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PARENTS: Navigating Your Child Through the Digital-Online Waters

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

(This post is from an interview that I had with Cory Peppler from Parenting Digital.)

Cory commented that “if we’re not that tech savvy but our kids are, it creates a stress about what we need to know and it can be overwhelming.”

Here are some questions that I asked Cory during my interview.

1. “What are some things that parents can do while their children are still young to keep them safe online?”

Starting young is an awesome opportunity to create a positive influence about technology. With older children, you almost feel like you’ve missed the boat with them.

One of the biggest regrets a lot of parents are having is allowing too much screen time when they are young. Children have an immense amount of pressure from their peers to be constantly online.

Your children may say “I’m the only one that doesn’t have phone.” Peppler says there is a lot of pressure to have a lot of things as far as technology goes because a lot of their friends have a lot of things.

Pepper says “Sometimes parents will give their children total unfettered access to internet, just as long as they don’t break it.”

There are 3 things parents can do.

1. As parents we want our kids to grow up healthy and build that moral and spiritual health as they get older. Parents need to delay as long as possible the amount of access that they have.

Sometimes that means they don’t get the smart phone as young as some of their peers.

2. It’s not about parents always playing the bad guy but also about parents being a positive influence and modeling proper tech use to their children. Our kids are watching. They see how much time we are on our phones and our screens.

Our children can also see and feel if our phones are getting between us and our relationship with them. Be a positive role model of how technology should be used. You need to start when they are very young because they are watching.

3. Start having conversations early about what it means to be ‘kind’ online. Ask ahead of time “how do you handle a situation that you come upon when you know it’s wrong?” These are the things that we teach our children in the real world and we need to translate that for them in the tech world too. They won’t be able to translate that on their own.

That’s why we need these conversations. Even before they have a phone, a Chromebook, or whatever in their hands, we need to be having conversations about what is healthy technology. What do you do when you’re in a situation when things are uncomfortable? We need to have these conversations often and probably earlier than we think.

2. How do you decide what is a good age for giving your child their first phone?

It’s a great question that Peppler wishes had a clear answer. “Wait Till 8th” is an organization that encourages no smart phones until 8th grade. It’s a great ideal but it doesn’t always play into all of the nuances. Every child is different.

For example, are they in a sport? Do they stay after school a lot and need to be picked up? What is the school requiring as far as technology? A lot of teachers are requiring their students to do school work on their phones these days. There are a lot of factors that will play into your decision.

It also comes down to knowing your own child. Are they responsible with their chores, feeding their pet, and so on. If they are irresponsible with simple things around the house, that will get amplified when they receive a smart phone.

A lot of it is knowing your child and the relationship you have with them. Know what your child is capable of. Knowing that if they spot something wrong, they will come and tell you because it’s the kind of child they are.

Or, are they always skirting the borders or trying to find new ways to step over your boundaries or trying to fly under the radar. It’s a matter of knowing your children that will factor into when you put a device in their hands.

3. What are some warning signs that something is going on with your child online? For example, things like pornography, cyberbullying, predators, grooming, and things like that?

The answer comes down to knowing your child as we said before. What’s their normal behavior pattern? We are looking for behavior that’s not normal for them but abnormal. Is there a sudden change?

If they act like they don’t want to be around you because your their parent, that’s pretty normal and typical for most teenagers. You can’t base it on the fact that “My teen doesn’t want to be around me”. That’s part of parenting teens. Is there a change in their normal behavior and attitude.

For example, are they suddenly becoming more secretive than usual. Have they becoming more sullen. A lot of times when young people stumble upon or are looking for pornography, what they find startles them more than they think and effects them more than they thought it would.

Their response is usually a sudden mood change and a heaviness that they’re not equipped to deal with. It will come out in one way or another. They will become surly. They may snark back at you. They may not want to be around people anymore.

The same thing happens with cyberbullying or online predation. If they’ve been contacted by somebody who wants to do them harm in some way or if they are being bullied online by kids at school, their behavior will usually change. They don’t know how to handle it.

Unless you’ve talked to them ahead of time, they don’t have the strategies for dealing with it. At times, they don’t want to talk to parents because they think they’ll get into trouble, especially if it’s pornography or if they were contacted by a potential predator. They’re going to feel like they did something wrong and they don’t want to come to you because they think you’re going to yell at them or get in trouble.

That’s why it’s so important to build a strong foundation in your relationship with your child so you can have that open and honest conversation about technology. Have an open door policy with your child that they can talk to you anytime and won’t get into trouble. You just want to be able to talk about whatever is going on in their life. That’s so critical early on because later, you’re going to want them to come to you first.

You want the first thought in their head when they are exposed to porn or they come in contact with a possible predator or they experience cyberbullying, is “I’ve got to talk to mom and/or dad about this”. That only happens when you’ve built a foundation in your relationship with your child.

There are many more warning signs that are out there that have been published. They all fall into the same category; there is something off in their behavior or they are not acting like themselves. Those red flags deserve a conversation.

4. Are there filters that you would recommend?

Unfortunately, there is not a clean answer here. Peppler says that the absolute best filter that’s out there is YOU, the parent! And it’s free. It’s relationship building and it’s knowing your child. Those truly are the best filters.

Here are 3 great technologies out there to help you manage your technology. They are. . .

1. Monitor: Monitors are paying attention to what your child is doing when they are online; who

they’re texting, what the messages are and so on. It doesn’t stop anything, it just pays

attention to what they’re doing so that you can see it.

2. Filtering: Filtering actually stops stuff. It’s blocking things

from the bad guys through your router to their device to their


3. Spyware: Spyware lets parents monitor their children’s online


From Peppler’s experience, he would strongly discourage you from installing anything that spies on your kids without them knowing about it first. That violates the whole relationship thing that we’ve been talking about and trust is lost.

Let’s say you install spyware and you don’t tell them. You then discover that your child has done something online. Now what do you do? If you come to them and tell them “I saw what you did”, now you’ve broken their trust and wounded your relationship with them. Good luck trying to have a profitable positive conversation at this point.

Whatever you install, it should have aspects of monitoring and filtering but you need to be transparent with your child first.

This is a conversation that you can also have as a family. You can say something like this . . .“As a family, this is what we value. Because we value this, we’re going to put some things in place that help protect all of us. This is what I can see as the parent. I can see where you go. What you’ve been on. I can see your text messages. I can see this and this and this. Any questions about the phone that I gave you and paid for? That I pay monthly bills for? Do you have any problems with me seeing what you’re doing online?”

Always play the phone card to remind them who paid for their phone in the first place. And remind them about what you can see and what they are doing with the software that you have.

The same with filtering, let them know what categories you’re filtering by saying “I’m filtering this, this and this? Be upfront and open with them.

Peppler says he’s never received pushback from his kids saying “Why can’t we see that stuff?” They’re always saying “Good. Thank You!” They want your help in not seeing that stuff too.

There are hundreds of options and there are different places that you can put filters and monitoring tools. Here are a few. . .

The Carrier Level: Verizon has some family plans for filtering their devices. Your internet provider may also provide some filtering. The farthest level is at the carrier level.

The Router Level: When the internet comes into your house, it goes into a modem and then to a router. From there, it goes everywhere in your house to all of your devices. You can put “Parental Controls” on your router and can cover a lot of bases. A lot of routers already come with “Parental Controls.”

Some let you set different levels of what comes through. Some allow you to get reports of what sites have been searched. Some have a “Safe Search” feature that will only let you search sites that are alright.

Check your modem or router to see if there are ‘Parental Controls’ available. Go to their sites and see how to use them. There are usually tutorials you can watch to help.

The Device Level: The next level would be at the device itself like a smart phone, a tablet, or a laptop. If you’re trying to put “Parental Controls" on all of those devices and keep them up to date, it’s kind of like playing an endless game of “Wack a Mole”. You end up constantly trying to plug holes.

The further downline you can go to put filters on, the more sane it is for parents.

Remember, no “Parental Controls” software is foolproof. There will always be gaps. There will always be stuff getting through. That’s why you always go back to conversation and relationship with your child. There’s always things that get through or they can access something at someone else’s house.

Software you may want to checkout are “Circle”, Qustodio, and Bark. Bark is a good monitor. It picks up content coming through texts, emails, Spotify, and more. The key is looking at the features of each tool and where you want to install it and how tech savvy you are.

5. How much screen time is too much?

There is no clear answer here. Just when you think you have things figured out, a global pandemic hits. All the schools are shut down and all the kids are now online. We find ourselves stuck at home and all thoughts of healthy screen time just went out the window. Now we’re all trying to find that balance again.

Screen Time isn’t a number of hours. The American Pediatric Association gives recommendations depending on age but it’s just a suggestion. One thing to think about is the type of screen time or the quality of screen time. Are they endlessly scrolling social media? Watching hours and hours of YouTube? Playing hours of video games?

Or are they being creative with it. There are awesome things that can be done with technology. How many kids started YouTube channels during the pandemic? What about producing podcasts or writing blog posts? Some students created fun and sometime dorky videos. Being creative or artistic with technology is not the same type of screen time as mentioned above.

It comes down to what they are doing and having a blend of being a consumer and a creator. If all it is consumption and mindless watching, that’s a problem. Encourage kids to do their own thing and become a creator.

If you’d like more information, you can check out Cory Peppler at


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