Category Archives: Parenting

Teenager Smartphone Agreement



Caleb, my twelve year old son, wants a smartphone.  Last week, I spent an hour talking to him about why he wants a smart phone and also about my concerns.  It was a long negotiation about what we both want and how we can both get what we want.  At the end of the day, he feels like his peers are getting phones and he would also like one.  I am concerned because I have seen smartphones suck the life out of our youth.  They can be addictive distractions that keep our young people from learning value skills, showing social courtesy to people, and pursue worthwhile endeavors.  I see it in the malls, in restaurants, at church, at school.  Disengaged teenagers (and adults) absorbed and distracted by their phone.  I am also aware of the vast number of young men and husbands addicted to pornography because of the ease of accessibility that a smart phone offers.

The conclusion of our conversation was that he will get a smart phone.  But, we will have a teenager smartphone agreement.  We will have some expectations of him, and as long as he is fulfilling those expectations, there is no problem.    We will meet after a month and discuss how things are going.  Then, we will meet after 3 months and discuss again.  The fact is, he will eventually have to learn to use technology responsibly at some point.  Our responsibility as parents is to do what we can to give guidance in the transition.

I spent an evening writing down my thoughts and expectations in a list.  We got a phone for him, and as we handed it over, we went over each point in the list, discussed, and came to an agreement.  We use a service called Accountable2You that monitors every website visited, application used, and time spent.  (I am not affiliated with this company other than that I am a customer.)  We have an appointment to discuss in a month and we’ll see where we are at.

Here is our list of expectations. 

Teenager Smartphone Agreement

  • Less than 10 hours of web browsing per week.  Exception for school work. 
  • Less than 20 YouTube videos per week for entertainment.  School related or educational subjects are exceptions.   Educational subjects should be agreed upon beforehand.
  • No games on the phone.
  • No games on the laptop.  (We have an Xbox, tablet, and a dedicated computer for gaming which happens on Friday nights.)
  • Phone should be put away and charging at 8:15pm.
  • Productivity apps are OK to install.  No need to ask.
  • Entertainment apps are not OK.   Exceptions should be discussed.
  • Phone should never be a distraction at church including boy scouts.  It should only be out for scriptures/church content, taking relevant notes, or scheduling.
  • Listening to music is OK.  Will check content periodically.  You should avoid music with cursing or inappropriate content.
  • Piano should be practiced at least 5 days per week.
  • Should be socially engaged with people. Should always politely greet people and say goodbye.  Should never ignore people because you are absorbed in electronics. 
  • Should stay for dinner and provide engaging conversation.  Should never leave the dinner table early to entertain yourself on electronics.
  • Grades should be straight As.  
  • Should treat your brother (and all family members) with kindness, even if you feel they are not being nice or fair. 
  • Should always be grateful for all you have.  Even when things are taken away temporarily.
  • Should help out with household chores without complaint or snide remarks.  Bonus for great attitude.  Double bonus for offering to help.
  • Talk to your friends and acquaintances by phone as much as you can.  Become a great conversationalist.
  • Text with friends as much as you want.  But all texts are subject to review.   No deleting texts.  We want to discuss topics that may be interesting or controversial.
  • Do good things on your phone.  Everyday if possible.  Read the scriptures.  Listen to a church talk.  Send someone an encouraging message.   Record a journal entry.
  • All electronics in our home are public devices for everyone.   Nothing on any of them are private with the exception of confidential business or church material.   Do not try to hide any activity or do anything in secret on any electronic device.  All activity on all devices are monitored and reported on. 
  • The overall goal is for you to continue to grow up as an outstanding man who is continuing to develop valuable skills, gives of your time to worthy endeavors, and is kind and courteous to all around you.  If ever there is a concern that develops because of the use of electronic devices, we will discuss openly and try to address those concerns which may involve new guidelines.  This is a living document that will change over time.
  • We will review these policies at a regular frequency.  As you use electronics responsibly, the reviews will become less frequent.  We will discuss any areas of concerns and work out a remediation plan that we can both agree to.
  • Like anything else, the expectation is not perfection.  But we do expect you to try and improve with a good attitude.


As I was telling my sister about this big milestone in our family life, she told me that this is actually a common thing.  Her boss just gave a smartphone to their 10 year son and also put together a smartphone agreement.  Here is a screenshot of their agreement.  I thought it was very good and incorporated some items into our agreement. 



Father’s Day

A great father’s day weekend.  It has been a long time since I had nothing planned on a Saturday. 

I got to geek out and make a Raspberry Pi Home Security camera using MotionPie.


I played some ping pong and pickleball with the family.

We sang some karaoke.

I finally helped my son, Andrew, make some progress on our home-made BB8.



Took a few moments remember my dad.


Robots: Try, try again


Here is what I love about robots:

  • They take incredible amounts of interdisciplinary engineering skills.
  • They almost never quite work like you expect.
  • They take  perseverance.  A LOT of perseverance.

In summary, they are not for the easily discouraged.  Or if you want to teach about how to overcome/handle failure, robots are perfect.  Our first robot competition last year, did not go so well.  It was a good lesson for Caleb in setting expectations for how difficult robots are.  We had a long talk about failure, and what we should do with those feelings.  It’s easy to quit, but you can also use those feelings to drive yourselves to try better next time.

Mid-summer, we formed another team and entered the World Robot Olympiad competition.  Caleb, Joey, and Jackson have been working for about 8 weeks on building a robot that can detect the color of lego blocks, push them to a certain location, and dispense ping pong balls.

Unless you’ve actually try to put together a working robot, it’s difficult to understand what it feels like to make a robot.  Mostly, the feeling is frustration.  Sometimes, it’s deep, desperate frustration.  Sometimes, it’s laugh-at-yourself frustration.   And, there are glimpses of hope and celebration, but those moments are few and far between.

I spent half a day today with the kids as they were putting together their video entry for the competition.  A few minutes after we had started, my wife asked me, “Are you guys done?”  

It occurred to me then, that she has no idea what it means to work with robots.  We were not done.  We have not even really begun at that point… My phone is chock full of video footage of failed attempts from throughout the day.  I put it all together in an 8 minute video, that hopefully captures the feelings and experience of working with robots.  I thought the video might be a little bit long, but Tenille started watching it, and ended up watching the entire thing.

Overall, a rewarding experience.  I got to reminisce about my old mechanical engineering days.  Caleb and I watched a bunch of old MIT 2.70 (now called 2.007) contest videos.  I saw many of my old professors (who looked quite young in some of the older videos).  Dr. Woodie Flowers who I had for my design class started the First Lego League, which Caleb will be participating in this Fall.

These kids may not grow up to be engineers, but I’m sure they’re going to run into frustrating challenges throughout their lives.  Hopefully, they’ll be able to grit their teeth and persevere through… just like with the robots.

Nice job, Caleb, Joey, and Jackson.



Here is our actual submission
Here’s what it took to get there…


Some old MIT 2.70/2.007 videos:

Definition of Marriage

00282_p_10aeq4j5ck0447In one of my sacred, bed-time conversation with my 7 year old son, Andrew, we’ve been talking about marriage quite a bit.  He had some problems that were troubling him.  He has two girl friends who both love him.  How is he supposed to know which one to marry?  I patiently listened to his dilemma and thought carefully about what advice I should dispense.  I’ve never had a problem of multiple girls doting over me, so I may not have been the most qualified to counsel him on this topic.  However, there were a few things that seemed relevant to discuss as a marriage practitioner.

When I was in my twenties and seriously considering the prospect of getting married, there was a question that lingered for me on the topic:

Do you “find” the one?  Or do you “choose” the one?  

Meaning – is it more important that you search the world high and low until you find that perfect spouse?    Or does it not matter so much who you marry, as long as you make a commitment to that person.  You “choose” them.  In my earlier years, I have to admit – I was in the camp of “finding” the perfect companion.  My son, Andrew, is in a similar camp.  Who is that “perfect” companion for me?  How do I find that right person?

Who can blame us for thinking this way?  Most of the stories that we watch and hear are all about finding that perfect person – pretty much every Disney movie – Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid.  They are all stories about finding that perfect significant other.  Then you get married and live happily ever after.  The End.

I’m realizing that the problem with this narrative is that it completely obscures the true meaning of marriage.  What makes marriage so sacred and noble is that it’s about a life-long commitment.  [In our church, it’s an eternal commitment.]  The wedding day is not the goal, it’s the very beginning.  In some ways, there’s really nothing that’s special or meaningful about the actual wedding day, other than that you have just made a commitment.   What makes a marriage truly meaningful are the years of sacrifices, negotiations, and tribulations that you endure together.  It is the joy you find in the life-long effort of rearing children together.  It is the jobs that you could not take.  It is the houses and neighborhoods you could not live in.  It is all the things that you could not do or have because you love somebody, and their interests were more important than your wants.  It is all the things you are willing to give up because your spouse is more important.  It is the endless stream of apologies for neglecting their feelings and the resolution to do better.  It is putting everything else on hold while you sit in a hospital chair and hold their hand.  This is what a marriage is.  This is why people respect the word “marriage.”  When people live up to the word, it is sacred.  It is noble.  It is the most enviable of all relationships.  It is the kind of love and charity that most people hope to experience in their lives.  And it is all wrapped up neatly in one word – marriage.

Unfortunately, this true story of marriage is drowned out by the popular and commercial narrative – the Disney story.  Even as adults, there are shows that subtly elevate the “find” the right person and live happily ever after mentality.  Any show that glorifies the perfect wedding day, or finding “the one”.  Say Yes to the Dress, My Fair Wedding, Bridezilla, The Bachelor(ette), etc.  The problem with this mentality is that it propagates the message that marriage is about oneself and a spouse is the perfect product you are looking for.   It is about selfishness.  And in the end, selfishness is the opposite of what a marriage is about.  It is what destroys marriages.  Sometimes, this selfishness manifests itself in affairs, financial issues, the way spouses spend their time, abuse, etc.  In the end, when differences can not be reconciled, marriages end – and that dream of a life-long commitment dies with it.  Selfishness is the enemy of marriage.

The problem is that most of us all start selfish.  On our wedding day, most of us have never been asked to sacrifice our needs and wants – at least nothing like what will be required by a spouse and children.  It is through the process of marriage that we slowly shed our old selves and hopefully start to change – eventually becoming more charitable… more accommodating.  If we are lucky, then the conflict and required sacrifice come at a pace that we are prepared to handle.  Unfortunately for some marriages, the issues come faster than we are able to change and we are asked to give things up that we were not yet ready to sacrifice.  Fortunately, life almost always offer second chances and I have many friends that have found success after a reboot in a subsequent marriage.  I love to hear their stories and take careful mental notes when they tell me what they feel they are doing differently the second time around.

I remember a lesson that our good friend Natalie Glover gave us during a Family Home Evening when I was dating my wife Tenille.  She told a story of a woman who kept special silverware.  Every so often, she would take out the silverware and spent hours polishing them to make sure they were bright and shiny.  On the most special occasions, a few times a year, she would take out her special silverware and present them at the table for her guests.  The moral of the story is that the silverware was special because she treated them special.  Our marriages are like that.  They are special if we treat them special through the years.

So, my dear Andrew.  Here’s the advice.  Yes – it may matter who you choose, but you shouldn’t worry about that so much.  Mostly because you are too young.  But, secondly, you should be more concerned about how you will shape yourself in preparation for your marriage.  Are you willing to negotiate?  Do you try and find a way to make people happy around you?  Can you give up things for people you love?  Are you willing to put in a lifetime of effort to keep your marriage special?  If so, I promise your marriage will be successful.  You will grow to love your wife more and more as every year passes by.  Paradoxically, the more you give up and sacrifice for your family, the more meaningful they will become to you.  

Father’s Day Fishing

I got a cheap fly fishing rod from Amazon last year.  I’ve gone out a few times to parks and other grassy areas to do a little practicing, but never really gone fly fishing.  One of our friends from Church, Jeremy McMullin, mentioned that he goes out to the Green River to fish and catches a lot every time, so I asked if I could tag along with him.  We made an appointment with Jeremy and Rob Biornstad (who was also learning how to fly fish) and today was the day! 

A slight complication however… When I told my kids I was going fishing, they both became very excited and asked if they could go.  I was going to leave at 5:30am in the morning.  I thought this would be WAY too early for the kids… so I made them a deal.  If I didn’t have to wake them up and they were ready to go by 5:30, then they can come.  I thought there was a small chance that Caleb might be able to pull this off, but I doubt that Andrew would be able to get up that early.

When I woke up, they were both up and ready to roll.  I must have forgotten how exciting fishing sounded when I was a kid.  When I got to my Jeremy’s house, I explained what happened and he said,”Hmmm… ok…. we can work with that… “ 

I found out that the problem was that we had to cross the river in our waders, so we’d likely have to carry the boys across….  How hard could that be….   Well, I found it wasn’t impossible… but it wasn’t easy either.   And even though the river doesn’t seem fast, when you’re thigh high in the river, it’s like a big strong dog pulling on your legs constantly…. while you’re standing on very slippery rocks…. while holding your child on your back and fishing gear in both hands….  It was a little nerve-wracking but a good fun adventure.

I was told by another wise friend, Dean Bennion, that when you go hunting and you go with your kids – you should realize that you’re not really going for yourself.  You can’t really do exactly what you want AND make sure the kids are having a good time.  You have to choose one.   And if you’re a father that wants your kids to keep coming with you, you’ll choose to make sure your kids are having fun. 

I was able to get some fishing in.  I didn’t catch anything, but it was fun to cast in the river.  Between casting, I had to tend to my kids who seemed like they were getting their line caught on a rock every few casts.  Then, I would have to wade into the river and pull the hook out of whatever it was caught in. 

Once, the hook was caught in something in the middle of the river.  I waded out there and the current was strong.  It came up high on my thigh and was almost pushing me over.  I could see the hook deep in the river caught between some rocks.  As I was leaning in to unhook it, the river got the best of me, and I slipped into the river.  It took a moment for me to regain my footing.  But now, water was down my wader and I had become a walking aquarium.  I eventually got the hook free.  But, I realized that my phone was drenched.  I have the Samsung Galaxy 5 which boasted water resistance… but, is it river flood resistant?  When I got out of the river, I could see it was not happy.  Parts of the phone were not responding.  I powered off, disassembled and put it all on a log to dry out.  When I got home, my wife put it in a bowl of rice.  (Which is the recommended treatment for any electronic device after it’s been water logged.)  I think it’s working now, but there’s some warning about the temperature sensor…

As for fishing, I did learn a few things from Jeremy.    Hopefully, I’ll learn a few things each time I go… just in time to be a grandpa… and take my kid’s kids.

1.  Fly needs to be dry and fluffy looking.  For a while, I was using a soggy fly that didn’t really look like anything.  Jeremy sprayed on some fly floatant and it did the trick.  When I floated my dressed fly down the river, I immediately started getting nibbles and a small trout jumped out of the water pulling on my line.  Then it got away.

2.  Bring some polarized sunglasses.  You can see into the water better.

20150620_094802The highlight of the trip was when Caleb caught a fish.  It was tiny (4 inches, maybe?… although I’m probably exaggerating…)  But, it was enough to make the fishing trip worthwhile for the kids.  On the way  home, we stopped by the Sun Break Café in Auburn and had a big country fried steak.  After breakfast, Caleb and Andrew were both out cold, sleeping in the back seat. 

Fishing without the kids on the River would have been a good Father’s Day… but what’s the point of Father’s Day without being a Dad.

30 Minute Standoff at Walmart

Lego ChimaI took the kids today to Walmart so that I could get a fishing license for this weekend.  As we were walking in, my youngest son asks me if he could get a toy.  I give him my usual answer – “You can do whatever you would like with your money.”  My hope is that his greed for money will deter him from making foolish purchases.  This worked very well for my older son, Caleb.  Andrew has not yet developed any propensity for money.  He only likes what you can trade in money for.

In the Federal Way Walmart, the fishing license station is strategically located right next to the Lego aisles.  Legos are Andrew’s weakness.  His eyes went wide as he started looking up and down the aisles.  

Getting a fishing license seemed to take forever as the clerk asked me question after question about licensing options.  Meanwhile, I could see Andrew drooling as he paced up and down the Lego aisles.  He finally comes up to me and tells me that he found what wanted.  It was a $60 Lego set of what looked like Ninjas and a castle that shot out cannonballs.  I finish up my fishing license transaction and went over to see the Lego set.  He proudly shows it to me and starts exclaiming, “I have the money!  I have $600 in the bank!”  A line had formed at the wildlife licensing station, and Andrew and his poor father were the only entertainment available to those waiting in line.

I started to whisper, “How do you earn money, Andrew?”

“I do chores!”  He exclaimed.  “I have the money!”

“How much do you get paid for a chore?”

“$1!”  Andrew replied.  Caleb who is nearby corrected him, “1 School Dollar.”

I am not completely privy to my wife’s monetary/economic system she has developed around chores, so I continue to inquire… “How many school dollars equal 1 real dollar?”

“10!”  Andrew replied….

‘Great!’ I thought, ‘This should be an easy argument… ‘   “So, how many chores do you need to do buy this Lego set?”

It took some calculation, but he finally got the number.  “600!” He exclaimed proudly.

“Do you think this Lego set is worth doing 600 chores?”  I ask.

“I’ve got the money!  And I can get money in other ways like Birthdays and New Year’s!”

This was not going in the direction I was hoping for…  People in line are trying not to look, but they are smirking… ‘What are you going to do now, Dad?’

I’m torn because I want him to know that he can do what he wants with his money, but I also want to help him develop restraint… At the end of the day, whatever he decides to do with his money is going to be his choice.  There’s a part of me that thinks that I should just let him buy it.  Then, I should bring him every day to Walmart and let him spend all of his money or until he gets tired of buying Legos.  Kinda like making him smoke an entire pack of cigarettes.    As I’m thinking this through, he pulls on the Lego box and finds that it’s chained to the shelf.  “Whew!”  I think.

“Dad, the box is stuck to the shelf!”

“Well, I think you have to ask the clerk to unlock it for you.  You probably need to get to the end of the line.”

A man near the front of the line overhears our conversation and offers to let us go ahead of him to get this taken care of.

“No thanks.  I think I’d prefer we wait at the end of the line so that he has a chance to think about how he’s going to spend his money.”  I smile politely and decline.  ‘You’re not helping me, buddy.’

As Andrew continues pulling on the box to try and see if he can self-unlock, I try another approach.  “Do you know what the purpose of Walmart is?”

“To sell thing,” he replies.

“That’s right.  It wants you to look at all this fun stuff, so that you will give them your money.”  Then I started describing the packaging, and why the packaging looks much more fun than the toy is likely to be.

“Well, Walmart wants me to have fun, too!”  He protests.

“They don’t care if you have fun or not.  They care that they get your money.  If you went home and threw away your $60 Lego set, they would not be sad.  They want your money.  They want you to come here every day, until you run out of money.” 

He thought about this for a moment.  Then, he let go of the $60 Lego set, and chose a $14 Lego set.  ‘Whew… the stakes just got a lot smaller… ‘  “Andrew, It doesn’t matter to me which one you get.  I’m not going to stop you.  You can get the big if you want.  You can come here every day and buy a Lego set if you want.”

“No, I’ll take this smaller one.  It’s not as expensive.”

Still trying to talk him out of it, I continued, “Well, something that Caleb and I always did was we practiced waiting one week before buying anything.  If there is something you see that you want, I would ask Caleb to try waiting one week and see if he still wanted it.  Usually he didn’t, and he was glad he kept his money.”  I reminded him of his last toy that he bought.  It was a Hot Wheels set that his grandma bought for him a few weeks ago.  It is now in multiple pieces littered around the house.  It hasn’t been played with after day 2. 

He looked at the Lego set in his hand (the smaller lego sets were unfortunately not chained down), then put it back on the shelf.  Success! 

Then, he picked up an even smaller Lego set.  It was $9.  “I want this one.”

We’ve been talking for about 25 minutes at this point.  “Ok, “ I relented.  “Let’s go pay for it.”  I have until here to the check out counter to dissuade him. 

During that 50 meter walk to the checkout counter, I gave it my last attempt.  “Are you sure you don’t want to wait 1 week?” 

“Yes.  I want it now.” 

We got to the checkout counter.   “Do you know why all of these candies, sodas, and magazines are right here next to the checkout counter?”

“Because they’re yummy!”  Andrew replied.

“That’s exactly right.  It’s for people that can’t control themselves.  Right before they’re about to checkout, they can’t control themselves and they start picking up all this yummy food.  It’s called impulse buying.  People who can’t control themselves eventually become poor because they buy everything that they see and want.  Do you want to be rich or poor?”


“Then, you might consider waiting one week and see if you really want that toy.”

“But, you won’t have time to bring me to Walmart.  We never come to Walmart!”  An objection!  Must overcome objection!

“I promise I will come to Walmart if you are still thinking about this toy next week.  OR, I am happy to order it on Amazon.  We’ve done that together before.”

He looked at his Lego for what seemed like 30 seconds.   The gears in his mind churning.  “Ok,  I’ll come back next week.”  [YES!!!!]

I keep my poker face on,  “You’re more than welcome to buy this toy right now… as well as anything else you want.  It’s your money… I just don’t want you to be poor…  but, it’s your choice… “

He was already walking back to the Lego aisle.  “No, I’ll get it next week.”

There’s hope for him yet.   And hope for me.  I know I took the time to have important discussions with Caleb.  Not so much with Andrew.  Part of it is his personality.  Part of it is me.  In my mind, I probably think I’ve already had these conversations… but if I stop to think about it, I really haven’t with Andrew.  I normally go with the classic “Because Daddy said so” or more likely I don’t even offer any explanation for why he can or can’t do something.  This was a rare moment where I felt like I actually took the time to convince him of a good life principle.  I know I need to do more.  Jotted down the story as a reminder to myself.