Actually Setting Guardrails

Posted on: 10/25/12 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

“Do you allow your teenagers to download anything they want? Do you check their text messages? Do they have a bedtime?”

This week I’ve been writing about the process of setting guardrails, and today is the day I post some of the guardrails I use in my home. If you’ve been reading this series of posts, you know this process doesn’t start with arbitrarily implementing rules that seem to make sense at the time. Guardrails are only as good as the road.

The process for setting guardrails looks like this:

  1. Embark on the road of Biblical truth (I talked about this in my first post in the series).
  2. Plot your trip, knowing where you’ll be, by when (yesterday’s post).
  3. And finally… set guardrails that keep you from veering off course (we’ll talk about that in today’s post).

Now that we’ve embarked on the road of Biblical truth, and made a plan for our journey, which in my house, is a plan that includes no rules by age 17½ … now it’s time to set some healthy guardrails.

Here’s some thoughts to consider when setting guardrails:

  • Do these rules help teach our kids discernment, or do these rules do all the thinking for them? This isn’t a catchall rule. When we say, “Bedtime is 10:00!” it’s not necessarily going to teach them to think about proper sleep habits. But whenever possible, consider making some guardrails that help your kids think about the decision-making process. For example: if you make them talk about the lyrics of a song before downloading, that opens doors to teach them about discernment, equipping them to make that decision on their own.
  • Do these rules provide opportunities for us to dialogue with them? Our kids would actually prefer a chance to talk about something rather than just standing at attention when you whistle. A guardrail that prompts them to talk with you is a great excuse to spend more time in conversation.
  • When setting media guidelines, include “co-viewing” as much as possible. Think about this. Which would you prefer? “No PG-13 movies!” or “Let’s look this one up and see what it’s about, then let’s go watch it together and discuss it afterwards.” Sure, this won’t always work. Inevitably you’ll receive a phone call from your kid when she’s spending the night with all her friends from church, and that uninformed parent will be allowing the group to watch Rock of Ages because it’s PG-13. That’s when you have to make a really tough decision. Do you make your kid face the humility of being the only girl who isn’t allowed to see that garbage, forcing the whole group to watch Facing the Giants again? These are the situations that make parenting difficult. These are also the situations that really help you communicate with other parents proactively about their plans in the future.
  • Set age and gender-appropriate guidelines. If we’re talking about media guardrails, realize that boys are more visual, and girls are more emotional. If my boy was 15, he would be waaaaaaaaaaay more affected by all the sensuality of Rock of Ages, and I would probably say “no” for sure in that example above. But my 16 or 17-year-old girl… not so much. So I might reluctantly choose to let her watch it, and not embarrass her, telling her, “I’ve heard that film is trash, but I’m going to let you make the call on this one. Let’s just connect for lunch tomorrow and you can tell me all about it, cool?”

So enough “pre-guardrail” talk. What are some good guardrails?

Let me be the first to admit that my guardrails are not THE correct guardrails. I only list them as an example. I almost hesitate to post them because that almost defeats the purpose of what I’ve been trying to teach… learning how to discern for ourselves. So please don’t just copy these and use them. Use the process we’ve been talking about all week and come up with guardrails that fit your exact situation.

Yes, I’ve “borrowed” a few of these from some of my friends. It’s shrewd to glean wisdom from others in the body of Christ. You might glean a few of mine.

A Few of the McKee Family Guidelines:

  • No MTV, period. We watch all kinds of TV, but this is one network that has truly sold out. I’ve worked with kids for 20 years and have never seen a young person glean anything good from MTV. Call me extreme if you like, but we don’t watch it. I find that most parents that do allow this channel in their homes haven’t taken the time to actually watch it with their kids.
  • We discuss all secular music before downloading. Yes, we allow secular music in my house. I’m looking at the top of the iTunes charts right now and I see clean stuff from Taylor Swift, Phillip Phillips, Adele, Train, Carly Rae- Jepsen… even Psy. I’m not going to say “no” to this stuff. My kids and I have had some good conversations about these songs. We’ve also had some conversations about some of the inappropriate songs of late from Ke$ha, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5 and Flo Rida. I didn’t have to say “no” to any of those because my daughters decided “no” for themselves. You can get a glimpse of what these conversations might look like in this post, “Can I Download Nicki Minaj?” (or I dedicated a whole chapter to this subject in my parenting book).
  • Only worship music the first and last hour of the day. Is this somewhere in the Bible? This is actually a rule that my friend Al Menconi came up with years ago to help us live a life of worship. We tried it and really loved the results. Even though we have no problem with secular music, there is something special about starting and ending your day in praise. My kids have griped about this one at times, but admitted its effectiveness over and over again.
  • Mobile phone off at night. No exceptions. Kids need 9 hours 15 minutes of sleep per night, and they average 7 and a half. Technology is mostly to blame for this. One of the recent studies showed that one in ten 13-18-year olds are awakened after they go to bed every night or almost every night by a phone call, text or email. 28% of this age group leaves their phone ringers on all night.
  • One computer for the kids in a room we all share. This really helps my kids avoid the temptation of browsing somewhere dangerous. We actually had some porn blocks when my son was younger, removing those when he turned 17 (a gradual segue from heavy guidance to little guidance). But the location of this computer alone provided some accountability. This thinking is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in their 2010 report, Sexuality, Contraception and the Media, where they strongly recommend no screens in the bedroom. Interestingly, this report was written before the majority of teenagers (58%) had internet on their phones! (One more hurdle for parents today… one more opportunity for conversation.)
  • Mom and I can check Facebook, text messages, etc. any time we want. Yes, we have their passwords. And yes, many parents don’t enforce this. Today’s kids think they have a right to privacy. Yes, they have a right to change clothes in their bedrooms without us barging in, but no, they don’t have a right to chat with some 16-year-old model they met from Orange County via Facebook (who is really a 44-year-old, naked, harry serial killer from Cleveland). My daughter Alyssa doesn’t think that checking her texts is fair—many of you have read my blog post about this where she explains her reasoning.

Yes, we have a few other guidelines, like leaving the door open if they have someone of the opposite sex in the room. We don’t actually have most of these guidelines posted or written out, and they haven’t proved to be too cumbersome.

So how do guidelines like this work in real world application?

That’s my next post, answering a question from Dave, who asks:

“Given my daughter’s pattern of irresponsibility with her cell phone, I’d love to just cut the phone out of her life altogether. But the drawback is, then she won’t learn how to handle it on her own someday. What do I do?”
  -Daddy Dave


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