Moderating the Internet in Your Family

“In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.”  ~ Marc Andreesen, Co-founder of Netscape

Just how addicted are we to the Internet?  Recent data tells us that every sixty seconds:

  • 98,000 new tweets are posted
  • 12,000 new ads on placed on Craigslist
  • 600 new videos are uploaded to YouTube
  • 370,000 people are Skyping
  • 695,000 Facebook posts are posted
  • 168,000,000 e-mails sent

Researchers also tell us that the average teen spends ten hours a day looking at a television, phone, tablet, or computer screen.  Time Magazine conducted a fascinating poll of 5,000 people from around the world.  Of that group, 84% stated they could not go a single day without their smart phones.  And 80% of 18-24 year-olds sleep beside their phones like it’s a teddy bear!

It’s apparent that most of us have an addiction to the Internet and our instruments of technology.  As parents, we know there are many benefits to the web, but we’re also aware of its not-so-hidden dangers.  The Internet is an ocean of information, but not all the waters are safe to swim in.  So with constant access and growing compulsions to be online, it’s more important than ever to establish boundaries for our kid’s Internet usage.  Not only should we to prevent our children from developing an unhealthy addiction to screen time, but we also need to protect and guide them through the dangerous tides of the web.

Build the Fence

The first step toward protecting your kids and helping them develop healthy habits is to establish family rules for Internet usage.  Write down the guidelines, and clearly communicate the boundaries and the consequences for breaking them.  To give you a running start, some of the guidelines might be:

  • No more than two hours on Facebook a day, and no inappropriate language
  • Never give anyone information about yourself online
  • No more than sixty texts a day.  And absolutely no sexting!
  • No more than two hours a day on the Internet, unless it’s for a school project
  • No posting mean comments, harassing other people, or writing insulting remarks
  • No Internet use after midnight
  • Parents are allowed to check phones, Facebook pages, and Internet histories.  We’ll try not to be snoops, but we do want make sure you’re okay.

In addition to these boundaries, keep the home computer in a public area, like the family room or kitchen.  Also, put filters on your computers and smart phones.  They are a great way to protect your family from getting lost in a sea of unwelcome information available on the web.

Teaching Discernment

In talking with many parents, sometimes their first reaction to the problems of technology is just to turn everything off.  Or they attempt to monitor their child’s every move on their computers and phones.  It’s tempting to close in the boundaries so tight, that there is no wiggle room for our teens.  But the reality is, we cannot control the Internet.  It’s out of our hands.  While we have a responsibility to protect our children, it’s in the teen years that we have the opportunity to move from teaching and policing to coaching and training.  While they’re young, children need greater adult supervision on the computer.  But teens require guidance on how to deal with the constant stream of information they have access to every day.  It’s not enough to put filters on our teen’s computer and phones.  There’s always a way to get around them.  Instead, let’s have honest conversations with our teens about setting proper boundaries.  Talk with your son or daughter about cyber-bullying, and ways they can avoid it and help others.  Talk with your child about the problems of pornography and why they should keep their eyes pure.  Discuss with your teen about over-sharing on Facebook, or MySpace, and the dangers associated with revealing too much to strangers.  These conversations go a lot further in putting up solid boundaries than merely enforcing rules.  Teaching our teens how to have discernment for themselves is vitally important when it comes to the Internet.  It’s about giving them the tools they need to battle the forces of our culture that wish to draw them into a dependence upon screens and technology.

Will teaching self-control and discernment mean your teen won’t make a mistake?  I wish it did.  Kids will make mistakes and inevitably break some of the Internet rules.  But even in those mistakes we’ll find more teaching opportunities.  Let your teen experience the consequences of their mistakes—whether it’s a loss of privileges for a while, grounding, or restitution—and continue to slowly delegate more responsibility for self-government.  Use their mistakes to coach your child in biblical principles for navigating their culture.


In addition to setting up family boundaries and teaching discernment, we can also help our kids avoid the dangers of Internet addiction by modeling moderation.  One of the best ways to do this is to have an “unplugged” night in your home once a week, or at least once a month.  On that night, each member of the family has to turn off all electronics for the whole night.  You’re sure to hear groans the first time around, but by making the night fun, you can dodge that bullet.  Play active games like charades or Pictionary.  Or make a campfire in the backyard, and roast marshmallows.  Or have everyone cook something for dinner, and then have a tasting buffet.  Most importantly on “unplugged” nights, engage in conversation.  Talk face-to-face with your kids and spouse, and model how to have conversations apart from screens.

One thing I’ve learned is that teens love to talk about themselves.  So ask them questions that get them to talk about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, goals, and dreams.  Here’s a list of questions to get you going:

  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done?
  • Do you think we’re the only people out of all the solar systems known to man?
  • If you won the lottery and had to spend it all, what would you spend it on?
  • What talent would you like to have that you don’t have right now?
  • Who’s the greatest athlete of all time?
  • Do you think Facebook is true to life, or is it a little fake?
  • Would you ever jump out of an airplane with a parachute or hop off a bridge on a bungee rope?
  • Who is the most talented musician you’ve ever heard?

These types of questions make for great conversations and display for your teen the value of communication sans smart phones, Facebook, text messages, or the Internet.  Use “unplugged” nights not only to teach moderation and balance to your kids, but also use it as time to reconnect to your family in ways that are life changing and positive.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  The Bible is not against using the Internet, and we shouldn’t be either.  But God’s Word does tell us to make the most of our time and to be self-controlled.  It’s something we should be reminding our teens as we seek to teach and instruct them on putting up fences in their own lives.


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.

From the Zoo to the Jungle: Allowing Your Teen the Room to Make Mistakes

It’s a jungle out there!  The world we live in is dangerous.  As parents, we bear the huge responsibility of protecting our little ones from harm.  But as they get older, it’s also our job to slowly give our sons and daughters the skills they need to to survive in the real world on their own.  We can teach our kids to live in the zoo, but more importantly, we need to prepare them to survive in the jungle.

Living in the Zoo

Life in the zoo is relatively easy.  The animals are free to roam around in safety away from dangerous predators.  They don’t have to work for their food; it’s handed to them on a silver platter.  While zoos protect and care for their animals, everyone knows that you can’t throw a domesticated animal back into the wild and expect it to thrive.  While in that place of safety, the animal has failed to develop the necessary instincts to survive in the jungle.

Ever feel like you are running a zoo at your house?  I know I felt that way many times.  It was my job as a parent to protect my kids from mistakes, keep them from harm and provide for their every need.  Up to a certain point, that’s exactly what a good parent does.  But if we continue to shelter our kids without giving them more control over their lives, we’re not preparing them for life outside the home.  In fact, we’re actually setting them up for future failure.

Discernment doesn’t come naturally.  We aren’t born with the knowledge of how to make the right decision in every circumstance.  Like a muscle, discernment has to be developed and exercised over time.  And the most common way this happens is through trial and error.

Think back to your own life.  Remember all those mistakes you made?  Though we may regret some of our decisions, they formed us into discerning, mature adults.  I would even go so far as to classify a string of ill-advised mistakes as “experience.”  It will feel unpleasant at times, but it’s important we give our teens opportunities to flex their decision-making muscles and make mistakes while they’re still under our roof and care.

Living in the Jungle

So how do you give more control to your teenager without letting chaos reign?  How do you begin training them for the jungle?

Well first, I encourage parents to start early.  The pre-teen years are an excellent time to get the ball rolling.  Every month, pick out one new area of responsibility for your child.  It could be learning to get out of bed with an alarm clock, bringing their clothes down to the laundry or making their own snacks after school.  Will there be days where your child has to wear an old shirt because they forgot to bring down their laundry?  Sure!  But this is all a part of the training program.  These uncomfortable moments are an important way of teaching your child to be independent and responsible.

As your teen gets older, continue to hand over responsibility.  Let them buy their own clothes out of an allowance.  Set the curfew back an hour later.  Have them decide what to make for dinner once a week.  Building a habit of responsible decision-making is a precious gift that you can give to your kids.

It’s only natural that teens will make mistakes.  They will bungle or blunder through bad decisions.  And that’s where one of the most important elements in this process comes in—grace.  When your son or daughter makes decisions that tempt us to gasp, shake our heads or slap our foreheads, it’s our job to consistently respond with grace.  The worst thing we can do is shame our teens, embarrass them or tighten the reins because of a failure.  Instead, we need to instruct and encourage our kids to learn from their mistakes, dust themselves off and try again.

Proverbs 24:16 tells us “the righteous falls seven times and rises again.”  (By the way, this is a good reminder that everyone makes mistakes—even parents!)  Standing back and watching our kids find their way can be a scary thing.  There’s a fear that your child will not be able to handle that type of freedom and completely go astray.  But if you give your teen the chance to direct certain areas of their life, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I’ve spoken to many parents who told me, “You don’t know my kid, MarkHe can be really irresponsible.”  Or, “I don’t think letting her make those type of decisions is wise.  She’s not mature enough.”  However, those same parents who decided to let go and give their teens room for mistakes found that their kids responded astonishingly well!  Not only did the kids rise up to the challenges they were given, they exceeded even the parent’s expectations!  Most teenagers want to please their parents.  With the freedom to make decisions and fall down, they feel like they have an opportunity to do just that.

Now, I don’t want parents to get the wrong idea.  I am not recommending you throw your son or daughter into the deep end of the pool and shouting, “Swim!”  What I am saying is that we cannot keep our kids in the shallow end and expect them to navigate the larger end of the pool on their own.  Teaching our kids maturity and life skills involves taking them into deeper and deeper water gradually, so they feel comfortable leaving your care one day.

No one wants to see a son or daughter get hurt, fall down or make a mistake.  But those experiences are the necessary building blocks of a responsible adult.  Begin teaching your kids now how to make the most of each opportunity, and give them grace when they fail.  If you do, you will not only teach your child how to function in a zoo—you’ll give them the skills to thrive in the jungle!



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.

Crime, Punishment, and Grace

In high school English, I was forced to read the book Crime and Punishment.  Let me tell you, this is no short story.  It was a crime and a punishment that I even had to read it!  But I have to admit—once I got into the story, I was hooked.

Crime and Punishment follows the life of a normal guy who commits a heinous crime in a fit of rage.  Guilty and ashamed, he tries to cover up his offense and pretend it didn’t happen.  But try as he may, he can’t shake his conscience.  His guilt overwhelms him, even as a clever police inspector starts to put all the pieces together.  It’s a vivid portrayal of the truth that for every crime there’s a punishment—even if it’s simply a matter of a nagging conscience.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to determine the fitting punishment when our kids break rules and make poor choices.  This can be one of the hardest aspects of parenting can’t it?  It’s a challenge to balance correction and grace.  Maybe you’ve struggled over knowing whether you’re being too strict or too lenient.  As you learn to juggle crime, punishment and grace, here are a few practical guidelines to keep in mind.

Punishment Evolves

Over time, the consequences for breaking family boundaries should evolve and grow along with your child.  Time-outs might be effective for a five year old, but useless for your tween.  A major shift happens when we move from teaching our kids to then training our kids.

When our kids were young, most of the rules centered on behavior.  We expected our children to act according to our wishes:  Don’t run in the street.  Treat grown ups with respect.  Tantrums are not ok.  When our kids enter their teen years, our focus should shift from teaching appropriate behavior to training them to make good choices and be responsible for their own decisions.  Instead of thinking, mom and dad want me to do this … our teens should begin thinking along the lines of, I want to do this because it is good for me.  I don’t want to do that because it’s bad for me.

For that to happen, discipline has to be fine tuned with your teenager in mind.  Start by listing ten areas where you want your son or daughter to improve.  It could be a disrespectful attitude, a dirty mouth or laziness.  Then list ten things that bring your teen joy—like surfing, texting, driving, or spending time with friends.  Couple those lists together and let your child know that if they are disrespectful, the cell phone gets taken away.  Or if they continue to be lazy during the summer, no more surf trips.  This kind of discipline creates rules and boundaries, but also allows your teen freedom and makes them aware of the consequences of their actions.

Rules and Relationships

Growing up, my father was a very strong man who put us under strict procedures of behavior.  I obeyed those rules (most of the time) not because I knew my dad was trying to teach me something or because I thought they were good rules, but because I was afraid of my dad.  I understood the rules, but the relationship was lacking.  I learned about loyalty, honesty and the value of hard work, but I didn’t grasp the importance of love, grace or compassion.

Author Josh McDowell says that rules without relationship causes rebellion.  He’s right on.  If we are laying down the law, but not taking the time to understand or get to know our kids, it will cause nothing but resentment and hostility.  Of course if we emphasize the relationship without the rules, then we create an environment that gives kids the false impression that actions don’t matter and there are no consequences.  Rules and relationships go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other.

Stand Firm

My friend Bill Ziegler is a principal at a middle school in Pennsylvania.  He was recently telling me about a student who had broken the rules of the school, and was to report to the principal.  Bill lovingly explained the consequences to the student and why they were put in place.  It seemed to be going well, until the student’s mother stormed into Bill’s office, shouting and using profanities about how her child shouldn’t have to be punished at all and criticizing the principal for coming down on her son.  After the mom left, the student came back into Bill’s office, and said Mr. Ziegler, sorry for my mom.  I accept the punishment, and I’ll try to do better.

Funny how the parent was the one upset about the consequences, and not the student who was receiving them.  Now it won’t always be that easy as it’s unlikely that your teen will accept the repercussions of discipline so well.  But we need to stand firm on the penalties for breaking the rules.

Parents who want to “rescue” their children from pain or suffering are actually hurting their kids more then they know.  It usually happens for three reasons:

  • Parents want to be friends with their kids
  • Parents can’t handle the constant nagging of their teen during punishment
  • Parents are afraid that if they punish their child, he or she will rebel even more, only worsening the problem.

Mom and Dad, your child doesn’t need another friend.  During these tough adolescent years they need you to be a parent—to correct them when they make a mistake and love them regardless of their behavior.  Don’t be afraid to let your kids face the consequences of their choices and actions.  If they get a speeding ticket, don’t pay for it yourself.  If they’re failing a class, don’t do their homework for them.  Yes, we should extend grace to our teens.  But showing grace doesn’t mean swooping in and saving the day when your kid messes up.  If their driving privileges have been taken away, grace would be offering them a ride.  Giving them the keys before the punishment is met—that’s caving in.  Setting aside time to help with homework is loving.  Writing their book report because you read it and they didn’t, is rescuing.  Teens learn independence and maturity when they face hard times more than when everything is going smooth.  Give them a chance to experience consequences so they can grow.

For every crime there is a punishment.  That’s the way of life.  Handing out discipline isn’t for the faint of heart.  I know it can be hard, draining, and exhausting.  But if we want to follow God’s plan for character growth, we need to let natural consequences shape our kids into mature adults.  Hebrews 12:6 says, Those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines.  No matter what your kids might think in the moment, punishment isn’t a cruel action.  When done in the right way, it can be an expression of love.



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 www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  And be sure to tune in for the weekly Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast!  Hear Mark on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.