Parenting Strategy

Two parenting strategies:

  1. Live your life
  2. Live your kid’s life

Live your life. Do your work, pursue your interests, hang out with your friends. This models adulthood for your kid and teaches them that they’re not the center of your life.

Live your kid’s life. Commit yourself to her schoolwork and activities, her friends, her general health and well-being. This lavishes her with love and attention and helps her grow in the confidence that she is worth it.

They’re both irresponsible on their own though. One leads to neglect and the other to co-dependence.

It feels like most of the work of parenting is discerning when to focus on the first and when the second. Then, having chosen, learning to do each well.


Church Teens Shouldn’t Use Weed

Marijuana usage among youth group students is a thing and has been for a long time, yet in my 11 years of full-time youth ministry I have addressed it directly with youth exactly one time. Cultural attitudes and laws are changing though, and the need for tools to address the subject at church feels urgent (I first wrote about this five years ago).

The pot talk I’m forming in my head has four foci: health, the law, social justice, and discipleship (and, yes, the first three all bear on the fourth).

Marijuana is not good for teenagers. Full stop. The CDC says so unambiguously. The cognitive and social risks are high, even when the quality of the product can be trusted (which it often can’t).

Though many states have legalized marijuana (including the one I live in), it is still illegal for minors.

And yet the legal consequences for teens breaking marijuana law can most certainly be assumed to be applied unequally. To put it bluntly: white teens are at less risk of serious criminal consequences. The Colorado Department of Public Safety said as much in 2016. Enforcement is unjust.

Finally, recreational use of substances that harm teen’s health, violate the law, and perpetuate injustice shouldn’t be winked at in youth ministry. Marijuana does not aid discipleship and faith formation in teenagers.

If you have tools for addressing this subject in a church context, please share them.



Why should the first week of youth group feel more important than any other? We know how this works by now: several more students than last year’s average will be in attendance because we’ve made a “kickoff” out of it, but by October the attendance will resemble the norm we have grown accustomed to.

This. Is. Fine.

Healthy ministry is not served by special events that inflate participation. So can these circled calendar dates amplify time instead of attendance? Can Kickoff Sunday be a focused moment for leaders and students to celebrate God’s guidance of our community, past, present, and future? Can it be an occasion to pray for strength, wisdom, and growth in the coming months? And can this all be for any student who is there, both those we know them well and expect to see regularly this year and those we know not at all and likely may never see again?

Bring on the Kickoff.



I’m going to start building an evaluation into every youth group outline:

What helped you?

What could have been more helpful?

I’ve done this at the end of retreats for awhile now, but it seems valuable to make it part of the week-to-week communities of students we work with too. How else do we level up the work we’re doing with these particular students at this singular time?

Don’t wait for a complaint. Invite it. Evaluate.


Monitoring Google Activity

I monitor Daughter’s Google activity. She’s 11, and it’s not hard to do. She has been told. It’s not creepy.

It’s mostly YouTube searches and views, but those provide a valuable insider view into the things she’s curious about. Sure, there’s plenty of pre-teen stuff like clips from “Dance Moms” and purely practical searches for “how to take better iPhone photos” and “how to cook spinach” (!).

But there is also the odd search for “How to make friends,” “How to win an argument with your mom,” and “How to make your bff jealous.”

Google knows that this 11 year-old is curious about these things, and that’s all the reason you need to monitor and regulate kids’ use of technology platforms. They’re going to be fed content and advertising to exploit that curiosity, and they won’t even be aware of it.

I know about this curiosity now too, though, but I most certainly wouldn’t know about it if Google didn’t keep this record and allow users to review it. And what do I do with it? I ponder it. I add it to my very thin collection of things I know my kid is thinking about. I allow it to inform my sense of the person she is becoming.



Gossip fouls the water supply. The guileless complaint I register to a neighbor or coworker about another neighbor or coworker alters the water we’re all drinking from, even if nobody else ever hears it. My damaged ego or ill will is a toxin, and, as with all toxins, it needs a safe disposal mechanism: a journal, a confidant completely outside the community, a therapist (here it’s worth warning against allowing yourself to be someone else’s gossip disposal mechanism; if you have any stake in the person they’re muttering against, best to shut it down).

Reconciliation starts with prevention.


Left Out

The groups of people that made you feel left out when you were young don’t have the power to do that to you as an adult. Adulthood means taking responsibility for your own experience and choosing the terms of your participation in causes and groups. When you get that “left out” feeling, it’s worth asking if its genesis is truly external–a group of people and their behavior toward you–or if it isn’t internal, a holdover from adolescence that you’ve outgrown.

Maturity means enlisting people in our causes and our communities more and seeking to be accepted into others’ less.



Read this essay by Craig Mod in Wired about his long, mostly tech-free, walk across Japan. Reading it inspired me to take a long walk on the nearby riverfront trail last night and to leave my phone pocketed the whole time. Like Mod did, kind of:

I set very strict rules for this walk. The first set of rules limited my inputs. I would use only a tiny sliver of the internet. In practice this meant going cold turkey on all social networks and most news and media sites. I used a piece of blocking software on my phone and laptop called Freedom. I created a blocklist in Freedom and named it “THE PHONE IS A TOOL YOU DUMMY.” It prevented me from opening The New York Times app or Twitter or Facebook, virtual spaces all too easy to fall back into when approximately three seconds of boredom enter your frame.

Craig Mod, “The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan”

But here’s what occurred to me during my own walk: I hadn’t read the essay. I’d listened to it on Audm, an app that plays long form magazine articles, audiobook style. Audiobooks were a no-no on Mod’s walk.

What’s more, I learned about Audm from John Dickerson, one of the hosts of Slate’s “Political Gabfest” podcast. The app was his “cocktail chatter” at the end of the episode two weeks ago. That’s another thing Mod banned from his ambulation: podcasts.

This is the realization that came over me leaning on the rails of the Foster Avenue bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River, that the inspiration for this moment of tech-free leisure owed its existence to the interaction of at least two artifacts of internet tech.

Maybe one of the things technology can be good at is getting us away from technology?



One compelling reason for spending time abroad is the deepening of one’s understanding of their native country. Case in point: during the nine months I lived in Northern Ireland, I read Beloved by Toni Morrison and understood things about America that my upbringing in a western American suburb (of Denver, no less–“Denver” is the name of Beloved’s protagonist) had been unable to teach me; I needed to be somewhere else to see it clearly.

Thus a lasting impact of my time in Ireland is the writing of American Toni Morrison.

Rest in peace.