Parenting Help

Answering top questions from today’s parents


The questions are almost always the same…

What age do you recommend giving our kids phones?

What is the easiest way to monitor a child’s online safety?

What are the dangers Snapchat or

How do you prevent sexting?

These are just a few of the countless questions I always receive from parents at every one of my workshops… so let’s answer all of them right here, right now.

So here they are, 30 questions, brief answers, links to online articles and finally books for further reading.


  1. What age do you recommend receiving a phone?

With all the distractions that today’s mobile devices offer, I think it’s best to wait until age 12 or 13 to give our kids their first device that gives them the capability to download apps. After all, they can’t even be on the big social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) until age 13 (thanks to COPPA… more on that in the next answer).

Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media was asked when he recommends allowing a smartphone and he said, “The longer you wait the better.” He explained how no two kids were the same, so it’s hard to name one age for all kids, but for his own kids, he waited to give them smartphones until they were in high school and learned responsibility.

More research on this subject in these articles:

2. What age do you recommend allowing children on social media?

You’d think this answer would be easy, because even the Federal Trade Commission has declared that kids have to be 13-years-old to be on SnapChat, Instagram and Facebook. It’s because of COPPA, which stands for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, preventing companies from collecting certain information from kids under 13. Apps like Snap, Insta and Facebook actually ask your kids to enter their birthdate when they sign up. If they are under 13, they can’t sign up… that is… unless they lie about their age, which is what most kids do. Other apps like don’t ask for age information, but in their privacy settings do claim that they cannot collect information from 13-year-olds… but who’s checking?

Many parents aren’t aware of these age requirements, and honestly, many don’t care. Here’s where parents need to remember they are the parent, and some boundaries are healthy. When your 11-year-old asks you if they can download SnapChat, this is a great time to reply, “Sorry, it’s against the law. You have to wait until you’re 13.” Now you’re off the hook… at least until they turn 13.

Experts like Common Sense Media agree that 13 is a good age to let your kids start using social media, but even then, they say “whether she is 10 or 16” set some realistic ground rules like using privacy settings, thinking before you post, etc. And that’s the bottom line—don’t just hand your kids a device at 13; teach them responsibility first. Use a book like The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices as a phone contract, helping them think through who they’re friending, the pics they’re posting, the content they’ve absorbing. Simply tell them, “When you finish the book, then you get your phone.” Educate them and engage them in conversations about what it looks like to post wisely in an insecure world.

3. I am a mom of an 11-year-old girl. Do you have recommendations for her first phone or specific smartphones or specific apps that allow us to limit the types of websites she would have access to?

Good question. First, I’ve seen countless software available to “block” porn and “spy” on kids…and personally… I didn’t use those. I just used the “enable restrictions” feature on my kid’s iPhones and made it so they required a password to download apps, etc. That way if my kid came to me and asked, “Can I have Instagram?”, then I could have a conversation with them about it rather than just relying on some spy app to block it. Conversations and “walking with” our kids through this process is by far better than any software.

Here’s an article about some of the settings you might want to consider for Instagram, as well as some of the important guidelines you might want to discuss with your kids: KEEPING INSTAGRAM SAFE.


Here’s an article about porn blocks and filters: 2 UNDENIABLE FACTS ABOUT PARENTAL CONTROLS AND PORN BLOCKS.

For Further Reading: If I Had a Parenting Do Over, Chapter 7: Walk With

4. Is there a way to modify/filter the Story Periodicals on SnapChat?

Not yet, but I wish there was. Because as you saw in my parenting workshop, the online periodicals/magazines they can click on from the story feature are usually filled with some sexually charged content. Even if they just want to see their friend’s story, they have to ignore the article in their peripheral about the new “nearly nude Kardashian pics.”

It’s sad, many young people use SnapChat innocently, but it also offers quite a few distractions. It’s like your neighborhood quickie mart. Kids can innocently go in and buy a Slurpee, or they can buy beer and porn. Today’s kids are constantly faced with choices about where to click, even on Google images. But many of our kids use apps where they encounter these distractions more frequently. They obviously don’t know what “flee” means.

For Further Reading: The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, Chapter 4: The Whole Picture of Those Pictures, Chapter 10: Know the App Before You Snap

5. My husband and I were having a conversation about music last week.  We were comparing our music growing up compared to today’s. How do you think it compares? Pour Some Sugar on Me vs. Cardi B of today. Is it worse?

Yeah… it’s absolutely worse, not so much in quality, but quantity. Back when Pour Some Sugar on Me was popular, groups like 2 Live Cru and NWA had some of the most vile filth to this day… but it wasn’t mainstream. By the 90’s we started to see Snoop Dog and some other pretty raunchy “artists” hit the Hot 100 charts (Snoop had a song go to No. 8)… but even then, it wasn’t the entire charts. Now the charts are much more potent with sensuality and bad language.

Take a peek at this article I just wrote about the content our kids encounter in the top songs in the recent charts and what experts are saying about the effects of this music: DOES SEXY MUSIC REALLY AFFECT ME?

The other difference is the AMOUNT of time people are listening to music because of the ACCESS to it. When moms and dads of yesterday used to listen to Def Leppard, we had to buy the tape or CD. The most mobile we got was a Walkman. Now young people have FREE access to everything, from the song on Spotify to the music video on YouTube just a click away on their device. And Mom and Dad don’t have to buy that “explicit” CD for their underage kid… so kids have access to a lot more of the “unedited” versions.

Here’s an article just last week from Nielsen about the increase of time listening to music each week because of the ease of access.

6. How do you overcome the tendency of teens to want to roll eyes and minimize information exchanged when you are trying to talk to them?

Great question, and you’re not alone. So many parents feel this struggle.

First, minimize “monologue” and maximize “dialogue.” Listen more than lecturing. Lecturing only guarantees eye-rolls. Moms and Dads need to learn to use questions. But how we ask questions is also important. I talk more about that in this article, WHICH LISTENER ARE YOU?

But even then we can get the occasional eye roll if we’re trying to “teach” them something or pass on an important value. That’s why it’s good to consider leading our kids toward discovery instead of just talking at them. More on this here: MOVING FROM YOU SHOULD TO SHOULD YOU? 

But sometimes it’s just hard to get our teenagers talking. How can we actually provoke conversations, not just asking the same question every day, “How was your day?” (Here’s an article about that.)


And finally… teens will just be teens. Don’t take it personal. Sometimes you need to just “let it go” (something I talked about on Jim Daly’s show on FOCUS ON FAMILY).

7. How do you control the use of video chatting/sexting?

That’s a broad question… maybe even two questions.

I think realistic guardrails, like no phones/computer in the bedrooms really help with this. Sexting isn’t something they typically do sitting on the couch next to Mom. But we also need to teach them discernment for the times we aren’t sitting next to them. We need to help them become aware of many of the precautions when chatting with others—principles like “never chat with someone you haven’t met face to face,” “never post your location,” etc. I talk a little about some of these risks in my recent article IS SNAPCHAT AND SNAPMAPS SAFE?

But sexting is also a huge concern today. Almost every school experiences it; and even if your kids aren’t doing it, many of their friends are. It’s something we need to dialogue with our kids about.

For Further Reading: The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, Chapter 10: Know the App Before You Snap, Chapter 18: I See London I See France…Why are you showing your underpants?

8. What advice would you offer to a teacher who notices students listening to either music videos (like those top 10 videos you showed at the workshop) or those equally destructive? Do you recommend engaging with the parents, students, or both?

I think teachers, coaches and youth workers should talk directly with the students about the kind of content they’re digesting, and bring parents into the picture if you see them doing something that is harming themselves or others. I know that’s vague (because these music videos are probably “harmful”), but in a world where most parents simply don’t care about this kind of content, telling a mom that their daughter is listening to Nicki Minaj probably isn’t even worth it. In fact, many parents might get on the defensive about it- thinking you’re judging them or blaming them for being a bad parent.

I’m a huge advocate of communication with parents, but more for encouragement than being a narc. I’d save “telling” on a kid for something that really hurts them or others.

9. Our children are in college now. What are some approaches we can/should be taking now? Is it too late?

All three of my kids are college age and out of the house… and this is far from over.

BONDING and BOUNDARIES are both vitally important parenting practices (something I dialogue about in detail in session one of the YouTube videos we provide as a free seven week curriculum on our website). When our kids leave, our main connection with them will be BONDING, and we should really focus on that. After all, BONDING conversations are where values are passed on. Trying to “ground” your 22 year-old isn’t typically very effective. But conversations can be life changing. So look for opportunities to connect, eat, laugh and talk. Ask lots of questions with genuine interest and avoid lecturing. If you love them, they’ll ask YOU questions and advice.

10. Can people other than friends on SnapChat or Instagram see posts?

Nope. Only friends. This is why it’s so important to remind our kids that they should be careful who they friend and know each of their online “friends” face to face. That 18-year-old kid they met online who supposedly lives in Huntington Beach might just be a 46-year-old pedophile living in his mother’s basement in Cleveland.

For Further Reading: The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, Chapter 10: Peek at Your Privacy Settings… so you know who’s peeking at you

11. What is the downside of waiting until 9th/10th grade to give kids access to a smartphone or data plan? What are the compelling reasons to do it before then?

The only downside to holding out is that if your kids are surrounded by friends who all have devices, they might whine and complain that they are the only kid without a device. But this doesn’t mean give in. In fact, here’s the link to some great ear plugs Amazon sells.

Funny… I know lots of parents who actually give their kids a device before they even ask for one. We don’t need to feel the pressure to give a device when most experts are recommending wait. See my answer to questions 1 and 2 in yesterday’s post.

12. I’m concerned about how to regulate screen time with a high functioning autistic child when their social skills are so limited and their peers are so unwilling to engage them, what do I do?

This is a tough situation, because once again we’re learning that parenting answers are not always “one size fits all.” Ongoing research has shown that social media can actually provide a comfortable means of interpersonal communication for people with autism, although it might be noted, that even this research reveals that social media does not cure loneliness—face-to-face interaction is necessary (something we are definitely seeing in young people without autism).

My sister-in-law Amy (who happens to write our free Stranger Things Netflix discussions) works as a speech therapist with autistic kids and constantly shares with me how she encourages letting them express themselves, but at the same time provides boundaries of acceptable/unacceptable behaviors. In other words, she might not even require a boy with ADHD to sit in a chair in her classroom, allowing him to stand and move/fidget. But hitting another kid is unacceptable. We can do the same with boundaries in our homes. For example, we don’t want to turn our kids loose on social media or 10 hours of video games per day just because they have a learning disability.

Amy pointed out three things to consider when working with children with autism:

1) technology has actually shown some great ways for children with various diagnoses to connect with other similar children.  Often times, it is true that kids with autism have more difficulty with peer relationships at school (often because of the low number of students with that same diagnosis), the internet provides amazing forums, blogs and chat rooms (however, it needs to be noted that strong parent oversight and regulation is important – ie, consider having a common computer area for all eyes to see).

2) Kids with autism have a harder time reading emotions and do need to have technology limited and sculpted to address their actual needs (for example, parents could play a game of charades using technology to drive the game) but simply allowing your child to watch/interact with tech devices unsupervised and without limit is not good.

3) Kids with autism crave structure – which is one reason why predictable video games are so comforting to these kids.  One way to establish structure is to designate specific times of the day for specific technology uses (ie from 3:30-4:30, Jonny may play ____ game).  This way, you are acknowledging how helpful technology is to your child, but also limiting what is being accessed and for how long.

This research is ongoing. I recommend talking with SEVERAL clinicians who are trained in working with kids with autism and see what they recommend. Look for the common truth in all their advice.

13. What are the dangers of the app is a popular app where kids can create and share music videos to their friends/followers. So like most social media sites, they need to be careful WHO they allow as friends (a good rule of thumb is no one they haven’t met face to face) and WHAT they are posting (are they posting their location, are they posting anything inappropriate). As for inappropriate… anyone who has been to one of my parenting workshops has gleaned a taste of what today’s music videos look like… these are many of the videos that are passed around. So young kids are exposed to pretty raunchy and sexualized content.

It’s sad, because it allows kids to be creative… but can expose them to some raunchy content.

Many parents are not aware of how much kids are exposed to pornographic videos on this app. Even if they carefully select their friends and who can see their videos, the video search feature is not filtered and they can access anything through that search feature.

Age is also a concern. In their privacy policy  they aren’t as clear about age… just that they won’t “keep” or “collect” information from anyone under 13. It never asks if you are 13 when you sign up, so many young kids have this.

Here’s an article sharing concerns.

And Common Sense media goes into some detail about what parents can expect in their review of the app.

14. What is the easiest way to monitor a child’s online activity for parents who aren’t tech savvy? Specific app or software?  Do you recommend any phone/internet filters?

Same answer as question number 3 above.

15. When your kids push you away and go silent how do you reconnect and bond and know that they are okay or know what’s going on in their world?

This all starts with NOTICING our kids and making time to connect on their level.

In the Virginia panel, a youth pastor named Chris shared a compelling story about difficulty connecting with one of his sons. Chris and several of his boys enjoyed sports like basketball and football, but one of his sons enjoyed outdoors activities like kayaking and elk hunting… something Chris had never done. Chris could have done what many parents do and just shrugged his shoulders. But he didn’t- instead he took an interest in “elk skinning” and took his son to the big outdoorsman store, and that opened his son up. Chris said, “When we were walking through the isles of this outdoorsman store, my son lit up and began telling me about all the cool things he was seeing. Now, I spend time with him doing outdoor activities he enjoys, and he actually reciprocates, sitting down with me at his brothers’ Basketball games asking me questions.”

Many parents don’t take the TIME to NOTICE and enter their kids’ world.

What is it that your kids love to talk with their friends about? Where do they spend their time?How could you enter their world this week?

For Further Reading: If I Had a Parenting Do Over, Chapter 3: Notice

16. Is there a way to receive your child’s text directly to your phone or laptop? Can kid’s screens/apps activity be displayed on a parent’s screen?

There are apps that can do this, but personally I don’t recommend them. I recommend just setting the parental restrictions on the phones appropriately for their age, then having conversations about content. See my answers and links to question number 3 above.

17. For kids who want to be “set apart” are there suggestions or resources regarding these types of things? For example: 14 yr daughter recently had a teammate tell her she was “pan.” Our daughter came to us and asked what the best way to respond to that type of confession? As a believer, she wants to be a safe/non-judgemental place. She asked, said girl, if her parents knew and thanks for sharing, but this is a heavy burden to carry.

This is so common, and I think the answer we need to keep pointing to is Jesus himself, because Jesus showed such compassion and love for sinners, but yet didn’t bend on morality. We need to continue to share stories of Jesus with our kids where Jesus showed compassion to the lost (John 4- woman at the well, John 8- woman caught in adultery, Luke 19- Zacchaeus, etc.) and ask our kids questions about how we can respond like that when we meet the lost.

At the same time it’s okay to dialogue with students about the realities of much of what the world says is okay, but isn’t actually healthy. Here’s a recent blog I wrote about dialoguing about gender identity with some good discussion material to talk about.

For Further Reading: Sex Matters, Chapter 1: Why Wait, Chapter 5: Tough Questions

18. Do you think there will be a new “norm” of culture for our kids when they are adults because of the seismic change of the smartphone?

This is all pure speculation, but I think we are seeing changes in our culture in the way we communicate with each other (poorer), the amount of entertainment media we’re absorbing (more each year), and the change in morality as we slowly are adopting the morality of our entertainment we love.

Here’s a powerful interview with Simon Sinek about some of the changes in communication—an interview I highlighted in my blog a while back.

And here’s an article I linked above about some of the consequences we’re seeing as a result of this constant connectivity.

Will the “new norm” be increased anxiety, self absorption and social isolation? I hope not. I’m hoping humans will recognize this and the pendulum will swing back.

19. Jonathan mentioned some additional authors/resources beyond his books, can you please share those resources?

Yes, in addition to many of the books I’ve already linked, here are a few others I mentioned and often plug from my parenting workshops:

CURT STEINHORST- and I teamed up for this book to leaders in the workforce helping today’s worker accomplish focused work in a world overflowing with distractions: Can I Have Your Attention?

SHERRY TURKLE- New York Times best selling author talks about how tech is killing relationships: Reclaiming Conversation

KARA POWELL- and a few others wrote a nice little guide to parents about parenting your teenager in a digital media world: Right Click

And the other source I kept quoting was COMMON SENSE MEDIA, a free online source for parents:

20. What suggestions do you have about young people creating their online identity? For example: professionals are told to have LinkedIn with followers because we have to network. As adults, we have a social media presence or we are considered odd. How do we guide them in understanding their online identity?

I think here’s a perfect opportunity to teach our kids truth and see how that truth seeps into the other areas of their lives like “online identity.” In other words, the more we teach our kids who they are “in Christ” (II Cor 5:17) and their mission of “we don’t preach ourselves, we preach Christ the Lord” (II Cor 4:5), the more they’ll know how to live this out in every area of their lives, including online.

For Further Reading: The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, Chapter 8: Take more “Selflessies”, Chapter 9: Like Me

21. What suggestions do you have about young people creating their online identity? For ex: professionals are told to have LinkedIn with followers because we have to network. As adults, we have a social media presence or we are considered odd. How do we guide them in understanding their online identity?

I think here’s a perfect opportunity to teach our kids truth and see how that truth seeps into the other areas of their lives like “online identity.” In other words, the more we teach our kids who they are “in Christ” (II Cor 5:17) and their mission of “we don’t preach ourselves, we preach Christ the Lord” (II Cor 4:5), the more they’ll know how to live this out in every area of their lives, including online.

For Further Reading: The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, Chapter 8: Take more “Selflessies”, Chapter 9: Like Me

22. How do you defend “right” to check text with the argument that you are invading their privacy?

I wrote about this very subject a few year’s back because it was a huge issue with my daughter, but as you’ll notice, I didn’t post any answers in that article, I just left it open for comments (quite a discussion in that comment section).

Bottom line: I think we need to consider THE SEGUE.

THE SEGUE is a principle I spend an entire chapter on in my book If I Had a Parenting Do Over, I discuss it in Lesson 5 of our free parenting curriculum of the same title, and it’s a principal that Andy Stanley shared that he uses with his kids. It’s the principle of starting strict and then lightening up as our kids grow towards adulthood. In fact, I even recommend letting your kids have NO RULES their senior year. So my 12-year-old is going to have to get used to me looking at her texts. But my 17-year-old won’t. Conversation is a must at both ages, but it’s silly to squeeze tight boundaries on a kid who is going to be leaving the house in 5 months. This is where our conversations with them have much more impact that rules.

For Further Reading: If I Had a Parenting Do Over, Chapter 5: The Segue

23. How do we handle disturbing behavior by our kid’s friends? Do we stay out of it? Or do we engage the school or parents?

My two cents is that you have plenty of conversations with your own kids about who they hang out with- even stepping in and saying, “Sorry, you’re not going to Jackson’s house” if need be. Again, more boundaries when young… less when older. But I wouldn’t contact other parents unless their kids were hurting themselves or others. I would talk with the kid directly with humility and grace.

24. Do you have advice for a single mother with little resources and no father figure? I have 2 teenage boys who I feel like I can’t control.

My advice to you would be the same that I’ve been giving every parent—a balance of bonding and boundaries. But in addition, I would really seek out environments that provide good male role models- churches, youth groups, sports teams, schools with positive male teachers. Those male influences can have an amazing impact in their lives. Embrace that.

Sticky Faith did some amazing research on the power of mentors (I highlight some of that in this article about teens need for mentors), and they really emphasize the more mentors the better. In fact, they recommend 5 or more. So start thinking through what that might look like in your boy’s lives: Mom, grandpa, coach, youth pastor, small group leader, best friend’s dad, etc. The old adage “It takes a village” is proving more true than ever before.

25. Is there any reason to keep some discussions with your kids about apps, social media failures, etc. private from your spouse?

Nope. Parents should be on the same page.

26. How do you engage with your child when their favorite apps or games bore you? (example: Minecraft)

Suck it up. When you’re kids are gone out of the house you’ll wish you would have played some of those boring games with them. Love is full of sacrifices. In my research for my book, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, I asked hundreds of parents what they’d change if they could go back in time and change one parenting practice, and the number one answer was “I’d spend more time with my kid no matter what.”

For Further Reading: If I Had a Parenting Do Over

27. How do you balance freedom for a 16-yr-old and being an authoritative adult who makes decisions? I know she is a 1 1/2 years from leaving home with college and no supervision. How do you know how much freedom is too much?

There is no hard and fast rule for exactly the right rules for a certain age. Each kid is different. Just keep your eyes on the calendar and ask, “Am I preparing her for that day when she leaves for college?” Instead of telling her what to do, ask her, “What should you do?” (More on that HERE).

28. The desire for money, power, fame, and influence is a huge driver in all of this. But everything has tradeoffs. Can you talk about how to have this discussion without sounding like a killjoy?

DJ Khaled recently joined up with Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Little Wayne and a few others and cut a track called I’m the One, a song that soared to the top of the charts as each of those guys bragged about their money, status, and possessions. It’s a common theme in today’s music, and apparently a common theme back in Biblical times, because when Jesus taught his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), He shocked his audience painting a picture of humility, selflessness, and compassion. People weren’t used to this kind of teaching… it was as revolutionary then as it is today.

Take your kids through scripture like Matthew 5, especially the Be-Attitudes. Limit lecturing, just read and then ask, “What does Jesus mean by this?” Then ask, “What does that look like today?” “What are some messages that seem to counter this teaching today?” “Who is right?”

Or use our FREE Music Discussions on We actually have a discussion for that song, The One, with scripture and questions.

29. Can you talk about the TBH (to be honest) free social networking app that lets friends anonymously answer questions about one another. TBH is a simple social networking app that lets you answer fun, whimsical questions about your friends and collect gems (trophies) every time your friends select your name in answer to a question. Once you give access to your phone’s contact list and location, you can select the high school or college you attend. Since there’s no age verification, adults can join or kids can say they attend a school they don’t. Ultimately, the app draws from your phone’s contact list first and then offers other app users from the school second.

This app is like so many that encourages anonymity. If the word “anonymous” is ever in the description in an app… I think we should steer away from it. Anonymity always conveys “lack of responsibility” or “no accountability.” There is no reason our kids need to be wandering through an online world under the guise that their actions have no repercussions. This only sets them up for failure in the real world where actions actually have consequences. Many young people discover this the hard way when their seemingly “anonymous” online activity comes back to haunt them. In fact, this happens all the time.

For Further Reading: The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, Chapter 6: Unmask: The myth of anonymity

30. Sexting or sending inappropriate pictures are obviously popular among teens. What can be done about creating boundaries when our kids are not with us (ie: school, sports, church, etc.)? How can we protect our kids from being exposed to things they have not asked to be a part of, but are exposed to via group chats or unsolicited texts with inappropriate content?

The sad news is, we can’t protect them from everything. We can provide good boundaries, but then all we can do is teach them truth so they learn to recognize the lies.

When it comes to sexting, a friend might show them an image someday. We can prepare them for this by talking about sexting and pornography in general. The more they know the truth about these distractions, the more equipped they’ll be to make the right decision when they encounter it.

For Further Reading: The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, Chapter 4: The Whole Picture of Those Pictures, Chapter 18: I See London I See France…Why are you showing your underpants?


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Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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