Building Trust: Key to Parenting Teens in a Digital World

Navigating the delicate balance between keeping your kids safe and respecting their growing need for independence isn’t always easy, especially in today’s digital world.

As parents, it’s important to balance providing guidance, supervision, privacy, and monitoring for our children and teens in the digital age. With the rise of technology, it can be difficult to know how best to protect our children without overstepping boundaries. Fortunately, there are smart and biblical parental strategies that can help us find that balance through building trust with your teen.

By understanding the importance of each element and how they work together, we can ensure that our kids are safe while also allowing them the freedom to explore their interests online.

Before delving into these important areas, let’s review the seven essential characteristics of well-functioning parents. While no parent is perfect or has all the answers, as children of God, we have four advantages — the love of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of Scripture, and the community of faith. Being a parent is a lifelong journey, but you’re up for it.

Seven Essential Characteristics of Effective, Biblical Parents

Dr. Danny Huerta, in his work with parents has outlined the seven essential characteristics for biblical parenting.

Love – As believing adults, our mission is to reflect the love of God in our lives towards our children. See 1 John 4:10.

Respect – Nothing harms a child more than feeling useless, and hardly anything encourages our kids more than feeling respected and valued. We can demonstrate respect by watching our language and tone. See Philippians 2:3.

Intentionality – Intentionality is about living out our values and priorities before allowing other influences into our home. It’s easy to feel passive and overwhelmed by all the media input we receive; however, it’s crucial to pay attention to how we live our lives. As believing parents, we must be intentional in how we live our lives in front of our children. See Colossians 1:10.

Boundaries and Limits – In their bestselling book, Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend write, “The purpose of biblical parenting is to let good things in and keep bad things out.” Hebrews 12:1 says that to run our race well, we need to shake off the things that prevent us from reaching our goal. Being intentional about boundaries — for media, behavior, relationships, godly living, and radiating faith — means we don’t allow culture to dictate what a healthy family looks like.

Gratitude – An attitude of gratitude and thankfulness is present throughout the Scriptures. When we maintain this type of attitude, it helps us and our children resist selfishness, the number one cause of division in a family. When we model gratitude, our children can see the goodness of God in our lives. See Philippians 1:3-4.

Grace and Forgiveness – As believing parents, we must model forgiveness and grace to our children. See Matthew 6:14-15.

Adaptability – Modeling and teaching adaptability helps our children find peace — an enduring peace and resilience that are more powerful than life’s trials, tribulations, and stresses. See Philippians 4:11.

How Building Trust Affects Your Approach to Privacy and Supervision

When talking about providing parental supervision and guidance, especially in the digital age, there are two components we often deal with — privacy and monitoring.


As our children get older, we, as parents and caring adults, need to understand their need for personal space and privacy.

Your child is exploring new ideas, emotions, and social interests. They’re learning more about themselves, their personalities, who they are, and who they want to become.

Allowing your child the time and privacy to think and explore is an essential part of encouraging and supporting their development and increasing independence. An important part of the natural growth and development of our children is allowing them to handle new emotions and interests with increasing, age-appropriate independence and responsibility.

Because a teenager’s brain is still developing, they often make quick decisions and don’t always think through the possible consequences of their actions. That’s why it’s so important for you to stay connected with them, to provide guidance and support through this challenging life phase.

Monitoring Your Child: When, Why, and How?

Since teenagers need more privacy and independence than young children, you’ll need to adjust how you monitor them. One example of this could be that as they gain more independence, they should check in with you at agreed times. This suggests that you trust your child to make good decisions, manage their emotions, and share with you what they need or want.

Trust goes both ways, doesn’t it?

Your child needs to trust that you respect their right to privacy and that they have a say about decisions concerning their life.

As you build this mutual trust, communication will improve. Your child will be more likely to come to you when they need help.

The Role of Trust in Guiding and Monitoring Tweens and Teenagers

How much privacy is appropriate? Perhaps the better question is, what do I, as a parent, really need to know?

There are certain things parents need to know — where your child is going to be on Friday night, how they’re getting there and back, whether drugs or alcohol will be present, and if there’s adult supervision, to list a few examples.

As a caution, you’ll need to determine what types of things you don’t need to know about your teens.

Here are some practical tips to respect your child’s privacy:

  • Knock before entering their room.
  • Give them space to talk with their friends.
  • Ask before looking through their backpack.

As parents, it is necessary to discuss privacy with your child and actively work on some basic ground rules and boundaries. These can be adjusted as your children get older.

It’s also important to discuss situations where you would cross the agreed boundaries. An example of this would be if you sense something isn’t right with your child or have reasonable safety concerns.

Warning Signs: Monitoring Your Child’s Behavior in a Respectful Way

As a parent, part of appropriate monitoring involves being aware of any changes in your child’s behavior. While these changes may seem small and insignificant, they can indicate larger issues that need to be addressed. Pay attention to warning signs such as:

  1. Loss of interest in school.
  2. Avoidance of old friends.
  3. Emotional, physical, and verbal abuse of family members.
  4. Promiscuity.
  5. Violence.
  6. Self-harm.
  7. Changes in eating patterns.
  8. Lack of self-care.
  9. Alcohol or drug use and abuse.
  10. Noteworthy changes in sleep patterns.
  11. Too much device time. (Suggestion: smart devices should be given to parents at a daily agreed-upon time to avoid late-night or early morning abuse. Also, parents might want to consider not allowing computers in the bedroom.)

Being aware of these “warning lights” can help you identify underlying problems and provide necessary support for your child.

Here are behaviors to avoid as you begin to give your child more privacy:

  • Listening to their phone conversations/reading text messages.
  • Searching their rooms. Reading their diary, personal papers, or emails.
  • “Friending” them or communicating with them on social media if they do not want you to.
  • Over-calling to check on them.

Building Trust through Respecting Privacy

The best way to monitor your child is by establishing everyday rules and routines. These should be designed to help you intentionally connect with your child. This non-invasive, low-drama approach builds trust, strengthens your relationship. It also keeps the door open so your child can let you know what they’re up to.

Here are some practical ways to stay connected with your child:

  • When your child starts a conversation, be available. This sends the message that you want to know what is going on in his or her life.
  • Be aware of what your child is doing and how they’re behaving. (See the 11 Warning Signs above.)
  • Stay informed about their progress at school, homework, and other activities. This is easy to do if you are intentionally engaged and have good relations with your child’s teachers.
  • Get to know your child’s friends and give them space in your home. This helps you keep in touch with your child’s friends and relationships without feeling like you always have to ask.
  • Communicating with the parents of your child’s friends can also help you keep track.
  • Do your best to avoid breaking your child’s trust or invading their privacy.
  • There will be times when you need to be firm about asking for information—for example, “Where are you?” or “Where are you going?” But don’t set yourself up as an antagonist unnecessarily.

Monitoring teens is like bike riding – it’s all about keeping a steady balance. If we’re not keeping an eye on them, they might think we’re not there for them. But watch too closely, and they may feel like we don’t trust them. Think of it this way: when you’re building a trusting environment with your kids, you’re giving them the tools they need to make good decisions and behave responsibly.

Repairing and Building Trust after a Trust Violation

For a minor violation, you could withdraw a privilege. For example, you might take away device time, or not take your child to an activity. You might also need to monitor your child more closely for a while, until you can rebuild trust.

For major breaches of trust, or breaches that keep happening, you and your child will need to experience a deeper level of consequences.

This might include things like:

  • Restricting them to home.
  • Denial of driving privileges.
  • Extra chores.
  • Physical labor.
  • More restrictive house rules.

The key is not to be too punitive but to allow them to experience the consequences of their poor choices while showing a path to rebuild your trust.

Reality Discipline

My friend Dr. Kevin Leman calls this “reality discipline.” “Action-oriented discipline is based on the reality that there are times when you correct your child in ways that they accept responsibility and learn accountability for their actions.”

It’s been said, overprotection is the greatest failure a society can commit towards its youth. It engenders a victim mentality and a false belief in fragility. If we take a long view of history, we learn that the ultimate result of shielding people from the effects of their folly is to fill the world with fools.

Therefore, it is important for parents and other caring adults to allow our children to learn from their mistakes and missteps by providing a balanced, biblical approach to guidance, supervision, privacy, and monitoring for our children and teens.

Letting your child know you still love them even though you are disappointed in their behavior will help your child become more resilient and learn from their mistakes.

Just a reminder—trust is a two-way street.

If you breach your child’s trust or privacy, it’s important to take responsibility and apologize. My friend Dr. Jack Allen puts it this way, “When you make a mess, own your mess, confess your mess, and clean your mess up!”

By doing this, you model the behavior you hope to see in your teen.

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