mustang of Today.” That’s the thing about this generation. They will wow you one moment, and then leave you scratching your heads the next.

Funny… I was just sticking up for Gen Y this week, citing new research about how involved they are in social issues, and how their tech-savvy minds stretch us to think outside the box. Then just this morning I received an email from a youth worker who is bringing me out to teach a workshop to a bunch of Gen Y volunteers. They asked if I could move the workshop from 9AM to 10AM because 9AM is too early.

Soooooo Gen Y.

Ya gotta love em’…or you’ll probably shoot em.’

My dad just wrote an article titled, Why Are We Dissing Gen Y Volunteers When They Have So Much to Offer? in that article he quotes the head of human resources for a large corporation:

“You are not going to diss on Gen Y are you? We are getting so tired of people tearing them down. If you are going to do that, we don’t want you to speak to our group because we are finding that they are some of our best workers. They are creative, hard working and energetic compared to the cynical long-term employees who are just marking time until they can retire.”

We were glad to hear someone stick up for that group. He was pretty excited to hear that we were pro-Gen-Y. (In the article, my dad goes on to cite an MSN article describing Gen Y’s workplace strengths, according to a CareerBuilder writer. Fascinating stuff.)

Today another article dropped in my inbox (ht to about GEN Y, comparing their work ethic to Gen X (my generation). In this article, the author argues that Millennials want what she called “Work-Life Blending,” compared to Gen X, who wanted work-life balance:

Gen X workers introduced the mantra of work-life balance. They wanted their employers to give them flexibility in their job so they could still devote time to their families and personal wellbeing. Millennials have morphed that idea into work-life blending. Instead of switching between professional mode to personal mode like Gen Xers, Millennials are always in both.

At work, Millennials want to have the freedom to access social networks, take personal calls, chat with friends via IM, use their own tech devices, etc. Outside the office, they’ll take work calls at home, check their work email as often as their personal email (even during off hours), and view coworkers as friends. (Click here for the rest of that article from Ypulse).

Gen Y is definitely a mixed can of nuts.

But I always say, when life gives you peanuts, make peanut brittle. (Okay… I actually have never said that… until now.)

What has your experience been?
What has your experience been with this younger generation of teenagers, college students and 20-somethings who seem like they have to check their Facebook status from their smartphone every 8 minutes? Are they your next volunteer… your next employee? What have you learned managing this bunch?

R U Listening?

Posted on: 01/8/12 5:27 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Some of you have already been hearing the buzz about our brand new YouTube videos for parents, R U Listening?

Last Thursday night we officially launched both the YouTube page and Facebook page, uploading two new videos by Friday morning. (Be sure and jump on the Facebook page today and “LIKE” us.)

The purpose is simple. We want to provide a resource where parents can listen to the felt needs of teenagers today, and think about healthy responses. My daughter Ashley hosts the show, sharing a teenage perspective, then each week we’ll hear responses from some parenting speaker and authors.

You’ll see an intro video called WATCH THIS FIRST, then we already released our first video in the series, with my response to a teenager named Natalie in Cincinnati who raises a good question about a double standard she perceives in her home. Here’s the first video:

I’m loving the potential for this resource for two reasons:

  1. Parents love tools that help them better understand young people today, and “R U Listening” provides a very honest teenage perspective, also providing some healthy way to respond.
  2. Each little video is only two to three minutes long. Parents want help, but they are busy! It’s nice how quick and accessible this resource is.

Help me spread the word to parents in your church and community. Jump on our page and “LIKE” us today. Then ask your parents… R U Listening?

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Backtalking to Mom Should Be Rewarded?

Posted on: 01/4/12 6:53 PM | by Jonathan McKee

“I thought I told you to clean your room.”

“You did tell me that, and here’s why I didn’t…”

How many of you are already taking off your belt to teach this kid a thing or two? At first glance, this kind of talk from your kids might seem disrespectful, or as some of us call it, “backtalk.” But what if I told you, allowing this kind of talk can not only open doors for healthy conversations, but it can help your kids learn to say ‘no’ to drugs or alcohol.

Don’t worry, I’m not advocating letting our kids disrespect their parents. I’m advocating allowing our kids to respectfully speak their minds. Kids who can calm and confidently disagree with their parents are actually 40 percent more likely to say ‘no’ to drugs or alcohol than kids who didn’t argue.

Sound crazy?

The study was done by the University of Virginia and they published their findings in the journal, Child Development, in December 2011. Dr. Joseph P. Allen studied 157 13-year-olds, videotaping them describing their biggest disagreements with their parents. Some parents just laughed and rolled their eyes when they watched these videos. But the parents who wanted to talk with their kids about what they heard were the ones that Allen described as “on the right track.” The parents who allowed their kids to dialogue with them gave their kids practice handling disagreements.

NPR’s health blog tells us more about the study:

Allen interviewed the teens again at ages 15 and 16. “The teens who learned to be calm and confident and persuasive with their parents acted the same way when they were with their peers,” he says. They were able to confidently disagree, saying ‘no’ when offered alcohol or drugs. In fact, they were 40 percent more likely to say ‘no’ than kids who didn’t argue with their parents.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from teenagers is that their parents don’t listen. That’s one of the biggest reasons we are launching’s new YouTube and Facebook page, R U Listening. Each week we’ll be posting a video where we listen to the felt needs of a student and discuss appropriate responses.

What if the parent at the beginning of this article didn’t take time to actually listen to their kid?

Maybe we should listen to the rest of the story:

“I thought I told you to clean your room.”

“You did tell me that, and here’s why I didn’t do it yet. You also told me to feed the dog and finish studying for my SAT test. Molly looked hungry, so I fed her first. Then I went straight to studying because I figured that was the most important. When I finish studying in about 15 minutes, I’ll get straight to cleaning my room. Is that okay?


Let’s be realistic. This probably doesn’t happen too often. Some of us might experience much more flawed logic from our kids like this:

“I thought I told you to clean your room.”

“You did tell me that, and here’s why I didn’t. I got a phone call from Taylor and he really needed to talk. So I talked with him, and he wanted me to check out this Facebook post that Chelsea put up about him. While I was checking that, I noticed that Jake was FBO with Katy, and you know how much she hates me, so…

Does this sound more like your kid?

Here’s a situation where parents can rise up and respond back to their kids in a manner that corrects gently, still keeping the doors open for future discussion. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Sometimes we tell ourselves that yelling just works better. But wouldn’t it be better to keep the channels of communication open? They’re pretty easy to slam. Besides, when we give our kids the gift of letting them be heard, we can do one better than just getting them to clean their room… we can teach them to articulate themselves and stand up for what they believe.

The NPR article linked above contends, “effective arguing acted as something of an inoculation against negative peer pressure.”

That probably makes a lot of us think twice about simply responding, “Just shut up and clean your room!”

Sorry Adam, My Wife is Hot

Posted on: 01/3/12 5:10 PM | by Jonathan McKee

My buddy Adam ranted in his blog today about guys who describe their wives as hot. Adam said it makes him cringe every time he hears it. Well… I cringed when I read Adam’s blog, because I am one of the people he referred to. “I have a hot wife!”

Don’t worry, I’m not “dissing” on my friend Adam. I called him up to ask him if he thought I should write this little pushback to his blog. He welcomed the banter. I think his opinion is valid. I just wanted him and others to hear from the other side… guys who just can’t keep quiet about their hot wives!

So in response to Adam’s “Yes, your wife is hot” blog, here are my reasons why I don’t hesitate to mention how hot my wife is:

  • I actually mean it! I’m not just forcing it or trying to be demonstrative, I really think my wife is hot. I don’t say it when I’m speaking at a church and she’s sitting right there in the front pew—she would be embarrassed. She doesn’t want people looking at her to see if she is hot. But I don’t hesitate to say it if the subject of my wife comes up when I’m talking with a friend, when I’m teaching a workshop, or even speaking to teenagers at a camp. If you hear me mention my wife, you’ll almost always hear me say something about how amazing or beautiful she is. I can’t resist!
  • Adam says it’s immature. I’ve been called immature for a lot worse!
  • More guys should think that their wives are hot! Unfortunately, 87% of men admitted to using porn in the year prior. That’s a lot of men that are looking at other women and thinking that they’re hot. I really don’t want to be in that group, and, speaking completely candidly, there are way too many men who are comfortable “looking around.” Sadly, we men all have friends who don’t hesitate to “look” as long as they “don’t touch.” You’ll hear guys say, “Just because I’m on the diet, it doesn’t mean I can’t look at the menu.” Sorry guys, I’m not buying it. I really don’t want to look around, because I’ve witnessed too many guys noticing that the grass is greener wherever they look. Personally, I really like my grass. (Did that come out wrong?)
  • I said it way before Talladega Nights.
  • Our wives need to know that we truly think they are beautiful. Hopefully, men aren’t just putting on a show. They should tell their wives how beautiful they are, and often! I daily tell Lori how hot she is. Sadly, this is often met with a chuckle, followed by, “Yeah, right.” Same thing when I tell my daughters how beautiful they are. They often say, “Well you only say that because you’re my dad.” It’s sad how poor the self-esteem of our women has become today. Today’s women are bombarded with images of how they “should” look, with perfect skin, ginormous breasts, and anorexic waistlines. Today’s females are often trying to measure up to an image that doesn’t even exist. It’s sad what these media-images are doing to our women. Our women need to hear how beautiful they truly are from people who mean it and really care about them. I’m entranced with my wife like the Song of Solomon poet. I love her eyes, the curve of her back… and for her sake, I won’t got into any more detail like the Bible does (but I do enjoy fruit).
  • Our young men need to be head over heals crazy about the woman they marry, in all aspects. As a minister who has married lots of couples and is counseling a couple now, I’ve seen this backfire both ways. I’ve seen a man be infatuated with a woman’s looks only. The marriage didn’t last. On the other hand I’ve seen a man “settle” for a woman he really liked, but wasn’t attracted to. This marriage, like so many, ended up with him having a porn addiction. Criticize me if you want, but an attractive spouse is very important to men (Dr. Willard Harley talks about that fact in detail in his book, His Needs Her Needs). That better not be the only reason a man marries a woman, but couples should never “settle.” Those marriages are doomed from the start.
  • And Adam… just because you brought it up, my wife does make a mighty fine meat loaf! (As hot as she is, she knows that food will always come before sex in our house) (That was meant as to infer priority, not sequence, but I’ll gladly take the latter on any day).

That’s all I got.

So if you don’t think men should call their wife “hot,” then that’s okay. Really. I might have it wrong, but my intentions are right. I don’t have it all together, but I definitely can’t help but smother my wife with love and affection. I’m a tireless romantic. My kids probably grow tired of me kissing my wife’s neck in the kitchen (and then helping her do the dishes).

My daughter Alyssa told me the nicest thing a few weeks ago. She said, “How is any guy I date ever gonna measure up to you? If he brings flowers, I’m going to think, Only flowers? Where’s my poetry? Where’s my personalized romantic iTunes playlist? Where’s my surprise trip to the ocean?”

My wife is so much more than hot! (and yes, I did make a playlist called “Lori”)

10 Winners Who Connected

Posted on: 01/2/12 4:34 PM | by Jonathan McKee

What better way to start the New Year than to give some stuff away! So that’s what I’m doing. I’m rewarding the people who connect with us.

As most of you remember, on December 19th I offered prizes to ten of you through a little contest announced in this blog. I offered one of 5 new Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital copies of the new movie Dolphin Tale (Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd), or one of 5 copies of my book, Do They Run When They See You Coming.

The task was simple: LIKE our youth ministry Facebook page, or connect with us by receiving our free EZINE, my blog, or my Twitter (all easily done through this new Connect with Us” page), or make a comment on our year-end Youth Culture Window article about the year’s top music.

Hundreds LIKED, CONNECTED and COMMENTED… and here are the 10 winners:

Ben Riddle

Aaron Verigan

Blairlee Owens

Eric Groezinger

Stephen Page

Corey Roskamp

Scott Ritter

Bob McMichael

Benjamin Spears

Charles Wallis

If you didn’t win… don’t worry. I offer plenty of fun deals and prizes through my blog, my Twitter, our Facebook, our EZINE… that’s why it’s good to connect with us in as many places as possible via our new Connect with Us” page!