Smartphone Apps to Watch Out For

Smartphone Apps to Watch Out ForConfession time; I love my smart phone.  I check my e-mail, read books, listen to music, store my photos, and navigate directions. I can also use this handy device to talk to people, but that is almost a secondary function on this type of phone.  The technology in this tool can be wonderfully useful.  With all the information and functionality at our fingertips, we live in a world far different than the one we grew up in.

This brave new world is one our kids are now navigating with a natural proficiency you and I will have to work hard to match.  It’s an environment of new technology and innovation that seems to change and evolve every other day.  Many parents feel unequipped to even try to understand this new world.  They are sort of “digital immigrants” entering a strange new frontier.  But our teens are embracing it with open arms.  According to a recent Pew Internet study, 3 out of every 4 teenagers own their own cell phone.  That’s incredible, considering that only a few years ago pagers were all the rage!  With the explosion of cell phone use, smartphone applications, or “apps” have also taken off.  Whether it’s Apple or Google, every cell phone provider has an online store, where you can peruse thousands upon thousands of applications that can be downloaded right onto your phone.  These handy icons on your phone allow you to do everything from edit photos, to order a pizza, to turning your phone into a flashlight!  Some novelty apps are free.  Other more powerful apps can cost you quite a bit of money.

You might feel a little lost navigating a digital world, where everyday hundreds of new apps are available for download.  However, parents must immerse themselves in this digital world and be aware of what’s out there, because some seemingly harmless apps have the potential to be dangerous.  Let me highlight a few new ones.


This app allows users to send photos and videos from their phone that disappear after 10 seconds once they are received.  No longer are images and information living on in perpetuity.  The idea is that once the intended receiver gets your photo, it’s gone in a flash.  However, this has made many young people feel safe sending inappropriate photos and videos, believing that what they are forwarding won’t live in the cyber world.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Even when you use Snapchat, material can be saved.  If you see this app on your teens phone, let them know that everything they send can be monitored.


Kik is an instant messaging service that allows users to send messages and photos with relative anonymity.  Because it’s a third-party service, contacts and messages are not recorded by your phone’s provider like they would be if you were using the regular IM service.  Kik is a popular messaging service with tweens and teens, with over 80 million users.  But the danger is that this app allows people to chat with your teen anonymously, and messages go unrecorded.  So talk to your son or daughter about the dangers of anonymous chats, and explain what subjects and topics are inappropriate to talk about with others.  Set boundaries for this type of social media, and explain the risks involved with using an app like Kik.


Ask.fm is an app that allows users to ask tough questions or share secrets anonymously.  There are over 65 million users of Ask.fm, and it’s only gaining in popularity.  However, the open forum environment has caused this app to be open to cyber-bullying.  Currently, five teen suicides have been linked to harassing comments or questions left on Ask.Fm.  So why are kids flocking to this app?  Sameer Hinduja, a criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University, says part of the appeal of apps like Ask.Fm is the need for affirmation.  “You need to be validated when you’re a teenager because you are wondering if you’re turning out OK, and so these sites completely meet that need.  It’s like, ‘this is so great. Someone asked me a question.  Someone took the time to visit my profile and like my picture and leave a comment.’”


This can be a fun app that allows users to create silly, 6-second videos that run on a loop.  Like Youtube for people with A.D.D.  It could be a short video of a skateboard crash, or a friend eating an ice-cream cone.  While this app is intended for innocent fun, there is a ton of inappropriate material out there on Vine, both sexual and violent.  Some disturbing videos have included animal cruelty, cyber-bullying, and kids being recorded unawares.  Vine is currently putting heavy filters on what can be uploaded, but teens are still being exposed to harmful material on this app.


Tinder is an online dating app for tweens and teens.  I know, I know; it’s already inappropriate that there would be a dating service for kids!  However, young people are attracted to this app because of the positive reinforcement they receive.  Tinder is designed to only match kids with other people who like them back, which is flattering and affirming.  However, because matches are limited to a geographic area and can be seen by anyone, there can be instances where your teen is connecting with someone close by who is definitely not a teen.  Tinder is one of the few apps I would counsel parents to restrict from their child’s phone.


Instagram is not a new app.  Its reign as “selfie central” is long-standing.  On Instagram, users can post pictures of just about everything; what they are wearing, eating, visiting, doing.  Sometimes it’s just a picture of them!  Part of the appeal is that the app offers some cool filters that make photos look creative and artistic.  Like Twitter, you can follow a person’s Instagram profile, and see all the pictures they are posting.  Celebrities are constantly posting material, and it’s been a real draw for people to become a follower and see what certain movie stars or musicians are doing.  While there are restrictions about content posted on Instagram, some inappropriate images still get through.  But the real concern here is “who is looking at pictures of your child?”  I caution parents to change the security filters on their child’s Instagram profile from “everyone” to something more restrictive.  Also, a consistent need to post pictures of their life may entice your son or daughter into an unhealthy narcissistic mentality.  Monitor your teen’s Instagram profile, and curb their activity if you feel it’s getting out of hand.

Maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and wondering if you should just take your teen’s phone and hand it back when he or she turns 35.  These warnings are not meant to scare you, but rather to inform you and make you better prepared to protect your children.  Cell phones are wonderful tools for teens and adults alike.  But as moms and dads, we need to guide our teens in making smart choices about their smart phones.  And yes, that may mean checking your child’s cellular device once a week and seeing what new apps are on there.  It’s not snooping.  It’s wise parenting!  If there is an app that’s unfamiliar, take the time to check it out.  It’s time we stop being “digital immigrants” and start living like well-informed residents of this technology filled world.


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 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.

The Difference Between Rule-making and Ruling

The Difference Between Rule-making and RulingSome parents mix the idea of rule-making with ruling their home. Reasonable rulemaking and proper boundaries will help a teenager mature into a confident adult, while living under a “ruler” can lead to frustration, rebellion and eroded self-esteem. Which kind of home is yours? One that has rules or one that is ruled?

Rules for your home should fall into three main areas of concern, which are foundational to all other character and maturity issues. They are honesty, obedience, and respect. After all, isn’t the ultimate intent of creating and enforcing rules in your home that of keeping a child’s poor choices from consuming him and destroying his relationships with others?

So, when you think about the rules that govern your home, you might want to ask yourself two questions. The first is, “How much will this rule matter after I am gone or when the child is out on his own?” The second is, “Will this help build my child’s character and cause him to become more mature or responsible?” If the rules for your older teenagers are not centering on character, then you’re most likely ruling your home instead.

“Ruling” works and is necessary when kids are younger, but as your children reach the teenage years they naturally begin weighing decisions on their own. When they choose to break the household rules, they need to deal with the resulting consequences. Teenagers understand consequences. That’s how they learn, not from lecturing or parental anger.

When a teenager butts heads with a “ruler,” conflict and frustration will result. The only thing they’ll then learn is either how to better hide their improper actions or how to scream louder than the ruler does. Neither of these modes are productive and can also lead to a legacy of poor parenting.

Rule-making in Your Home

Rules need to make sense. We can all think about rules set down by our own parents that made no sense at all and others that were beneficial to us (even though we may not have liked them).

Rules also should be relevant, attainable and beneficial, not a source of shame, frustration, or failure.

And rules need to be communicated in advance, right along with the consequences for breaking those rules. Think of it this way. If no one knows the rules, then your teenager will have to learn them by trial and error and will constantly get into trouble. Likewise, if consequences for breaking the rules aren’t known, then a teenager has no way to weigh those consequences against whatever pleasure they find in breaking the rule. This balancing of actions versus consequences is a critical skill for adolescents to learn and exercise.

Finally, rules need to evolve over time, as lessons are learned, kept in line with the growing maturity of your teenager. I’m not talking about “giving in.” I’m saying that out-of-date, irrelevant or demeaning rules will lead to animosity, loss of respect and rebellion by your teenager. They can also lead to consequence confusion, since outdated rules are often not enforced. So, regularly update your rules and restate them to your teenager (before they break the rule, not after), awarding them with freedom and added privileges for the progress they make.

Rules Are Enforced Through Reasonable Consequences

Consequences for teenagers should never hurt physically (other than aching muscles from work assignments). They should never be demeaning or undermine the child’s self-esteem. For teenagers, the loss of a privilege is the most reasonable and powerful consequence. Sometimes they don’t realize how many privileges they enjoy — at least not until they lose them for a time.

Think about some reasonable consequences for your home. And keep in mind how important it is that they are communicated well in advance so the teenager doesn’t attribute the consequences they receive to your poor mood or a bad day. When they break a rule they should know exactly what the consequence will be. And just like laws in our society, parents need to build in progressively stronger consequences for rules that are broken again and again (since the initial consequence was obviously not enough of a deterrent).

Setting up rules and enforcing consequences — more than any other thing you manage as a parent — is the best way to help your child learn right from wrong and to change from selfish to unselfish thinking.

Don’t Cut Off Relationship When They Do Wrong

When you line out the rules, make it clear that they are developed in the context of longing for your child to do well in life, more than a selfish need for you to be in control or your home to be pristine. Above all, keep in mind that your relationship with your child is more important than their breaking any rule.

Don’t correlate your teen’s rule-keeping or rule-breaking to your love or acceptance of them. Regularly let them know that you will continue to love them, even when they mess up. Express your sorrow when your teen experiences consequences, but take care not to express your disappointment in them. There’s a big difference between those two sentiments. One is caring and the other is destructive of your relationship.

The Parent’s Admonition: “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.”

When your teenager breaks a rule (and they will!) show your deep love for them by refusing to let them off the hook. Teenagers mostly learn from consequences. So avoid taking the consequences away or lessening them. When consequences are known well in advance, it shouldn’t damage your relationship when they are handed out. Surely, your teenager weighed the consequences at the same time they chose to step over the line, and chose to do it anyway!

HOME ASSIGNMENT: If you have teenagers in your home, line out some rules for your home, and begin to think about what consequences to apply. Decide things like: who pays for what, what time frame is expected for certain things like curfew and chores, what you expect from them for school and grades, work, their spiritual life, their friends. Address issues like respect, honesty and obedience, with clear rules — no lying, no cheating, everyone gets respect. Call a family meeting and work on the rules and consequences together, so everyone is part of it. You’ll be surprised. Your teen will often suggest penalizing bad behavior with consequences more severe than you were thinking.

Remember, “ruling” your home is not a good measurement of the effectiveness of your rulemaking.

About the Author

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 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.

The Balance of Privileges and Consequences

Privileges & ConsequencesThe number one concern of nearly every parent I meet is “How do I set up rules my teen will follow?”  When adolescence hits, it can be frustrating as teens push, prod and run roughshod over the boundaries of the home.  Some teens have little to no regard for any parental policies.  In situations like these, mom and dad may be at a loss on how to get their child to follow their protective guidelines.  If you are looking for a game plan for your home, the best place to start is creating a balance of consequences and privileges for your household rules.


Josh McDowell said, “Rules without relationship cause rebellion.”  And while I completely agree with that statement, let me give you the flip side: “Relationship without rules causes chaos.”  Like a protective fence, rules and boundaries keep children from running away and getting hurt.  Rules are designed to keep a teenager’s poor choices from hurting themselves or others.  What they are not designed to do is burden our children or make them feel the force of our authority.  For instance, one of my rules for the more than 2,500 kids who have stayed with us at the Heartlight residential campus is this: “Disrespect is not allowed.”  Now, this guideline is not in place because I have sensitive feelings.  I have been screamed at, spit on and cussed out a number of times, and I have learned to see past such outbreaks.  Neither is this rule in place because I feel I deserve a teen’s unwavering admiration or esteem.  Kids don’t care if I am an author, radio host, or speaker.  The reason I have laid down this important guideline is that I realize how much disrespect hurts relationships and I want my kids to experience beneficial connections with others.  If they treat others with disrespect now, they are likely to hurt themselves in the long run by disrespecting spouses, bosses, and family members.  Disrespect undermines a teen’s chance at a healthy life.

If your teen is pushing, testing, or ignoring the rules of the home, take a few minutes to sit down and explain why these specific boundaries are in place.  Show your son or daughter how these principles will help them get ahead in life.  Explain that, when they break a certain rule, they are really working against themselves.  A rebellious path in life will not take them where they want to go.  But following the rules can!

Also, take a moment to evaluate the rules of the house to see if they are practical, attainable and beneficial.  Is that guideline you set for your teen useful?  Will it help them achieve their goals?  If there is no clear purpose for the rule, throw it out the window.  Also, ask yourself, “Is the rule attainable?”  Can your child really get all A’s on their report card?  If not, trying to live up to your expectations will only cause resentment.  And lastly, is the rule beneficial?  Is there a positive outcome for your teen if he or she follows your instructions?  Any guidelines that don’t match one of these three criteria should not be enforced.


If you reviewed the rules of your house and they are practical, attainable, and beneficial, the next step is to assign consequences for stepping outside the lines.  There should be penalties in place for each situation that might come up: dishonesty, disrespect, broken curfews, substance abuse, sexual experimentation, failing in school, stealing, and everything in between.  Let your teenage son know that if he lies, the car will be taken away.  Tell your daughter ahead of time that if she cheats on a test, she will lose her phone for a week.  Be specific!  Assign clear consequences to the rules, so everyone in the house is aware of the boundaries and the punishments.

You might ask, “Mark, what is an appropriate consequence for a certain behavior?”  While I can’t speak to every situation, I do have a recommendation.  Whatever rule has the greatest priority in your house should have your child’s greatest motivator attached as a consequence.  For example, let’s say your daughter enjoys the camaraderie and excitement of cheerleading.  Being a part of that group is the highlight of her week.  In this scenario, you would explain to your teen girl, “Honey, I can’t allow you to act disrespectful.  So whenever you scream, yell, or ignore your mom and me, you will not be able to attend cheerleading practice for that week.  I’ve spoken to your coach, and she agrees.”  Realizing that breaking a rule could mean the loss of what is most important to them, teens will be more careful to stay within the boundaries you have set up.

But realize this will only work if you stick to your guns!  Don’t back down.  If your daughter’s misbehavior earns her a week away from cheer practice, don’t let her go back after a couple of days.  Always offer forgiveness and grace, but let the consequences take their full effect.  There are no benefits to letting your teen off the hook.  It may seem like the loving thing to do, but it is actually causing them harm!  Take time to carefully formulate fair rules and consequences and then deliver them appropriately.  Consequences teach your teen the value of obeying good rules.


As you establish consequences for breaking the rules of the home, it is important you  balance them out with positive reinforcement.  I call them privileges.  They consist of things like video games, dinners out, vacations, new clothes, parties, use of the car, and other things that motivate your teen.  Use them as a reward when your child shows responsibility, maturity, and positive changes.  I can hear what might be going through your head right now: “Mark, that sounds a lot like bribing!”  And I guess you could consider rewarding good behavior as a form of bribery.  But here’s how I look at it.  Everything I have is eventually going to my kids anyway.  When I die, I am going to leave all my worldly possessions in their hands.  So why not use what I have now to help my child grow into a mature and responsible adult later on?  If the occasional special privilege, reward, and benefit spurs your teen towards right behavior, then by all means go for it!

An added benefit of offering privileges is the leverage it gives you for enforcing consequences.  Whatever you give to your child can also be taken away.  I once gave my granddaughter an iPod, but when I handed it to her, I said, “Sweetie, if you talk back to Grandma, I will take this away.”  Sure enough, a couple days later, my sweet grandchild said something mean to my wife, so I took the iPod from her for a while.  After that, my granddaughter never disrespected her Grandma again.  The privilege of having the iPod was greater than the temptation to pop off and throw a tantrum.  Privileges are a powerful tool to help your child practice right behavior.

Tie Them Together 

Rules, consequences, and privileges only work if you use them together.  Think of them as three separate but overlapping circles.  The intersection where these principles meet is the place your teen will thrive and mature the most.  Rules need consequences.  Rules also need privileges.  Cover them all with unconditional love and grace, and you will create an atmosphere in which your teen can flourish.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.