A Free Book for Your Idea

Posted on: 11/12/15 5:45 AM | by Jonathan McKee

52-Ways-to-Connect-with-Smartphone-KidI’m putting the finishing touches on my new parenting book this month, and I’d love your help! I’ll make it simple. If I use your idea, I’ll send you a FREE copy when this book is released.

BONUS: Even if I do NOT use your idea, I’ll randomly draw 3 names out of the comments below and send them a book! So don’t hesitate to send your best idea.

Many of you remember the title of this upcoming book because you voted on the best cover in September (the cover on the right won, hands down). The book is titled, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid: How to Engage with Kids Who Can’t Seem to Pry Their Eyes from Their Devices.

This book has been an intriguing project. I’m providing parents with tools to help them entice their kids to naturally set their phones aside and engage in rewarding face-to-face interaction. As you can imagine, this can be quite tricky, in a world where today’s teens spend about 9 hours a day soaking in entertainment media and technology. So conjuring a kid to part with their device for even a few minutes can be about as easy as amputation!

So far, I’ve been filling the books with ideas like…

  • No tech at the table– the simple practice of making dinner a technology free zone, a pretty shrewd practice when the latest research reveals the sheer presence of a phone on the table changes the degree of connection people feel.
  • CoViewing– taking the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and actually watching TV, YouTube or Vine videos with your kids, mostly for the benefit of bonding with them as you get a peek into their world.
  • Pocketing Your Own Phone– living this instead of just preaching this. Helping your kids see they are truly a priority in your schedule.
  • Communication Environments– campfires, hot tubs, nail salons, hunting… I’m filling the books with examples of settings where face-to-face conversation flows naturally.

So think outside of the box. What have you experienced? What are you going to try? What ideas do you have that might help you or other parents connect with today’s tech-obsessed kids?

Use the comment feature below and submit your ideas!

  • If I use your idea, you get a copy!
  • And I’ll ALSO draw three names randomly and give them each a copy!

Posted in Books, Contests |  | Leave A Comment

53 Replies to “A Free Book for Your Idea”

  1. We have gone along the same lines as your no tech at the table at home, but we went a step farther when going out to eat, we lock the phones in the glove box or console and don’t even take them into the restaurant.
    As for sharing, I love when my teenage son gets me hooked on a game and we take turns trying to beat each other’s high score.
    Thanks for your hard work, we have emailed before, I am a very new but older youth minister. Your books help a lot.God bless!

  2. When our boys were little, we always had a time limit to screen time of a max of 2 hours/day, which included tv and computer. We have gotten away from that now that they’re older, as it has become harder to monitor, since they need to use devices for homework. But if we could find a workable way to monitor social media time, I think that would be a great guideline to implement with teens!

  3. I definitely think that along with co-viewing, co-playing is a great idea. If there are games on their phones they like then get them on your phone too and play. Find games that you can all play together [SpaceTeam – iPhone and Android – is a great one] and incorporate phone games or video games into family game nights.

  4. For us, trying different things.
    1. When looking at Instagram, sharing the posts, and talking about what people post, and what is going on in their lives.
    2. When my daughter asks me questions now, I put my phone face-down on the table, or close my laptop, or pause the TV, so I can give her my full attention, with no distractions.
    3. Game Nights with no phone close-by
    4. Putting my own phone in the bedroom

    For sharing, we both played a game, and tried to beat other.

  5. Had one of my kids tell me that one of his teachers at school has a set of pockets in their classroom. Each of the kids is supposed to put their phone in their pocket when they get to class. If the phone is not in the pocket when class starts, there is some type of penalty, I don’t remember what. You might be able to convert that to a use at home. A “no phone” zone.

  6. I have an idea that goes one step beyond your suggestion for “communication environments”. Personally I find dead zones are a fantastic place for me to go not to be distracted from my cell phone. Sometimes the best way to enforce something is to make it so you can’t break the rules. Going to places with no cell phone reception, WiFi, or 4G will not only keep everybody off technology, but nobody will look like the “bad guy” for stealing phones, or forcing people away from their tech. The best example of this is when the power goes out, and a family all comes together to play board games. This is the biggest reason why I love to hunt, canoe, or camp.

  7. I challenge my own kids and the teens I serve with this idea: “Before you SEND a text, RECEIVE FROM THE TEXT” meaning that I ask them to try to make a habit of being in God’s word (receiving FROM the text) before they communicate to their friends (send a text). Is it possible to begin our day in God’s word rather than on our phone? I ask them to take a moment to read SOMETHING from the bible as a way of receiving “a text” from God. Read a Psalm, a chapter, a few Proverbs, a parable, etc. and THEN choose a friend or a different friend each morning to send a text to describing what you read as a way of encouraging them. Let the first text you send be a word from the Lord to someone in your life. Nearly all of our teens check their phones first thing in the morning and will MAKE time to communicate to friends or to see what they have said to you.

    Challenge teens to read FROM “the text” before they SEND a text. This is a simple way to create some discipline and daily exposure to the “texts” God is giving us through His word.

  8. Be silly with them. Like if they are sitting right next to you with their phone, text them a joke or something and connect through laughter and fun in your own private unspoken conversation.

  9. We do a thing called “Phone Free Zones.” These are both constant “zones” (such as the dinner table), but also random times when we declare a certain time or event to be a “Phone Free Zone.”
    For example…when we go to a movie together, before we walk in we will declare a “Phone Free Zone” and leave the phones in the car.
    On long road trips, we may declare a certain amount of time or a certain number of miles (like a 1/2 hour or hour, or for the next 60 miles) as a “Phone Free Zone.” We have a basket in the car that we all put our phones in and then we honor that zone. On one particular stretch of road that we travel often it is known always as the “Phone Free Zone.”
    We also give a little warning so that anyone in the midst of a conversation can finish that conversation before entering the “Phone Free Zone.”

  10. All of these are great ideas. It has caused me to really check myself as a parent. I need to limit my screen time as well. A friend said at night he makes his kids leave their devices on the kitchen table down stairs before they go to bed that way they are not on there all night.

  11. As well as using other rules like time allowance, homework coming first, etc., I also play games with my kids. We may sit next to each other or just in the same room. We’ll all be on our own devices but playing with/against each other. It’s not eye contact, but it’s definitely interaction in a world they enjoy.

  12. Jonathan-
    We do limit screen time and all games are subject to parental approval. But truthfully, I am finding that in a culture where so much interaction is technologivally-based, it has been more helpful to talk WITH my teens about tech than to speak against it. As my oldest likes to remind me, technology is morally “neutral.” It’s how people use it that matters. Christians (myself included) have often approaches the “teens and tech” issue from an adversarial standpoint, blaming the smartphones for the decrease in communication. This approach only drives kids away. I’ve found that maintaining an open, running dialogue with my kids is far more effective. We research games & tech together now. We talk about appropriate times for and uses of tech. We hop on the computer together and I have learned some great tips from my tech-savvy teens that I would not know otherwise. Their phones are still turned in to me at bedtime. The phone is usually the first privilege they lose when things go wrong. But it’s great to share this major part of life with them, instead of fighting them about it!

  13. And a quick second thought: since tech is pretty much their favorite thing, why not talk tech with them? The kids I know will gladly put their phones down to talk to me about them! The important thing is to keep talking. 🙂

  14. Our kids are still pretty young, but they have friends who are much more engaged in tech/media than others, so when these “friends with phones” are over, we have them only use their phone in a “public” area of our home – living room or kitchen. It’s a little more difficult to set boundaries for other kids, but if they are in our home they need to go by our standards. This is an important element of this conversation, as even if we have all the parental safeguards, monitoring software, etc. our kids friends likely won’t have the same boundaries on their devices.
    We will occasionally do a “screen free weekend” and make specific plans to go do something fun together as a family for part of that time, and then have other activities that we do – games, outdoors, etc.
    Also, parents -regularly do a little research. An internet search for “popular apps for teens” will give you a lot of information on what’s new and current and what the risks are. Don’t let kids download apps without your approval, and watch out for the app “hiding” apps.

  15. Idea: exercise together (Jon – this can also be morphed into other ideas like “coach your son or daughters sports team” or “play a sport together”, depending on how in depth you want to go with it and how much detail you want to add to each topic.)

    Looking at a way to get into better shape? Maybe you need someone to go with you to the gym or for that run. And maybe that accountability partner is already living under your roof and eating all your favorite cereal.

    Ask your son or daughter to go to the gym or on a run with you once or twice per week. You may have to alter your workout routine (or start one!) to accommodate their school schedule but the one on one time spent with your child will be well worth it. If you belong to a gym and they are not a member, consider offering to pay for their membership in full or in part. (Before offering to pay for their membership, be clear about your purpose – it’s about spending one on one time together and add a caveat that there will be no phones or listening to music when exercising together) Alternately, if you are like me and don’t like going to the gym, think about investing in some weights and / or machines that you can use at home. Set specific nights of the week for your workouts and then sit back and watch your relationship with your child grow like your bulging biceps!

    Exercising with your child will not only provide opportunities for meaningful conversation but the process can also provide many valuable life skills, such as: setting goals, accomplishing goals as a team, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and more.

    One form of exercise that I partake of with my sons is ice and roller hockey. I am fortunate in that my sons both gravitated to the sport without much pushing on my part and now we all share a passion for it. Both of my sons play roller hockey on teams that I coach. We talk a lot during the game but it tends to be mostly one way – me to them, coach to player. The best one on one conversations occur after the game when we digest and recollect all the things that happened at the rink. Kids will converse about things they are passionate about. So what sports are your kids passionate about? Is there opportunities for you to get involved in the sports that they play on a coaching level?

  16. You don’t have to restrict their phone/tablet/computer usage. Restrict their usage of the power cords. You can use it as a reward system or as a punishment. It can also teach them moderation if they know they only have so much power.

  17. We have tried co-viewing in our household and it is definitely helpful as we try to learn more about our kids’ virtual worlds. We do enforce the rule of no cell phones at the dinner table, including when we go out to eat.

    While co-viewing is great, when possible, we try to carve out some time where the kids get to actually try out some of the things they find interesting in their virtual world. For example, our daughter has an old cellphone that is only used for apps and games. She loves to browse through my Pinterest app and countless times, that has led to her sharing ideas she has found for doing things; new cupcake and cookie recipes to try; specific holiday crafts to make, etc. There is a lot of sharing in our household when it comes to anyone finding something funny, super cute, interesting, heartwarming, trivia in general, etc., Same with music; our teenage boys love to share their music choices for all of us to hear. The majority of the time, they are sharing songs we already love. Other times, the songs are new to us and we get to enjoy something different. We also try to encourage the boys in particular, to play some online games together. That way, even if they are still using a screen, they are at least interacting. We find that the kids are more willing to share their world with us and are also willing to come along with the whole family to watch Jeopardy, news shows, televised concerts, etc. We certainly have a lot of improvements we need to make in order to pry them away from their screens, and reading through this blog and everyone’s ideas is definitely helpful.

  18. LOVE the ideas – and some of the follow ups. Texting the tech-obsessed is a favorite of my. Invariably it leads to at least a “look-up” eye-contact moment.

    But my own addition to the list – more a related idea – co-viewing, big screen style. In our house, we have connected our livingroom TV to be able to capture the phone screen. Hardly a week goes by when we aren’t taking turns beaming something to share together. Sometimes it’s a ‘hit of the week,’ silly moment, you-tube videos, a new dance to learn or a new song. Sometimes it’s more thought provoking… like sharing a research experience and the bunny-trails that leads on. It’s been great!

  19. A great way to encourage personal interaction is by engaging your children in volunteer work. We are fortunate to have local churches that provide plenty of opportunities for young people and their families to choose from. My kids volunteer for the local church’s Bible school every summer and they love it! Our city also has a great variety of kids’ and family programs so it makes it easier to push the kids to get involved in something. My daughter and I have started volunteering together with a non-profit and we both love the time we spend together as she learns the benefits of giving to others, learns valuable life skills, and pushes herself to interact with others.

    1. I love that your kids volunteer. Such a good practice. My kids always thrive in these situations… and yes… theses settings usually require phones to be put away. In the book I call this the “serving strategy.”

  20. A great idea for family gatherings, especially with the holidays coming is to have a phone box by the door where guest should leave their phone when they come in and pick it up on the way out.

  21. Your ideas are spot on TRUTH! I would like to add: When at church – during worship, during youth group, during Sunday school….cell phone-free zone. Sure for the vibration to alert that your ride is here but honestly! They need to be engaged in all things worship during those times. When watching TV or movies at home, no cell phone…. put it down and engage with the family or friends. When talk to another person while in that person’s presence, put the phone down and engage! When walking, put the phone down…. you can hurt yourself or others. When driving, leave the cell phone alone.
    Good luck & blessings on your ministry! Lori

  22. I often enlist my teens help in figuring out how to do something on my phone….download a new app, figure out how to change settings, etc. That way, they get to share their device expertise plus it’s a time for us to be together and “connected” over a smartphone! I also like asking them to share some of their new apps… I usually am the last to know about something cool and fun and new!

  23. We’ve found road trips to be good times to connect. Our youngest (the only one still at home), even without a smart phone, has his ways of connecting to the internet with a kindle or ipod in the car. But if he doesn’t have it or if he sits in the front seat with us, then communication flows.

    The idea of watching a program together is another good one. Family meal times none of us has technology nearby so we just talk. (With our schedules, though, eating together is rare, unfortunately.)

    We’re a little different in that we don’t have smartphones. It can be a blessing!

  24. We started this early so it may be hard to go backward…
    We have a no TV policy at our house on weekdays except for special occasions, sports events we all want to watch, or something we are all watching as a family and that is usually an episode of Andy Griffith. At ages 11 and 12, this is now the norm for my girls and they don’t miss it. Things usually get out of control in the summer when there is more free time and we come up with ways to get it back under control. We read a lot individually but in the same room and to each other. Everyone enjoys that.
    We have a family docking station area where all devices go…phones, ipod touches, and ipads. Permission is needed to get a device and devices return there. No devices in the bedroom. We are becoming a little more lenient in the amount of time devices can be used as they get older, but breaking the rule of asking before getting the device results in losing device privileges for a certain amount of time.
    One daughter is very busy with athletics and devices are not an issue…there is not much time for them. I keep the other daughter distracted by reading with her and to her, continuing to encourage her love for Legos and building toys, and just general imaginary play. I see devices causing children to grow up too fast and I’ve encouraged my kids to continue to play as long as possible.

    1. Kandi… good stuff. I have to compliment you on two things:
      1. You started this when they were young. It makes is so much simpler.
      2. You mentioned becoming a little more lenient as they get older. That’s a very wise move. I meet so many parents who continue to parent their 16 and 17 year olds like 12-year-olds… big mistake. Your kids will be downloading and watching whatever they want when they move out… we need to give them the opportunity to learn how to make wise media decisions while still in the home.

      Side note: the family docking station is not only a good idea, it’s what the AAP recommends. But less than 26 percent of parents even do it. Keep up the good work.

  25. I think you should also include a section on “how to drive your teen further away with your tech use.” Ask parents how they’ve blown it – like sending their kids embarrassing texts or a mad faced picture of themselves when they’re not home on time or a facebook post of their kids’ baby pictures, etc…

  26. Marbles The Brain Store is my new favorite on-line toy/game store along with Chinaberry. I ordered a few fun-sounding games with an elegant look. I’m planning on leaving those out on a coffee table. I’m also going to donate a small organ (inherited but no one plays it) & replace it with a table that can be used for games, working puzzles, building Tinker Crates (another great idea for non-tech fun), etc. that way these projects can be left out v. Clearing off the kitchen or dining room table. My thought was having fun, non-tech items out & easily accessible will result in more no -tech time. I have all (at least I think so) your books & can’t wait for this one!

    1. Thanks Carol. In the book I share the stories of a media fast our family tried, and then “No Tech Tuesdays”… a night by the fire where we often brought out board games or a deck of cards. It’s great having some fun games handy that your kids actually enjoy.

  27. New census research on Tween and Teen Screen time just out from Common Sense Media this week! Also, before we can pluck the splinter from our children’s eyes, WE GOTTA GET THE PLANK OUTTA OURS: Lead by example as most adults don’t take tech holidays and would panic without their device. Getting “clean” and clear with our own use is critical. (Great article in Time magazine two weeks ago: Help! My Parents are Millennials addresses this pressure to engage in social media (and the fallout of the social “face” even for adults). Great conversations to have with kids. Phones are NOT going away – so managing the co-habitation with clarity and example is essential. Great conversation – and ongoing.
    – parent of 20 and 23 year olds, school counselor and teacher educator

  28. When my kids were younger (all college and over ages now) I had the serious conversations with them in the car. They were a captive audience there and had no where to run. We could talk about serious issues without the awkward looks, since we really couldn’t face each other except at the stoplight. Often, we were driving to and from school or extra curricular activities. This led to many discussions about bullying, homosexuality, and other social issues they or their friends were dealing with in school. It may be unorthodox, but it always worked for me. And I’ve always done one you are already including, watching TV or movies together and bonding over those shows. We spend many hours discussing the predicaments of the people in Get Over It, The Hunger Games, The Office, etc. Thanks.

  29. My 13 year old daughter, upon returning from her friends 14th birthday party had made an observation/request. She said, “I wish there was a rule at birthday parties that all phones had to be turned in at the beginning of the party.” Inquiring what I had thought about the idea for when her birthday arrives. The party she was at was filled with connection activities but eventually she said that the phone eventually came out. The girls at the birthday party were using an app (snapchat) to send messages to each other, even though they were in the same room. This gave her the opportunity to have a first hand experience with how phone are a faux connection, as “snapchat” is not an app that I allow as a parent (despite the begging and pleading to get it because all her friends have it). So she felt left out as the other girls were snapchatting each other and laugh, but only communication/connecting through the app. So when her birthday arrives we will be implementing our first Bday party with phones being checked in at the door! Thinking maybe there will be a prize to reward face to face connection and resisting the temptation of checking their phone.

  30. As parents, we think it’s very important that we give our kids the relief of part of their day without technology. We put a charging station next to our bed in the master bedroom and ask our kids to bring their phones to us by 9 PM each night. Visually, it’s easy to know who’s phones are there when the chargers are parked next to our bed… Any last-minute homework or just reading a good book before bed is so much easier when their phones are not in the room with them.

    Another very fun thing we do as a family is play in group games with our smart phones. Everyone opens the same app and plays against each other as we take long rides in the car or sit around our bonfire.

    As our boys grew older and became high school students, we invested in a hot tub. We purposefully installed it underneath our master bedroom window for any time the boys used it without us. (Very fun to listen to those conversations that happen over the Jets!)
    Hot tubs are great because no one wants to take their phones or other technology near the water. It’s a great way to catch up on their days or watch them interact with their friends as we usually have a big group with us.

    1. Liz… my book actually kicks off with a hot tub example. Such a great place… because kids can’t bring their phones!!! 🙂 (Yeah… even those waterproof phones don’t do well in 100 degree water) Good stuff!

  31. Hey Johnathan,

    I am a huge fan of your resources and have used them in our ministry. I am not a parent, however, I feel like once since I interact with Teens and Kids in both in my profession and in ministry.

    I am the lead Youth leader at our Church and we have a parent lounge in which our parents bounce around ideas on how to connect their teens to whatever message was given to the teens that night.

    Inevitably, one idea that I have heard our parents toss out was that they don’t allow their teens to use phones during certain activities, ie. during dinner. They would, however, encourage their teens in conversation about school, ministry, friends and just life.

    One other idea that we considering for our youth nights, is having a bowl of phones. Basically, the teens would place all of their phones in a large bowl before service and then they would pick up their phones afterwards.

    I hope you use these ideas and would love to get a copy of your book.


    1. Thanks Fremon… I’m glad your parents agree on the no phones during dinner. I call that “No Tech at the Table” at my house. That’s a big one I’ve highlighted in my book.

  32. We have an old remote control caddie that I have converted into a Cell-phone Hotel. Whenever we have a tech-free time at home all we have to say is, “Electronics check-in the cell-phone hotel, please”. This is also the place they go if bad behavior warrants them to be taken away. Our children’s electronics go to bed in our bedroom as well. The electronics begin their day in the cell-phone hotel where the kids can “check out” when they leave for school.

  33. I don’t have teens of my own, but as a youth pastor I have them around a lot. I do a few things:

    * Send them encouraging messages via Facebook or text that they don’t have to reply back to, but can if they like. For example, “Praying for you right now”, “Happy Birthday” (only when it is their birthday), “Have a great day”, etc.

    * Allowing teens to connect their phones to the radio when we’re going somewhere. It isn’t always my favorite music style, but you can hear what they enjoy and can have discussion about the music they hear and maybe even look into what you listen to as well.

    * Doing activities together creates memories. Even things where they can still be on their phone. I enjoy taking teens bowling or golfing or fishing. They usually enjoy posting pics and vids of what we’re doing at the time. That can even lead to a discussion about what’s ok to post. But mostly it’s a lot of fun and they remember that you took time out for them.

    * I like to watch funny YouTube videos and then when we’re waiting for food in a restaurant or just sitting around I can share them. Some they think are corny and others they enjoy. We can talk a little about what they like and what they think is funny as well.

    * On the same note as the one above, BlimeyCow has some good, short videos that can be corny, but can also start up discussion. Thing like, “People that annoy me”, “Homeschool Stereotypes”, “Truth about Church Camp”, etc. They say things you or your teen may be thinking but not say outright. This can get discussion going. (I’ve used them for small groups and youth group at times.)

    Hopefully those help out. Grateful for your books. I recently got a box of your “Sex Matters” book to hand out to parents as we finish up a purity series. I’ve used some discussion points to stir conversation and parents have really appreciated it. Thank-you.

    1. Layton… this is a great extensive list. Some really good stuff here like letting kids play their phone’s music playlist in the car, using online videos as discussion springboards (and Blimey Cow is a good one for that), etc. Great stuff.

  34. Other ideas for “communication environments”:
    -coffee dates
    -baking/cooking(hands are busy & often too messy to pick up phone)
    -photography shoots where you use a real point and shoot camera or DSLR (not the phone)
    -“painting your own ceramic” date
    -shooting baskets or playing catch

    1. Colleen… I like your wording here, “baking hands are busy and often too messy to pick up a phone.” I find the same thing when we wash dishes together after dinner. We have some of the greatest conversations in our house during dishes! Whodathunkit!

  35. Don’t just watch movies. Invest in movies (or shows, music, books, etc.). When taking in media analyze the world view of it. Does this honor God? Does this give a correct perspective of who God is? Is there forgiveness or grace for the characters? What happens after death? What does this say about the afterlife? Doing this trains parents to disciple their kids, trains kids to not be passive about their media consumption, and can add an element to family movie night that allows for conversation after the credits roll so that the night doesn’t end with cell phones and bed.

  36. 1. All phones turned into the same place at night. No phones in the bedroom. If they need an alarm, buy one at Walmart 🙂 2. Actually use the phone for good. Send random texts to your teen letting them know you love them, praying for them, proud of them, etc.

  37. Less than an idea to help people put down their cell phones, but more of a reason why it is important to get kids off their phones. Physicians and psychologists have found that the need for sleep actually increases during adolescence. Tweens and Teens need at least nine hours of sleep a night. Adolescents have trained themselves to wake up when their phone signals that a text or call has come in to their phone to interact with their friends. During a time that the physical need for sleep increases, kids are getting fewer hours of sleep and that sleep is broken into segments. When your kids go to bed for the night, dock everyone’s phone to charge overnight. The docking station could even be moved to the patents’ room to prevent cell phone retrieval.

  38. We have always had no devices at the dinner table. We do not allow devices in the bedroom overnight. We look at social media and other websites together. We talk about anything and everything that comes up whether on our social media or things seen and heard. One of our favorite things is a device free weekend getaway which was not easy given our livelihood is completely internet/social media dependent. We only had one cell phone in case of an emergency. It was mine but I was not allowed to look at it. We went for walks, played games, watched a movie, etc. completely focused on each other. We all loved it!

  39. Hi,
    An idea may be to give the child(children) a window in which they may have screen time. Maybe 3 hours per day, or 2. Maybe reduce the amount of screen time by 15 minutes per month (or whatever works). Also, instead of tv, computer, phone, pad…have a family game night. Pull out the monopoly game. Maybe candyland, chutes and ladders anyone? Yes I am 50 something, maybe let the kid(s) choose the game! Whatever bonds the family closer together and eliminates the constant seclusion of screen time.


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