R.I.P. baby sister

Posted on: 11/18/13 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

type“I just love being straight up ignored when ever I need you.”

It was the last thing she posted on her Facebook page. Then she went to her high school the next day and hung herself in the school bathroom.

That was last Friday.

Saturday, the day after this tragic suicide, I spoke at an event in the town where this occurred. Many of the youth workers knew kids from the school; they showed me this young lady’s Facebook page.

Some of the posts contained ‘text speak’ like “lawl sike” (basically saying, “just kidding”). But was she kidding? Continue reading “R.I.P. baby sister”

Sticks and Stones Contest

Posted on: 03/4/13 11:14 AM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s amazing how many voices are rising out of the playgrounds, past and present, to express the perspective of one who’s been bullied.

My dad, myself, and my son were all bullied as kids. My dad was called tubby; I, with my huge overbite was called “bucky”; and my son, with his vivid imagination was called names I refuse to type. So I resonate with these voices.

You’ve heard my perspective on this before in my article, The Voice of the Bullied, and many of you have heard my son share his story. Here’s another story, using poetry and animation, that is going viral on YouTube. I found it Continue reading “Sticks and Stones Contest”

The Amazing Spiderman

Posted on: 07/5/12 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

My son Alec went to see “The Amazing Spiderman” on opening day with his friends. Alec, a true Spidey fan, has been eagerly awaiting this release and was ecstatic to finally see this. So I asked him to give us his two cents on the film. Alec not only provides a fun teenage insight, but he also gives a glimpse from the perspective of someone who was bullied as a younger teen. Here’s his take:

“The Amazing Spiderman”

It was all I could do to keep from peeing myself when I was walking into the theater to see The Amazing Spiderman. I was so exited to see one of my childhood idols being portrayed in what I was sure to be an accurate representation of who he really is– a wise-cracking high-school nerd who was gifted with fantastic powers that allowed him to stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. For some reason, as a small social outcast, this idea was very appealing to me.

From the get-go my eyes were glued to the screen and my attention was firmly locked on the unfolding plot in the young life of Peter. The humor in the movie was Continue reading “The Amazing Spiderman”

Three Kids in a Van

Posted on: 04/26/12 5:11 PM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s always interesting to see what youth workers do with “travel time” on trips. I’ve seen ministries be very proactive about using a bus ride to build relationships with kids, one kid at a time. I’ve seen other ministries that haven’t even thought about it.

A few weeks ago “Deborah” found herself driving a van on a high school missions project for a week during spring break. Deborah is very gregarious and not afraid to ask kids about their faith. Every time teenagers found themselves riding shotgun next to Deborah, she asked, “So, tell me your faith story.”

Deborah had some great conversations with students during the week, but pretty soon word got around that “shotgun” next to Deborah meant “talking about Jesus.” As it turned out, by the end of the week, most of the students found seats in other vans, leaving just three random teenagers remaining: an awkward freshman boy, a popular cheerleader in her senior year, and a quiet recluse who was rarely seen without her headphones.

The freshman boy sat up front and within five minutes Deborah asked, “Tell me your faith story.”

The boy began to share a little about his life. It wasn’t long before he was talking about the way others teased him and the bullying he had been experiencing already during his freshman year. Choked up, he shared some of the specifics of the cruelties that were daily occurrences for this young man.

Wiping a tear from his cheek he confessed, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I wish I just had one friend.”

Deborah looked in the rear view mirror. The girl in the headphones was looking out the window, apparently killing her ears with loud music. The cheerleader, however, was noticeably listening to every word, dabbing her eyes with Kleenex, trying to keep her mascara from running.

The cheerleader spoke up. “Me too.”

The boy up front was startled by her voice. He didn’t even realize she was listening. “What?”

“I feel the exact same way,” she continued. “Every day. I’m surrounded by a bunch of fakes. They’re empty, and so am I. I’ve never felt so alone. I hate my life.”

The girl in the headphones grabbed a pillow from the back seat and began to fluff it up on the empty seat next to her. “Me too,” she quickly interjected, then turned over, lay on the pillow and closed her eyes.

Three completely different teenagers from three completely different social circles, all connecting for a brief moment when given a chance to share their story. A true “Breakfast Club” moment.

I love hearing stories from youth workers like this. It gives us a glimpse into the crack into the armor of today’s teenagers. It provides a peek at what Jesus’ ministry probably looked like, just hanging out with the lost.

What about you?

Are you putting yourselves in situations where kids can talk freely with you?

Are you asking questions that get teenagers talking?

Do you listen instead of lecturing?

Video of Us Tackling Bullying

Posted on: 02/15/11 5:33 PM | by Jonathan McKee

10 days ago my son Alec and I tackled the subject of bullying, speaking to a group of 450 kids. I guess that’s better than tackling an actual bully! Believe me… I’ve been tempted.

I promised you to give you a glimpse of that talk, so we just posted a video of part of it on our web site here.

If you’d like to hear the entire talk, you can catch the audio of it HERE in a special episode of our A LIL BIT podcast.

Speaking with Alec

Posted on: 02/7/11 12:57 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m back from my weekend speaking with my son Alec in Wisconsin; we had a great time together. Not only did we get a chance to tour Chicago on the way up, but we also got to share the stage and speak together one night.

Alec did phenomenal!

On Saturday night he shared his experiences being bullied, then shared some research about how “one friend can make a difference” in a kid’s life. He echoed that research with personal testimony, emphasizing how much he had longed for just “one friend.”

The response was amazing. Kids and adults were walking up to Alec afterwards and talking with him, sharing their stories, and asking him questions. I think it surprised Alec how many people connected with his story.

I closed the evening providing examples of what the compassion and love outlined in Phil 2 looks like: making friends with someone different than you, sitting with them at lunch, maybe even sacrificing some time with your existing friends to “sit on the bus” next to someone new. It all starts with “humility” –realizing that we can’t do it on our own and letting Christ love others through us!

The whole weekend of ministry was fun. I shared the Gospel on Friday night using the prodigal son story (the same one that I provide in my book, Do They Run When They See You Coming? as an example of how to share the Gospel. It’s also in the form of a ready-made talk with small group questions in my book, 10-Minute Talks). The adult leaders loved the small group questions for the weekend. Personally, I think that small group “digestion” immediately after the speaker is always the way to go– so I always provide small group questions when I speak.

Thanks for your prayers! I think we’ll be hearing an official “pizza report” from Alec later on in the week!  🙂

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.

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!)

Stories from Mom’s Protecting Kids Online

Posted on: 10/13/10 11:00 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Last week I shared with you about a lunch I had with an FBI agent who was picking my brain about kids in today’s culture, the dangers they face, etc. This guy has helped develop a piece of software that helps parents monitor their kids’ browsing habits online. Many of you jumped onto the site to sign up for their free beta-test.

I told you that I’d provide you with some stories of real moms and dads who tried out this software called Parental Options. Interesting stuff. Here’s a few:

1)      My  husband and I were attending a  prayer vigil  at our church.  Our time slot was from 11:00 pm to midnight.  At about 11:30 pm, my cell phone began to vibrate.  Parental Options was sending me an alert that our son was on the computer.  We set usage parameters for his computer until 10:00 pm, and he was on the computer while we were away from home.  I sent a text home and the computer was turned off.
2)      There are a number of times where the software has helped us to know just how much time was spent on Facebook and other interesting websites vs. getting homework done.  We expect our kids will multi-task but it is an eye opener for us (and them) when you can take a look at something that is recording the frequency (and duration) of toggling between a word document and Facebook for example.  Healthy conversations are a result.  Parental Options software has facilitated our ability to talk about the content available via the internet just as we would about TV or movies.  Our kids are not navigating this part of their lives alone.
3)      My daughter was engaged in IM chat in Facebook around 2am with someone that she had just met at school.  (She was up doing homework). The Parental Options program highlighted all of the words in the chat conversation that are “grooming” words (words that signal that a person is trying to get to know someone, and establish a trusted relationship with them).  The program was teaching us what to look for when reviewing her activity. 
4)      I got the software just to check on my kids’ internet browsing from time to time.  Unfortunately, I found that one of my boys had visited some pornographic sites. (Parental Options says that viewing browser history alone isn’t completely reliable because kids can use multiple browsers and erase some history while keeping the rest. I didn’t know that.) 
5)      My son was playing an online game and chatting there with a “friend” from school.  This “friend” was bullying him and using language that would tear apart anyone’s self confidence. This was caught and addressed because the software highlighted some of the words that were used in the conversation. ( At this point, not all bullying language will be highlighted because people can be vicious in such diverse ways.  But, with the software running, you always have the opportunity to scan the chat and ask your child about the person they were interacting with.)   

Here’s the web site where you can read a little more about it: ParentalOptions.com  …I’m pretty impressed with what I have seen so far.

Another Sexting-related Bullying Suicide

Posted on: 11/29/09 9:36 PM | by Jonathan McKee

David, my director of content development for TheSource4YM.com just emailed me a sad article about an incident only 15 miles from his house in Tampa, FL.

Many of you have heard horror stories about sexting- I’ve blogged about them before. It usually goes like this: girl sends boyfriend nude photo. Girlfriend and boyfriend eventually break up. Boyfriend passes around nude photo. Girlfriend is shamed and reacts… sometimes in suicide.

That’s similar to Hope’s story, as told here by the St. Petersburg Times:

At the end of the school year at Beth Shields Middle School, the taunting got so bad that Hope Witsell’s friends surrounded her between classes. They escorted her down hallways like human shields, fending off insults such as “whore” and “slut.” A few days before, Hope had forwarded a nude photo of herself to a boy she liked — a practice widely known as “sexting.” The image found its way to other students, who forwarded it to their friends. Soon the nude photo was circulating through cell phones at Shields Middle and Lennard High School, according to multiple students at both schools. “Tons of people talk about me behind my back and I hate it because they call me a whore!” Hope wrote in her journal. “And I can’t be a whore i’m too inexperienced. So secretly TONS of people hate me … ” School authorities learned of the nude photo around the end of the school year and suspended Hope for the first week of eighth-grade, which started in August. About two weeks after she returned to school, a counselor observed cuts on Hope’s legs and had her sign a “no-harm” contract, in which Hope agreed to tell an adult if she felt inclined to hurt herself, her family says. The next day, Hope hanged herself in her bedroom. She was 13.

So sad.

Pray for Hope’s family.

And keep talking with our kids about these kinds of issues (we’ve outlined some ways to do this in this article and even provided discussion outlines for you like the one here).