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Raising the Bar
Parents Teaching Their Kids Lasting Values
An article from Jonathan McKee at

Have today’s parents just given up? Then why is it that the average U.S. parent continues to lower the bar morally for their kids?

  • Do you think parents should allow their 14-year-old girls to dress however they like?
  • Should parents permit their middle school students to download, listen to, and watch whatever they want?
  • Are parents oblivious of what their teenagers are truly doing on a given Friday night?

Sadly, anyone who habitually hangs out in the world of young people knows that all of the random reflections above are overwhelmingly accurate about a majority of U.S. parents today. (Skeptical? Have you been on a public school campus lately? Have you seen the songs that frequent the typical kids’ iPods? Have you observed teenagers at a school dance recently?)

Is ignorance an excuse?

This week, for our Youth Culture Window article I’m including a timely excerpt from my new book, CANDID CONFESSIONS OF AN IMPERFECT PARENT, encouraging parents that they don’t need to lower their standards. While the world around us is lowering the bar, it’s okay to raise the bar and actually teach our kids lasting values.

Raising the Bar
Parents Teaching Their Kids Lasting Values

By Jonathan McKee

“My kid is going to do it anyway . . . might as well let him drink at home.”

How’s that for high expectations and strong guidance?

This pessimistic and enabling perspective isn’t as rare as you might think. I’ve heard it from numerous parents—even in the church.

After decade-long declines, drug and alcohol use among high school students spiked in 2009. Alcohol, marijuana and meth use all increased considerably. Why?

Robyn Vanover, coordinator of Martin County’s (Florida) Safe and Drug Free Schools program, is one educator who has watched this trend. After noticing a similar shifting in her county’s 2008 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, she said…

“The spike could be attributed to the low expectations of parents.”

Many parents are giving up and letting their kids do whatever they want. These low expectations give kids permission to try at-risk behaviors, rendering them susceptible to drugs and alcohol.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Where You Set the Bar Makes a Difference
Knowledgeable, engaged, attentive, and communicative parents can make a huge difference. Educators like Vanover believe that parents need to set the bar high. “The number one reason kids give as to why they don’t use drugs and alcohol is ‘my parents,’” Vanover said. “The main reason is always, ‘My parents have an expectation of me.’”

Where do you set the bar?

I admit, it’s hard to set the bar high today when everyone else keeps knocking it down. The world’s standards are stooping pretty low today. The days of Roy Rogers as a hero are dead and gone. Today’s heroes are steroid-shooting athletes, pot-smoking rappers, and pantyless celebrities.

Our kids are confused. They will watch a prime time sitcom on TV where actor Charlie Sheen jumps from bed to bed with different girls, and then a commercial will air about being responsible with sex. A rapper will win an award for his song about oral sex and then he’ll thank God and his mom in his acceptance speech.


It’s obvious that our kids aren’t going to learn morals and values from the world. It’s up to us to teach them lasting values.

Values? What Values?
Words like “values” or “character” are almost extinct in our popular culture. I bet you could watch TV all day long and not hear either of those words.

Instead you’ll hear phrases like “lose weight,” “look better,” and “full head of hair.” You’ll see how perfect you can look if you whiten your teeth with one brand of product and shampoo your hair with another. Drive the opposite sex wild by splashing a little bit of something else on your neck.

Funny. Nothing about honesty or integrity. I guess those aren’t important.
Let’s be honest. When it’s time for a makeover, outward appearance always trumps inward character. A good-looking cheater is much more popular than a moral, funny-looking guy!

How much has the average person spent on “values” this year?

It’s a funny thing to consider, because if you think about it, where can you even purchase cosmetics for your inner being?

The fact is, the American dream values temporary thrills, success, and status. Our world doesn’t value honesty or honor when they get in the way of fulfillment or accomplishment. If our job is on the line, we’re quick to sacrifice family time. Money is more important than values.

This is even reflected in small, daily decisions.
    “Four movie tickets for the nine o’clock showing—two tickets for adults and two for children.”

    “How old are your kids?”

    “They’re under twelve, ma’am. Both of them.”

    “But that kid has a beard!”

    “He’s an early bloomer.”
When integrity costs us an extra four bucks a kid . . . who needs honesty?!

In a message about character, I heard this from Andy Stanley, pastor at North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, Georgia): “Whenever character takes a back seat to fulfillment or accomplishment, ethics change. Morality changes. Everything changes.”

He nailed it. And our society reflects it.

I remember watching the classic Will Smith film Independence Day with my kids. You may have seen it—everyone wakes up to big flying saucers hovering all over the planet and Will Smith’s character, Captain Steven Hiller, eventually saves the world. But before we know it, the aliens are destroying New York, L.A., Washington DC, and other major cities all over the world. In the aftermath of the destruction, Captain Hiller’s stripper girlfriend Jasmine is trying to reconnect with Will. In her journey, she begins to pick up travelers who’ve been hurt by the blast. One of the people she finds is the first lady of the United States.

In a conversation between the two women, the first lady asks, “So what do you do?”

“I’m a dancer,”
Jasmine responds.

The first lady smiles in approval. “Ah. Ballet.”

Jasmine replies, chin held high.

The first lady awkwardly pauses. “Oh, sorry.”

“It’s OK,”
Jasmine quickly retorts. “I’m not ashamed of what I do.” She rubs the head of her son. “Anything for my baby!”

American values at their best. Whenever character takes a back seat to fulfillment or accomplishment, ethics change. Stripping is OK when it means feeding our kids, right? Was waiting tables at the local diner not an option? I guess every pretty waitress in the world just lacks good business sense.

Honesty, integrity, and character—sadly, few places will teach our kids these values. If our kids get a good football coach, he might teach values like commitment and follow-through. If we bring them to church any given week, they might hear about honesty. If they attend a 12-step program, they might learn self-discipline. But how can twelve people sitting in a circle in the basement of a church for an hour once a week compete with more than ten hours of entertainment media daily communicating something else?

Enter parents, stage right.

Pass It On
Parents have to teach their kids values. It’s their responsibility. It always has been. Look at Deuteronomy chapter 6. Any Jew or Christian would agree that this passage spells out one of the parents’ primary responsibilities:
    These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.

    Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates
    (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).
The writer (Moses) told them up front that they weren’t only supposed to observe the law but also pass it on to their children and their grandchildren. In verse 7 he put some feet to that, telling them exactly how to do it—talking with them morning, noon, and night, and living it out in their actions (hands) as well as in their thinking (their foreheads). The message was clear. Teach your kids values 24-7-365.

Do you wonder how well those parents listened to Moses?

Wanna flip ahead and see?

Let’s fast-forward through the book of Joshua, where Joshua took over Moses’ job of leading God’s people. Then turn to the beginning of the book of Judges. After Joshua died . . . something awful happened:
    Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

    After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger
    (Judges 2:8-12).
After Joshua and the generation of parents all died, their kids grew up. And according to this passage, these kids didn’t know God or what he had done for them. So, lacking any values, they made bad choices and did evil things. This is a sad picture of what happens when parents don’t teach their kids values, specifically God-centered values.

As parents we need to grab every opportunity to teach our kids.

Deuteronomy 6 spells it out: morning, noon, and night. That’s going to mean some radical change for some parents. Many of us are used to bringing kids to church on Sunday for a quick “fill” of Jesus. Sort of like: “Fill ’er up!”

If we’re lucky, our kids actually listen to the thirty-minute message in “big church,” and then hear the youth pastor give a twenty-minute talk in youth group.

Hey, that’s almost an hour! Not bad . . . out of 168 hours per week!

Moses’ directives about talking to our kids morning, noon, and night paint a much different picture.

Let’s try something else on for size. Let’s jump to the New Testament. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, just before Jesus ascended to Heaven, he gave his disciples a few last words. Historically, this passage of Scripture has been called the Great Commission. Jesus says:
    “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20).
Pretty famous passage: “Go and make disciples.”

So this means, as we are going, teach our kids how to actually live for Jesus.
Put this together with the Deuteronomy passage, and it means something like this: As we are going, talk with our kids morning, noon, and night, walking along the road and sitting on our couches, teaching them how to actually live for Jesus in day-to-day situations.

Look for opportunities to make disciples of your kids, building values as you are going.

Making disciples and building values into our kids and teenagers sounds great, but how should we do it? I want to raise godly kids who reflect lasting values, but what does that look like in practical terms? As we are going through daily life, how can we teach our kids lasting values?

Teaching Lasting Values in Daily Life
I’m sure these aren’t the only ones you can use, but here are five principles that have helped me:
  1. Set up guidelines
  2. Don’t overreact
  3. Use media to springboard discussions on values
  4. Don’t be afraid to say no
  5. Get them to God’s Word for answers

Jonathan expands on each of these principles in Chapter 5 of his book,CANDID CONFESSIONS of an IMPERFECT PARENT

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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Comments on this post

   eileen box         4/6/2011 4:15:59 AM

awesome, true and practical. was feeling convicted to do more and now i have the tools. God bless and please continue your message

   Brian King         3/30/2011 8:51:36 AM

I see this happening (even in a small way, I have a friend who is a Justin Bieber fan and wants her daughter to like him so they can go to the concert-- was this happening in the NKOTB days??), but I'd bet that it isn't as rampant as the MTV survey would have us believe. Their likely poll group is, well, the kind of kids who are allowed to watch MTV all the time. Kids with permissive parents. That said, I think there's a positive component to being more relational with your kids than people were in the 1940's. But I'd like to see the pendulum swing back from where it's common for your kid to say that the parent is their best friend.

   angela         3/29/2011 3:28:03 PM

   Kelly         3/28/2011 8:04:56 PM

This is something I see in our community. I think some parents are scared that they can't make a difference. It's good to know there's hope.


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