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Can You Hand Me That App? Tools for Parents of Teens

Do you remember some of the tools available in our day? Think back to the first IBM computer you used at work or at home. That PC in 1983 was state of the art for its time; 16 KB of memory, a floppy drive for disks the size of a cheese slice. Oh, and did I mention that it ran the high-tech DOS operating system? Then add one of those old dot-matrix printers that made noises like a train going through a tunnel, and you had top of the line tools to get the job done. But can you imagine lugging that ancient PC in to work today and trying to do anything but play Pong?

But maybe you weren’t into computers back then. Perhaps you were like me, working on cars in your spare time. Remember when all the measurements went to metric? Sure, you could try to use your old socket set, but nine times out of ten, you ended up just stripping the nut. I had to invest in all new equipment to work on my Dodge Charger.

Here’s my point; just like your old IBM computer and your non-metric tools are no longer relevant, our old parenting tools may be obsolete now. In an ever-changing world, moms and dads must refresh and restock their toolboxes with new ways to communicate and interact with teens. If you have been working on your teen, but do not seem to getting anywhere, could it be you are using the wrong tools? If your son or daughter is resisting your parenting methods, is it time to consider an upgrade? Let me share a couple of fresh and innovative tools to help you train and guide your teen.


The scariest day in the life of parents is when their teenager runs into the house waving his new driver’s license. Suddenly, those quiet neighborhood streets morph into the track of the Daytona 500, and you picture your fragile teen desperately weaving in and out of speeding traffic in a four-wheeled death machine. Or maybe you realize that your teen has just received a token of geographic freedom, and you start to sweat, realizing that your child is now mobile!

When that fateful day arrives, what resources can a mom or dad use to ensure that their teen stays safe while driving? The first thing I’d recommend is that you download a smartphone app that disables texting and e-mail on your child’s phone while they are driving. These apps function in a number of different ways, but the concept is that your kid’s phone senses when a car is moving, and locks up so no messages can be sent or delivered. This eliminates the distractions and helps keep your kid focused on careful driving.

Another app I’d recommend is called Safe Driver. This app monitors the locations and driving practices of newly licensed teens. Download this app, and you’ll be alerted by text or email when your kids go over a certain speed. Safe Driver even records exactly where the violation happened.

Lastly, consider using a GPS tracker on the car or phone your child is using. This will allow you to keep tabs on where your teen is going and if they made it to their destination safely, without having to call and check in every half hour. Some new cars even come with navigation systems that make it easier for parents to set geographic boundaries for teens, such as highway entrances or even boyfriend’s houses!

No doubt many teens and even some parents will say that using GPS to monitor kids is akin to spying, and a gross invasion of privacy. But these tools are not about snooping on your teens. According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teens in vehicles with monitoring devices took fewer risks while driving than unsupervised teens. These modern devices can help you rest easy about letting your son or daughter out on the road. You are not using these tools because you don’t trust your teen, but rather because you want to trust them. It’s a brand-new way to ask the questions your parents asked you: Did you get there okay?” And “Did you drive safe?” Don’t hide from your teens the fact that you are monitoring their driving habits. In fact, make a deal with them, that after a certain period of safe driving, you’ll begin to loosen their restrictions.


            The digital age is very unlike the world you and I grew up in. So if you’re like most parents, you need a little advice on helping your teens safely navigate the realm of computers, tablets, smart phones and the ever-present Internet. The tools we picked up from our parents on the media won’t work with our teens. We need a new set of instruments to help guide and train our kids in this new era.

The incredible amount of questionable (and downright shocking) content available on the Internet is quite scary. We need to be careful about what our tweens and teens are exposed to and have access to. Some information and images can be overwhelming or confusing for kids to handle. So if you have any computers at home, the first tool you need is an Internet filter to prevent your child from wandering into the outer reaches of the web. I also recommend installing a monitoring filter like Spector Soft. They will allow you to follow your kid’s activity on the Internet, including who they are talking with online and what websites they are visiting. Again, these tools might seem like a means for parents to act like the family police force. But mom and dad, the filters and monitoring software do not give you permission to control your child. They are tools to protect your child and open up avenues of communication. If you see your teens chatting with strangers online, you don’t need to lay down the heavy hand of the law or cut off their access to the Internet. Instead, use the opportunity to talk about the dangers of chatting with strangers online, the ethics of computer use, or to ask who they’ve been getting to know and why. Offer yourself as a listening ear, and ensure that no one is asking your child to do anything inappropriate.

Since kids are being born into this digital age, parents, we need to take initiative early and train our children to use technology safely. When they’re 11 and 12 years old, you can use Internet filters to block inappropriate content. But at 18 and 19 years old, your teens will have to make their own decisions about what they will expose themselves to as they are navigating the web. Begin using these tools early on, and maintain an open dialogue with your teens about how they are using the Internet while they are still young so that they can make smart choices when they are older.


Your teen doesn’t want to get out of bed on Sunday? Seems apathetic towards church or youth groups? Perhaps now’s the time to research some new tools you can use to help your teen build their own faith. My friend Neil Franks is the pastor of a large church down in Branson, Missouri. He saw how involved people have become with their phones and devices, and how bored they have become with traditional church. Rather than bemoan the disengagement, Neil developed a product that engages people, especially teenagers, with spiritual content in way they can connect with. The 2 Minute Pastor is a phone app that provides 2-minute videos on all kinds of relevant topics and issues related to the Bible and everyday Life. Instead of merely hearing a pastor, teens can watch and grow spiritually, wherever they are! I’m not selling the 2 Minute Pastor app. But I am recommending this as a great new tool for moms and dads who have teens struggling in their faith.

And before you think that all these tools I’m suggesting are state-of-the-art and techy, let me also tell you that no tool in the hands of parents is better than a good question. At the right time, and in the right moment, you can ask a question that gets your child talking and sharing their lives with you. You don’t need a computer or an iPad. You just need a willingness and a little creativity to say, “Hey, what do you think about this movie?” or “What’s your biggest goal this year?” or even, “If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?” A good question is one tool in your parental toolbox that will never be obsolete.


            Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.   Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.