To Snoop or Not To Snoop

So, you’re already very aware of how important it is to oversee and guide your teen’s digital world – especially regarding his or her smart phone. What you want to know is: how far should you go with monitoring activity? Do you stick with simply asking questions and discussing? Do you periodically look through your teen’s phone for yourself? Do you look several times a week? Do you inform your teen their smart phone is “open” to your inspection, or do you do it without their awareness? In this video post, Dr. Butner offers guidance to help you make these decisions well.

5 Lessons from the Prodigal’s Dad

running prodigal fatherOne of my very favorite stories in all of Scripture is the story Jesus told about a wayward young man we frequently call “The Prodigal Son” and his family.  I love this story so much because it is my story.  And it reminds me of important parts of my story I can sometimes forget – particularly the response of my Father.  If you listen carefully, you may find it is your story, too.  God is a profoundly amazing and wonderful Father, and his lessons in this story are particularly instructive for parents who are doing your best to raise adolescents well.  You can read the Biblical narrative from Jesus here, but this is my interpretation:

Growing up in a loving family, he has been feeling an increasing desire to get out of the shadow of his obedient older brother’s “righteousness.”  He wants to be his own man and live his own life.  He has grown tired of feeling the expectation to always do the right thing.  It’s time to find out what the world is really all about, beyond the confines and watchful eyes of home.  So he hits his Dad up for his inheritance, gets the full amount with surprisingly little resistance, and heads out for the fun and adventure that he knows is waiting Out There for a young vibrant man such as himself. 

He quickly finds the excitement and friends he wanted.  And the thrill is great!  For a little while.  But somehow the funds, freedom, fun, and friends all vanish before he even knows what happened.  The party is over.  He is alone, desperate, and hungry.  The only job he can find is about the filthiest, most lowly position a Jewish man could possibly take.  He is tending pigs.  He is now unclean in every sense of the word – from his permanently soiled solitary set of ragged clothes to the stench that radiates from him at all times to his spiritual position of perpetual outcast because he works with the ultimate unclean animal every day. 


His utter despair brings him to true brokenness, which leads him to a glimmer of hope and his first experience of real humility.  “Maybe Dad will have pity on me.  He is a good man.  Better than I’ll ever be.  If I can just convince him to give me a place to live, I’ll take whatever lowly position he will offer me.  He is my only hope.”

All along the homeward road, he practices his speech,  with humility and hope growing each time he adjusts a word.  Just as he begins rehearsing his final draft, his speech is cut short.  Dad?!?  His father comes bounding in from nowhere to sweep him into a crushing embrace that seems to last as long as his entire journey back from Out There.  He tries to share his painfully crafted words of brokenness and humility with his Dad, but his plea for the life of a hired hand is swiftly and completely dismissed.

With compassion.  And grace.  And love.  And irrational forgiveness.

Thus begins his new life as a Real Man in the household of The Father.

In the next few weeks, I will be offering follow-up posts to further unpack and explain the profound lessons I gather from this story.  But for now, let me simply list for you the qualities of this Dad that offered the hope of real transformation in the life of his wayward son:

1. He modeled healthy Godly living to his son over the years.

2. He respected his son’s need to make his own choices.

3. He never gave up hope, even when his son willfully set off down the wrong path.

4. He did not run after his son.  He ran to meet him.

5. He didn’t beat up his son for being foolish.  He allowed him to pay the heavy price for his foolishness, and eagerly showed him how to recover and change his life once he was broken and humbled by his consequences.

I’m looking forward to sharing more about these lessons with you in the next few days!

Five Ways to Guide Your Teen’s Social Media Life


A study released by the British Psychological Society last week shows the consuming drive of many teens to stay on social media for all hours of the day and night contributes directly to sleep problems, depression, and anxiety.  Two factors that are particularly problematic are excessive late night social media use and a compulsive drive to access and respond to social media posts immediately.  As parents, we must remain vigilant that the fun and connection opportunities of social media can have a very real dark side.  And our teens are still maturing.  They still need our guidance to help them make better choices and live well in the midst of their world of digital bombardment.  Here are some important ways parents can help our teens:

1.  Stay connected with them digitally.  Insist on the rule that they must allow you, as their parent, to friend or follow them on their various social media outlets.  If they put up a fight at this, help them see this is a better alternative to you constantly checking their digital devices with or without their knowledge.  That bit of perspective might help them find a more cooperative spirit.  But you must also remember that the way you interact with them in the social media realm makes a HUGE impact in their attitude toward you.  Don’t be an online pest, constantly making public comments just because you can.  Unless you want your teen to despise you.  Be proactive and respectful as you remain connected and vigilant of their social media presence and actions.

2. Impose a digital curfew.  Even for teens who have shown responsibility and maturity with their social media use, it will benefit them to turn off and turn in their screens at a designated time each evening.  (You will have to decide whether or not you will personally look through their phones and computers while in your possession.  I will offer a post soon with pros and cons of this issue, helping guide you to the best decision for your teen and family.)  They may want to stay up late interacting with their friends and sharing their brilliance with the world, but they will be far more effective in friendships, schoolwork, and everything they do if they are getting the sleep they need.  Help them get it – even if they “hate” you for it.

3. Have regular screen-free family windows.  Pick one night a week and one time frame during the weekend to have a family time of interaction or quiet recharging with no digital interference.  On the designated weeknight, you might allow for thirty minutes of screen time right after school or right before bedtime, but put away the screens for the bulk of the evening.  During your “digital blackout,” you might play a family game such as Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, or whatever’s your thing.  Another great option is to have a time of family devotional, reading, prayer, or discussion that centers around character qualities you want to develop in every member of your family.  You might just enjoy some quiet personal reading time, or maybe you tackle a household chore or improvement project together.  However you use this time, the aim is to remind your kids and yourself that there are so many more important elements in life than the latest trend on Twitter or Snapchat.

4. Have times of fun social media sharing with one another.  We don’t want to present an attitude and message to our teens that social media is simply a negative force that must be limited or criticized by us as much as possible.  That is neither helpful nor healthy.  Let’s take the lead in showing our teens how digital connection can be a very positive force in their lives, if they choose to use it this way.  One fun way to do this is to have an occasional “Digital Diner” night as a family.  Everyone must bring their smartphone, tablet, or laptop to the table.  Have two rules: All conversation with each other must be digital via the devices you have at hand and everyone must do their best to share things with one another that you really think the other family members will enjoy and appreciate.  Keep it positive and uplifting.  Don’t be critical.  Show your teens you can have plenty of fun while exercising respect and restraint.

5. Make God’s Word your primary guide to navigating social media waters.  Have a monthly family devotional where you actively seek and reflect on God’s guidance for how you conduct yourselves as you interact with people and digital devices.  Here is one passage of Scripture that I highly recommend for these critical conversations:

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

– Ephesians 4:20-32

Remembering That Day

This one still brings me back and gives me chills.

The vlogging journey has begun..

 My website is now officially a blog and a vlog (weirdest word ever!)  Here is a brief introduction to myself and my parenting philosophy called “Morpheus Parenting.”  I’m looking forward to sharing more with you and hearing more from you through this new format, and feel free to check out my YouTube channel at DrButner.


Seven Tips for Discussing Weed with Your Teen

teens smoking weed

So, how did your teens spend their Labor Day – the first vacation day from school for this new school year?  For many of them, smoking or vaping some weed was a part of their day.  How sure are you about whether or not your teen lit up some marijuana today?  Why is that?  If you don’t want your kids smoking weed, you need to take charge of leading them in a better direction.  Here are some of the most important points to include in your discussions with your kids about smoking/vaping:

1.  Discuss issues related to marijuana use on an ongoing basis, not just in one big catch-all drug conversation.  Do your best to make it natural and comfortable to discuss potentially awkward or uncomfortable topics by staying calm and proactive, rather than allowing yourself to get agitated, loud, or reactive.  When you see or hear stories about weed in the news, share and discuss them as a family.  Do the same when it shows up in movies and TV shows.  And be careful not to present yourself as so judgmental or upset by the topic that you actually send your kids the message, “You’d be crazy to ever honestly discuss any issues of pot, drugs, drinking, sex, or other sensitive matters in your life with me, because I clearly can’t handle it, and I’ll make you suffer for even bringing it up.”

2. Tell them why this matters so much to you.  Make it clear how much you love your child/teen, and how much you want to help him/her achieve a fulfilling life of freedom, joy, purpose, and service.  Focus on your desires for the best for your teen, rather than on your intentions to police and punish.  Feel free to use examples of others with all the potential in the world who cut themselves terribly short by using weed.

3.  Be realistic in your concerns and reasoning.  Don’t go so overboard in trying to make your point or scare your teens into compliance that you lose your credibility.  If your kids want to challenge you with research or articles of their own, don’t dismiss them.  Look at them together, and be sure to look at several more that you find that clearly present the whole picture.  For example, sharing an article such as this one from the University of Washington is more likely to actually get their attention than one from WebMD.

4.  Specifically outline potential and likely health and legal problems.  Do your homework before you start the conversation.  Learn the accurate statistics, facts, and legal consequences in your state and region.  Yes, this kind of homework will take some time on your part.  But isn’t it worth it if it helps your teen actually consider the risks of puffing the pipe, rather than simply accepting the popular notion of today that it just isn’t really a big deal?  Be very specific.  List the health risks in clear straightforward language that is neither sensationalized not sugar coated. Tell them exactly what happens to teens charged with the various crimes related to possession, etc.

5.  Don’t forget to address “synthetic marijuana” and other harder drugs.  Be sure to follow all these guidelines in making it clear that not only is “synthetic marijuana” not a safe substitute for weed, but it is also much scarier and deadlier.  Even as you discuss the dangers and concerns of harder drugs such as meth, molly, GHB, etc., using all the guidelines above, be sure you make it clear that marijuana is not a safe, natural, herbal alternative to “dangerous drug” use.

6.  Ask direct questions – and listen.  Don’t avoid the hard questions because either you or your teen may be afraid of the answers or outcomes.  GO THERE!  Ask if your teen has ever tried marijuana, and how many of her/his friends have done so (with an assurance that you aren’t trying to “nail” anyone).  Ask why not/why.  How often?  Ask what they liked or didn’t like about the experience.  Ask what your teen believes will happen if ever busted by you or the cops.  Clarify the accuracy of this together.  And on and on.

7.  Assure your teen you are far more interested in celebrating the successes of his/her life than in scrutinizing the failures.  Yes, we already touched on this, but it is just so important it bears repeating and emphasizing.  Make this a regular reminder.  I dare you to ask your kids periodically if their actual experience with you proves or disproves this assurance!

They Don’t Care How Much You Know…

Father making teenage son do housework

Until they know how much you care!  Parents, your kids need you to get this into your heads, keep it there, and let it change the way you interact with them.

Your teens don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!

I’d love to say I came up with this saying, but I heard it somewhere along the way from someone else.  However, when I heard it before, it was a statement made regarding people in general.  I have found that it is doubly true for teens.  Another way to remember and practice this concept as we lead our adolescents on this journey is to heed the highlighted portions of this classic Christian prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

So, let me make this application simple and straightforward.  Are you frustrated with the disrespect you are getting from your teen?  Does it seem like he does everything he can to ignore you?  Are you feeling like nothing you say makes any impact on her?  Maybe your teen needs some help with an attitude adjustment and learning to show more respect, and needs help from a professional like me.

OR maybe your teen is so tired of feeling criticized, judged, or belittled that you are now speaking to his or her self-protective wall every time you try to talk.  I’m not saying you’re a bad parent.  I don’t even know who is reading this post at this moment.  I am simply suggesting that your cumulative efforts to correct and guide your child or teen may have unintentionally built up to send a message that you don’t believe in her/him.  Or even worse – that you don’t even like your teen.  And I know that isn’t the message you want to convey.  Because you love this child of yours more than you could even adequately express.  But your child needs to hear you make the effort.  Needs to feel your encouragement and your genuine belief in who she/he is as a person.  Sure, it is important for you to offer correction and redirection to your kids – they surely don’t have it all figured out yet.  But that correction must be built on a foundation of loving encouragement and active support.

So TRY THIS: Set aside some uninterrupted time in the next few days to directly ask your son or daughter how they believe you view them.  And listen!  Don’t interrupt.  Don’t defend.  Listen.  Listen well.  Ask what kind of grade your teen or preteen would assign you in the subject of Encouragement/Discouragement.  If you get an A, then praise the Lord, celebrate, and please share it with us either here or on my professional Facebook page.  If you get a B, print this blog post out as a reminder to you to listen and encourage more, and criticize and correct less.  If you get a C or below, get in touch with me.  I can help.

Blessings to you and your family!

Six Simple Adjustments That Will Revolutionize Your Family Life


1. Put phones away during mealtime. Before you roll your eyes and say you’ve heard that one plenty of times already, ask yourself this: “Have we actually tried this in our home? Consistently?”  You have no idea how much this digital connection device is disconnecting your family conversations until you actually put it on ice for a while.

2. Read together. Have at least one time a week set aside for reading something aloud as a family. Whether it is a spiritual devotional time or enjoying a gripping novel, it will reward each of you more than you can guess. The shared experience of reading together will not only bring you closer together and open new doors of discussion – it will also build treasured lifetime memories.

3. Be an encourager. Lead your family in saying good things about each other. Your young children need it. Your teens need it. And your spouse needs it. Don’t you? We all need to hear that we are worth something to someone and that our life efforts are noticed and valued. Train yourself to share words of appreciation with your family members, and you will see their spirits soar!

4. Build a family tradition. Develop a family tradition/ritual that your kids want – and stick to it. This isn’t about putting your kids in charge of your family life. But I can tell you that the value of the fifteen minutes I typically spend with my son at his bedtime playing on my iPhone together is something he looks forward to every night. He knows I value him and I’m willing to focus on his interests – not just my own.

5. Share your faith. Have at least one time set aside each week where you take the lead in sharing and discussing heart and faith matters. Tell your kids what you believe about life, God, struggles, and prayer. Ask what they believe. Dig together. Share your stories that have shaped you into the person you are today. Celebrate their stories, as well. And find ways to share your faith beyond your family. The experience will bless countless lives with your ripple effect.

6. Right your wrongs. Teach your kids to take responsibility for their mistakes by owning up to your own. Tell your spouse and your kids openly and directly when you know you have done wrong, and make it clear you get how your wrong behavior has hurt them. Don’t make excuses. Don’t minimize, avoid, or blame. Admit it and do your best to make it right. Lead your family in revolution!

3 Great Ways to Wreck Your Teen’s School Year

We all want our kids to have a great year in school this year. We are hoping they will make good grades, have healthy friendships with solid kids, succeed in their extracurricular activities, and be generally liked by their teachers. Seeing them grow emotionally and spiritually throughout the year would be great, too. Right?

Here are three common dynamics that can wreck those hopes for your teen this year:

1. Avoid discussing sex and drugs. Assume your kid is bright enough, moral enough, and strong enough to make good choices about drugs (yes, that includes marijuana) and sex without you having to embarrass either one of you by discussing it directly. Rely on whatever hints of guidance your son or daughter is getting at church on these subjects. Trust that with good friends like your teen has, these issues will never be issues for your family.

2. Focus on your teen’s mistakes and failures. Constantly stay on the alert for your youth to mess up, and be swift and liberal with your criticism of their mistakes. Be sure you make it a personal character attack, rather than a helpful correction of behavior. If you put enough effort and consistency into this department, you may just succeed in convincing your teen that you really don’t believe in her or him. At that point, huge life wrecks are sure to follow soon enough.

3. Give your teen everything he/she wants – as quickly as possible. You want your child to be happy, don’t you? And your mature adolescent is obviously the best expert on what will make him or her happy. So do your best to meet their every demand. Immediately. Tired of the gaming system we bought you last year, simply because there is a new model available? No prob – here’s the new PlayBox 5000! Need a new smartphone for the same reason, even though we haven’t even completed your contract on the one you’ve got? So what?! Have the new RoboPhablet! And a couple hundred to spend on new accessories. They may miss out on learning some life lessons like patience, diligence, gratitude, and respect, but at least they’ll be happy. Right?

5 Ways to Lead Your Teen Toward Healthy Friendships

Ask your teen what they are most looking forward to as they go back to school, and you are likely to hear something about being with their friends.  While teens today have umpteen digital options for staying connected with their friends throughout the summer break, there is simply nothing quite like being in the same place and having shared experiences.  And as they are filled with that eager anticipation for reconnecting with their favorite peeps, parents are often filled with anxiety.  Whether you are concerned about your teen hanging with the wrong crowd, struggling to make close friends, spending too much time with that one “bad seed,” or simply looking for ways to encourage good friendships, here are a few basic tips for parents that can help you influence your teen’s friendship building activity in healthy ways:

1. Have a welcoming home.  Invest the effort and money to make your home inviting for your teen’s friends.  The best place for you to impact the friendships of any of your kids is right in your own home.  If you don’t have a pool, consider converting your garage or a bedroom into a game room with a ping pong table, foosball, or pool table.  Have a great video gaming setup in a fun part of your house.  Keep good snacks (ask your kids for help with this – not the clerk at Whole Foods).  And most importantly, make sure your kids and their friends feel genuinely welcome, respected, and cared for as individuals.  They need to feel comfortable in your home, and just spending time around you.

2. Stay aware of their social media activity.  Whether your teens are into Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, or whatever with be the cool new thing in a couple months, you need to maintain an active awareness of which sites and apps they are into, how they are using them, why they like using them, and who they are “hanging out” with in each virtual space.  This doesn’t mean policing their every move.  Trust me.  That won’t work out well for all involved.  But it does mean taking the time to regularly look for yourself at what their social media presence and activity looks like, and talking with them about it regularly.  These conversations should be a mixture of curiosity, respect, and authority on your part.  I will continue to offer more specific guidance in this area via blog posts and local parenting seminars.

3. Take time to ask and listen.  One of the best ways to influence anyone, including your own teen, is to take time to ask questions about THEM with genuine curiosity, and to listen with respect.  As parents, especially once our kids become teens, it is so tempting and easy to stay in lecture mode WAY too much.  Yes, there is a place for authoritative correction and drawing boundaries.  But never forget this little nugget: Your teens don’t care how much you know…until they know how much you care.  They need to know we care about them and what they care about.  That we aren’t just interested in their compliance – we are invested in their life development.

4. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.  Given the first three tips I’ve shared with you, please don’t mistake me for telling you to simply be good buddies with your teens.  They have those at school and church and wherever they hang out.  They need you to be a parent.  And that means loving them from a position of authority and setting clear boundaries.  While your rules should change and grow as your children age and mature, they still need to have rules, guidelines, and consequences to help lead and shape their choices.  They may think they have it all figured out, and that you are just a big idiot, but I sincerely doubt either of these is really true.

5. Become fluent in their language and favorite activities.  Don’t go overboard.  You don’t have to become totally fluent in “teenese” or a master in the latest version of whatever’s cool on the XBox.  But learn enough to actively participate in conversations and activities with your teens and their friends when they welcome you.  It’s not about whether or not YOU like the activity or even feel comfortable with the lingo.  It’s about intentionally showing YOUR TEEN and their friends that you care about them and their world – and that you care enough to be a part of it.