No-Prep Games

heads or tailsAs a youth worker, I always like to have two games “in my pocket” at any given time. You never know when you need one. Even if you are NOT in youth ministry, you never know when you might need something fun to liven up a dying New Years Eve party (or Arbor Day party).

Last weekend I spoke at the Recharge event in the greater Twin Cities area of MN—a great event with 600 area youth leaders. My friend Tiger McLeun was at the helm and he ran a classic simple crowd game that was really fun. The game was called Heads or Tails.

It’s like this:

The MC pulls out a coin and instructs everyone to put their hand either on their head, or on their “tail.” Everyone in the crowd puts the hand on their head or on their butt. Then the MC flips the coin, announcing heads or tails.

If you were correct… stay standing. If you were wrong… sit down.

They kept repeating until only a few were standing. At the Recharge event, it came down to two people. They brought them on stage for the final showdown, and the winner got a prize.

Fun stuff. I love simple games like this.

I’ll do another one later this week!

In the meantime, check out this fun blog post from last July where people chimed in with some of their favorite games. Or check out our fun game page with literally over a thousand free game ideas!

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What Teens Want to Read

best-teen-booksI always find it intriguing to see what forms of entertainment today’s young people are digesting in our culture. For most of us, that brings to mind the newest Vine video, social media app, or Nicki Minaj song in the Top 10. But what about books?

Every since Harry Potter, we’ve seen a surge in YA fiction (often followed by movie releases), like the Twilight series, the Hunger Games trilogy, Divergent, or the more recent The Fault in Our Stars. In a world with so many entertainment options, what is it young people are actually reaching for on the shelf today? And with steamy adult books like 50 Shades of Grey surging mainstream… will this trickle down to the teen market?

I asked YA author Jackie Lea Sommers these questions, not only as a new author, but as a college admission counselor and a youth ministry veteran who has her thumb on the pulse of current youth culture:

Jonathan: Tell me a little about your interaction with today’s teenagers and how you would describe today’s teens compared to a decade ago.

Jackie: I’ve been working in college recruitment for nearly a dozen years now. As an admission counselor, it’s my job to come alongside college-bound high school students and their families to help them with their college choices. I was involved in youth ministry for over a decade as well. In my own experience, teens are less and less insulated these days. They’ve seen it all, heard it all. They or their friends or someone they know have been touched by things like death, disease, and other tragedies, by hot-button issues like bullying, LGBT issues, sex, and addiction.

Jonathan: What do you think young people are looking for in their reading today?

Jackie: Trends in YA reading show that teens are looking for contemporary realism. There’s still definitely a place for fantasy and science fiction, but they’re really wanting to read stories about real teens facing real issues—things that they themselves could face.

Jonathan: What are some examples of books you see today’s teens enjoying the most?

Jackie: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green has been a runaway bestseller, focusing on teen cancer and grief. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is a favorite this year; it approaches topics like death, family, and homosexuality masterfully. Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory is another one that deftly tackles hard issues, this time PTSD. To me, the connecting theme of all these books though is the incredible characters, fictional people that teens can relate to and champion.

Jonathan: In this CNN article, What Teens Will Be Reading Next, the author predicted, “The big trend near this age group continues to be New Adult, with much more sexy, adult story lines.” Have you noticed this trend?

Jackie: Most authors I know—and many booksellers—differentiate between YA and New Adult, with New Adult books generally have sexier scenes and an older cast of characters, usually college-aged. That said, I think even the YA market is demanding sexier storylines. There was a time when sex in books for young adults was considered more scandalous (I’m thinking of Judy Blume’s 1975 book Forever …, which was the target of censorship). For the most part, I believe that time is behind us.

Jonathan: As a YA author, how are you responding to this trend?

Jackie: Writing Truest, my debut novel, was an interesting experience. I come from a conservative Christian background and am still very much involved in the Evangelical culture. As a believer, I had to sort through a lot of my thoughts on profanity and sex and their place in a YA novel. I am struck by the gospel: it is a raw, savage story filled with the ugly sinfulness of man—and yet, it’s the most beautiful story I know. I hold that close to me as I write fiction.

Jonathan: That’s awesome. What’s next from Jackie Lea Sommers?

Jackie: My first novel Truest will be published by HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books in September of this year. I’m hard at work on my second novel at this time. I blog regularly at about faith and creativity, especially writing, and especially writing for young people.

Jonathan: Thanks Jackie. We really appreciate your insight!

Posted in Books, Entertainment Media, Youth Culture | Leave a comment

Three states this week

This week I hit three states, speaking to kids in WI, training youth leaders in TX and MN, speaking at a church in MN and teaching a parent workshop. Then later this month I’ll be in two more states… maybe even near you.

It would be fun to see you. Check out my calendar and see if I’m coming to a city near you!

January 2-4, 2015 (East Troy, WI)
Timberlee, WinterXtreme

January 5, 2015 (East Troy, WI)
Timberlee, Counselor Training Workshop

January 6-7, 2015 (Dallas, TX)
Teaching SuperSessions, National Conference on Youth Ministries

January 9-10, 2015 (Twin Cities, MN)
Youth Leadership Training, Recharge 2015

January 10-11, 2015 (Crystal, MN)
Preach Saturday/Sunday Services and Parent Workshop, Cornerstone Church

January 23-24, 2015 (Harrisburg, PA)
Youth Leadership Training, Royal Rangers Leaders Conference

January 30-1, 2015 (Columbia, SC)
Revolution, Keynote Speaker

February 3, 2015 (San Diego, CA)
Keynote Speaker, CIY Youth Ministry Summit

February 13-15, 2015 (Palestine, TX)
Lakeview Methodist Camp, Zombie Weekend, Keynote Speaker


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The Dark Undercurrents of Bullying

Nelson-Muntz-bullyI’ve been taking time off work for a few weeks during Christmas break to not only spend as much time as possible with my family, but also to finish writing my first fiction novel, a story about a school shooting on a high school campus—a sobering peek into the dark undercurrents of teen culture and bullying.

The book has been an interesting project, providing a porthole into the perspectives of various individuals: an athlete, a Christian girl, a bullied kid, a teacher, a cop… and countless other teens.

I admit, the book hits a little too close to home. As I dove into the internal psyche of the shy, teased, isolated kid who one day just explodes in a rampage (something we’ve seen far too often this year alone), I shanghaied many personal stories of being picked on, as well as the feelings that went along with that.

My most intriguing struggle has been my attempt to provide realism without necessarily highlighting the profane. In other words, how do you show a realistic glimpse of today’s secular high school campus without cuss words? How do you portray a school shooting without violence?

So far, I’ve allowed certain mild curse words (those you’d hear in a PG film), and eluded to others (using common textspeek acronyms like “FML” in their social media conversations, or ending a sentence with, “… and then he added a few choice words to get the point across.”)

The other struggle is to expose bullying for what it truly can be, show the effects it can have on a teen’s psyche… but not provide a “school shooting handbook” for teens. My answer to this dilemma has been showing actual consequences of behaviors. Showing fear, remorse, and pain. Death isn’t casual or funny… it’s tragic.

I faced some of this with my one other fiction book, my The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenagers, but that book was much shorter and set up with discussion questions at the end of each chapter like a devotional. So of the 15+ books I’ve written so far… I’m treading new ground.

My goal is to have the novel finished in the next few weeks.

And then… finding the right publisher.

Posted in Books, Personal, Youth Culture | Leave a comment

Pausing for an Infant

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m running off to finish a project at my dad and mom’s house (we’ve dug up 165 feet of drainage- ditches up to 2 feet deep, and dropped in 150 feet of 6 inch pipe, 60 of it a French drain, with over 6 yards of rock) to fix a drainage problem long ignored and feared. So it’s been 3 days of hard labor for me and a crew of friends and teenagers… a fun mental break.

I just wanted to take a moment and wish you all a Merry Christmas from my family. It’s been fun having 5 kids around the house for the last few days. As many of you know, Lori and I are almost empty nesters now. Ashley (my youngest) is in her senior year and the other two are out of the house (Alec working and Alyssa in her sophomore year at CBU in SoCal). We had everyone staying at the house the last few nights. Good times.

Today I finish up at my parents and we all head to a Christmas Eve service together. I’m looking forward to just pausing and absorbing the true meaning of Christmas, surrounded by family.

That’s my wish for you. I pray that you take a moment to “pause” and embrace the greatest gift this Christmas, nothing monetary or temporary, something far greater… a gift that can never be lost or snatched away. Embrace the love of our creator who gave us the gift of life in the person of Jesus who humbly came to us in the form of a poor infant.

That’s who I celebrate this season.

Celebrate with me.

Merry Christmas. Celebrating the gift of our Messiah, Jesus!

Posted in Faith, Personal | Leave a comment

You May be Addicted to Your Smartphone If…

Amy Williams just wrote a fascinating guest post about teen smartphone addiction for our Parenting Help column on this week.

For those of you who are a little more visual, here’s her infographic: You may be addicted to your smartphone if…

Addicted to Smartphone

Posted in Internet, Parenting, Smartphones/Cell Phones, Social Media, Youth Culture | Leave a comment

A Glance Back at 2014 Travel

flightAs I peek ahead at my speaking calendar for early 2015… it’s getting pretty full. So I looked back at my travel in 2014 and this is what I discovered.

I traveled a total of 82,777 miles.

I took a plane on 17 different trips.

I flew 53 different legs/segments.

I flew to three countries.

I stayed in 39 different hotels for 51 different nights.

I rented 15 different cars, for 27 days.

I spoke 67 times at 41 venues.

I ate far too many Five Guys Burgers…

…and far too few Giordano’s Pizzas.

That’s my 2014 in a nutshell. Loving the opportunity to serve God and work alongside His workers around the globe. I look forward to seeing many of you at my upcoming conferences and trainings in 2015!

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Top 10 Posts of 2014

Top-10-blog-postsAs the year-end approaches rapidly, it’s fun to look back at some of the highlights of ministry in 2014.

Today I looked back at the most popular posts on my blog in 2014. Here are the Top 10 posts from 2014 you readers liked the most:

10. Happy Birthday… Here’s Your Boob Job

9. Free Online Training

8. The Seahawks… and Jesus?

7. Keeping Social Media Safe

6. Shy, Teased, Isolated…Teen Killer?

5. Teen Online Behavior 2014

4. Young People and Selfies

3. Shame on us

2. Should I Watch Game of Thrones?

1. Dad’s Version of “Rude”

…and then these “pre-2014” posts still drew a ton of traffic as well:

Dad, Can I Go to the Homecoming Dance?

Top Words Used By Teenagers

Top Ten 70’s Slang Words That We Need to Bring Back!

Should We Read Our Kids’ Texts?

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5 Ideas to Help Your Kids be Smarter Than Their Smartphone

Today's-TeensLast night my wife and I saw a friend at a Christmas party who I hadn’t seen in months… at least face-to-face. But immediately I complimented her on her Thanksgiving decorations and asked how her daughter’s b-day party was last weekend… as if we had just talked days before.


Instagram. I follow her on Instagram.

Americans have plenty of complaints about cell phones and the Internet. I regularly encounter parents who just want to smash their kids’ phones. But let’s not be too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Pew just released a brand new report revealing American’s feelings about the internet. In total, 87% of online adults say the Internet and cell phones have improved their ability to learn new things.

That’s a no brainer. What did you do the last time you were lost and needed quick directions? Did you stop by a gas station and ask? Or did you ask Siri?

Last week I was at Home Depot shopping for a new water filter for my refrigerator. About 30 seconds into the conversation with the Home Depot employee I realized that he didn’t know what he was talking about. After politely thanking him for his help, I walked away and did a search on my Amazon app for the filter. I found the right filter for $20 less… and ordered it before I got to my car.

God Bless the iPhone!

I know, I know. Some people are having fits with kids and their phones. But we’d probably be having fits with our kids and their automobiles if we just handed them keys one day and said, “Don’t break it.” But we’ve learned better with cars. We’ve learned that kids need to take tests, obey rules, take more tests, sit in the seat with an adult next to them for 6 months, and then drive without their friends in the car for a year.

But what do American parents do when they give their 12-year-old a new iPhone?

Merry Christmas! Good luck!

Let’s be smarter than that. Let’s talk with our kids about some of these issues:

These are issues we need to dialogue about with our kids. How can we do this?

Here are five ideas to be proactive and help your kids be smarter than their smartphones!

  1. Stay connected to parenting resources that provide free articles and help with current issues.
  2. Keep your eyes open for studies about phones, Social Media and Technology. Ask your kids what they think? Discuss what responsible use of these devices looks like.
  3. Try media fasts as a family. Be proactive, even playing games where you cut back on tech time.
  4. Use books like, Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone? or A Parents Guide to Understanding Social Media, helping you set realistic boundaries, and dialogue with your kids about these issues (that Smash book includes a sample phone contract and a social media guide).
  5. Be an example of how to use tech responsibly, not be controlled by tech. We can teach what we know, but we can only reproduce who we are.

Have you begun these conversations with your kids?

Posted in Internet, Parenting, Smartphones/Cell Phones, Social Media, Youth Culture | Leave a comment

Reducing Teen Sexual Activity

between the sheetsIn a world where 64% of high school seniors have already engaged in sexual intercourse, most parents would welcome programs or information helping reduce teen sexual activity. But there lies the debate. What actually works?

Planned Parenthood claims to have developed a sex education program cutting the number of sexually active eighth-graders by about 15 percent. That might not sound like much, but Planned Parenthood backers would be quick to tell you Continue reading “Reducing Teen Sexual Activity” »

Posted in Parenting, Sexuality, Youth Culture | 1 Comment