Answering top questions from today’s parents PART I

Posted on: 11/14/17 3:30 AM | by Jonathan McKee

The questions began rolling in…

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 of the app

These are just a few of the countless questions I just received from parents… and in the next three days I’m going to answer all of them in this blog. Each day I’m going to narrow it down to the top 10.

In early November I sat on a panel where 5 of us (myself, a child psychiatrist, a coach, a school administrator, and a youth pastor) fielded questions from the audience. Questions were texted in and we answered as many as we could in an hour’s time. The questions were so numerous we couldn’t possibly get to them all, so I tackled each of them when I got back to my office, offering quick answers, links to online articles, and finally books for further reading.

So here they are… including the ones we answered that day. (Here’s the first 10, PART I of III)


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 this article: ARE SMARTPHONES & SOCIAL MEDIA TOO DANGEROUS FOR MY KIDS?

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