The Mobile Digital Parenting Challenge

teen-cell-phoneNow that “everyone” has a smartphone, what does that mean for digital parenting? A lot.

In our household, our teens tend to have their cell phone in their hand or pocket most of the time, and they almost never make a phone call. If you ask most parents what their kids are doing on their phones, the answer will usually be, “texting or playing games.” Some may say/know that they’re also watching videos on YouTube, or checking out something funny or interesting on the web. In many cases, it’s a lot more than that, and creates a challenge for parents who want to stay on top of their kids’ online activity.

Let’s look at some statistics that back this up, and keep in mind that since teens tend to be early adopters of technology, many are undoubtedly ahead of this curve, and not just in line with the average. (h/t to VC Chris Dixon (@cdixon on Twitter) for sharing this week)

First of all, in 2013 for the first time the number of mobile internet users surpassed the number of desktop users.

Source: comScore and Morgan Stanley

And when cell phones users are online, a whopping 86% of their usage time on is an app, not on a mobile web browser.

Source: Flurry Analytics

Separate stats from the Wall Street Journal on social network usage also bear this out. Obviously, apps like Snapchat, Vine and Instagram that are web-only or web-mostly confirm this trend, but even networks that were computer platforms first, like Facebook and Twitter, see more than half of their usage coming from mobile.

Source: comScore and Statista

Original statista article can be found here.

As a starting point, parents wishing to get a better insight into kids’ phone usage should keep the following in mind:

Texting is happening via app, not SMS – Which messaging app is your child using – WhatsApp, Kik, Line, Snapchat or something else?

Photo apps are actually messaging platforms – Instagram, Snapchat and the like are not just for sharing photos. Especially by teens, they are being used for one-to-one or one-to-many messaging.

Kids are on more networks than you think – Sure, you might be friends with your teen on Facebook, but is she also using Twitter, Tumblr, or a network that you’ve never heard of? Is she using an alias?

Kids have a better chance of figuring out their phone than you do – Put a group of teens together and they will have an infinitely better chance of figuring out how to do something on mobile than the average parent will. Parents are behind the curve. Just because you don’t know how to do something on your phone doesn’t mean your kids are similarly challenged.

The age-old  (in internet terms) advice that parents need to confine kids’ internet activity to a shared computer in a central location of the home just doesn’t work any more. It’s still good advice but it isn’t enough in the smartphone era. Parents would be well served to spend more time figuring out what their kids are actually doing on their phones.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Parenting in the Era of Mobile-Only Teens

Even if you’re paying very close attention to what your teen is doing on her laptop, you might be missing most of the story – the mobile part. While the term “mobile”, as in doing things on your phone rather than on a desktop or laptop, still has a lot of meaning for most adults, it means next to nothing for teens these days.

mobile-only-teenWe’ve written before about how most things that can be done on a computer can be done on a phone. It’s time to take the implications of that truth one step further, because most teens don’t care whether they are on a computer or phone; they just get done what they want to do. In fact, many teens do some things only on their phone, even if they could more easily do it on their computer.

There was a panel discussion involving high school teens this week, covering their use of mobile devices, and an article by Greg Huang discussing the takeaways is illuminating. A couple of highlights:

The kids never used the word “mobile”

That speaks for itself.

Apps they use the most: Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pandora

Instagram and Snapchat are mobile-only or mostly.

“Facebook is not really cool anymore,” …once your parents are on a social network, it’s time to move on

We hear from parents frequently about how squeaky clean their teen’s Facebook profile and posts are. Facebook is not where the action is.

she and her friends tend to keep up with school gossip on Twitter

There are different use cases for different networks. You won’t know how your teen is operating online unless you ask.

All of this has significant import for the challenge of digital parenting.

First of all, parents who rely on their teens using shared computers in a common area of the house in order to keep up with what is going on are likely far behind. The moment your child has a smartphone, what he is doing on a computer only tells a small part of the story.

Take my two teens for example. Both have high-end computers, but most of their time spent on a desktop or laptop is spent gaming or doing homework. Almost everything else happens on their phones.

As a parent, you need to not only talk to your teen about what she is doing on her phone, but also check it out for yourself from time to time. Your teen’s phone is probably in her hand most of the time. It should be in yours once in a while.


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Rules For Your Child’s First Cell Phone

Did you get one of your kids his first cell phone this Christmas? If you did, the phone should have come with a list of rules. If it didn’t you’ve come to the right place.

Each family is different, and parenting styles vary widely so there is no one-size-fits-all list. As follows are some things to consider as you create your list to guide safe and responsible cell phone use:

iphone-home-screenPassword – Setting a home screen password is quick and easy to do on most phones, and you should insist that your child set one. It will be well worth the effort if the phone is lost or stolen, or picked up by a mischievous friend. It is up to you whether you know the password, but we recommend it. It’s your phone, after all.

Be available – When our two oldest kids got their first phones, the timing was driven by the fact that we needed to be able to get a hold of them, as their after school and weekend activities became more frequent and the timing less predictable. If you call or message your child, he should be expected to answer promptly – as soon as possible.

Stranger danger – Depending on his age, using his phone to connect with friends may be OK but using it to connect with new people may not. Stranger danger is real and not everyone online is who he claims to be.

Wifi vs. data – Wifi internet access is free, whereas cellular data can be quite expensive if you blow through your monthly data cap. If your child is into streaming music or videos, or playing bandwidth-intensive games, you might consider restricting these activities to times when a wifi network is available.

Social media and apps – You’ll need to have some control over which social media networks your kids use, and which apps they download. For social media, the age limit for most is 13, but the networks themselves don’t enforce it so it’s up to you. All apps have an age restriction, and you can find it in the iTunes or Google Play app stores.

Cyberbullying – Educating your kids on why bullying is wrong should be an ongoing effort, but a new cell phone gives you an opportunity to revisit the topic. Remind him that it’s never OK to say something online or via text that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, with a parent listening.

Guard that number – It’s never OK to post your phone number online or give it to a stranger. A phone number should be given out to friends and family only.

Age appropriate content – With an internet connection comes access to every type of content, including porn and other things not appropriate for young eyes. Your rules for which websites your son accesses should be the same on his phone as the ones that apply to his computer.

Timing is everything – Have a plan about when he is going to be allowed to use his phone. You may want to require him put it down during meal time, at bed time, when he’s in school or spending time with the family. It’s totally up to you, but once you set rules, you need to enforce them.

Depending on your child’s age and maturity level and your parenting style, you can create a list of rules that works for your family.


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Is Criminal Prosecution Appropriate for Explicit Teen Selfies?

teen-cell-phoneAn article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution this week discusses a recent case of teen explicit photos being posted to social media, and the fact that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations is weighing criminal prosecution for the photos when it determines exactly who was involved.

According to the article:

“The postings were removed by authorities, but because the subjects are underage, anyone who posted or distributed the photos could be charged with distributing child pornography, a felony that carries a potential 20-year prison sentence.”

A 20-year prison sentence? Practically speaking, a sentence that severe is probably not in the cards, but the fact that the law offers it as a possibility, even in the case of an impulsive teen, is certainly not right.

We contacted the author in response to her questions at the end of the article about why teens are so willing to send lewd selfies. Our reply:

“These days, not much different from the old days, teens need to be at a minimum accepted by their peers, and ideally viewed as being “popular”. Given the increasing importance of smartphones and social media in teen lives, these are the platforms that teens are using to develop their personal brand and grow their popularity. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is driving them to do things that parents find horrifying and they really wouldn’t do absent the pressure to be part of the cool crowd.”

The author also asked a second question, which was in essence, “What should the repercussions be?” We answered as follows:

“As for your second question regarding punishment, I believe that if a minor sends an explicit selfie to another person, with no intent for it to be distributed anywhere beyond the recipient, that law enforcement should not be involved at all. This is an issue that needs to be brought to the attention of the parents (if it has caused a larger issue) who can deal with it as they see fit.

In the case that the recipient shares or redistributes the photos via social media or sends them to friends, this should be a violation of the law, but as you imply, the punishment should take into account the offender’s age, maturity level and the long term damage that could be done by imposing a prison sentence. A 20-year sentence for a minor should not even be an option.”

The Author, Gracie Bond Staples, published a follow up including some of our thoughts yesterday afternoon, titled “Sexting Furor Might Be Overblown” (subscription required). If you have thoughts on this issue, please feel free to leave a comment below.


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The Basics Part 2 – Check Your Child’s Cell Phone

Part 2 in a series – Many parents we talk to are overwhelmed by the idea of what their teens or pre teens are doing online. Here’s where you can start.


iphone-home-screenIn Part 1 of this series, we discussed the idea of checking the browsing history on your child’s computer, at a minimum to get a general idea of what is going on, and walked through a step-by-step description of how to do it. What’s next?

If you haven’t done so recently, you should take a look at what is in your kid’s cell phone. If your child has a phone, especially if she’s a teen, chances are she is on it or it’s in her hand more than she is on the computer. Most things that can be done on a computer can be done on a phone.

We don’t recommend that you check every day, or even every month, but you should develop a baseline understanding of how she is using it, who she is communicating with and what she is doing.

First potential roadblock: your kid’s phone probably has a password and you’ll need to unlock it. You may get some resistance when you ask her to log in, but don’t give in. Remember that it’s actually your phone if she’s under 18. You are responsible for it.

Once you get past the password, you can do the following, with your child or on your own. It can work either way, but if you do it alone, you’re going to want to have a talk with her later.

Here’s what to look for:

Check the email addresses

No doubt your child has an email address that you know about. Is there another one that she is using? Some people use a throwaway email address to use for sites that might send spam (this is OK), but other users have a second address to sign up for networks or websites that they would rather you not know about (not OK).

To check for email addresses on an iPhone (Android settings are similar), from the home screen:

Settings>Mail, Contacts, Calendars> Accounts


From the home screen ->Mail>Mailboxes

The email accounts active on this phone will be listed on both of those screens.

If there is an email address listed that you didn’t know about, ask her why.

Check the text messages

Again, don’t check all the time, but once in a while, get an idea of who she is texting with. Are there any friends on the list that you don’t know about? Is there any content there that you need to discuss?

Check for messaging apps

With the rise of messaging apps, chances are your kid is using something other than text messages to communicate with friends. If your child is using WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat, Kik or one other dozens of other popular apps, you can ask her why. If it is to hide something, you’ll need to dig a little deeper – think sexting or cyberbullying. Also, some messaging apps are rated 17+ because they allow adult content (see below).

Check the other apps as well

If your kid is using any messaging or networking apps, you should go to the iPhone or Android App Store and check the age ratings, which serve as a pretty good guideline for parents. Networking apps like Facebook and Instagram require users to be 13 years of age or older, but it’s so easy to lie about your age during sign up that your 11 or 12 year old could still be using them. Also, consider the case of the app. The age rating is 12+ but cyberbullying is rampant there, and we wouldn’t recommend any teen using it.

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 10.40.54 AMIs the phone jailbroken?

A jailbroken phone is one on which the user has uninstalled the factory settings. The only reason that a user would do this is to install apps or programs that either the cell phone company or phone manufacturer doesn’t want you using.

It’s not always easy to tell if a phone is jaibroken but there are two telltale signs: if the phone has the Cydia app installed on an iPhone, or One Click Root or UnlockRoot for Android, it has been jailbroken. Also, take a look at the top status bar (the one that has signal strength, carrier name, time and battery level). If you see an icon there that looks unusual, the phone may have been jailbroken.

In conclusion, if you’ve seen any of the following:

  • Apps that aren’t age appropriate
  • Inappropriate conduct in texts or email messages
  • Risky contact, for example with strangers or potential predators
  • Viewing or interacting with inappropriate content
  • A jailbroken phone

You may have a problem. Talk with your child about setting appropriate guidelines. Ultimately, age restrictions on phone apps and networks are not effective, so parents need to have an active role in guiding safe, responsible behavior.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Are Teen Selfies Worse Than Text Messages?

snapchat-porn-spamSelfies, typically self-photos taken with a digital camera or cell phone, are now the preferred form of self-expression for many teens. According to research compiled by Benedict Evans (h/t to Launch) as reported by the companies themselves, here are the latest numbers on daily photos shared:

Facebook and Instagram are true networks – they are set up so that something you share is generally shared with all of your followers/friends (Facebook does have a messaging function, Instagram does not). Snapchat and WhatsApp are not social networks at all, although they do allow group messaging. Because they are not networks, and their primary function is messaging, by sending a picture message on either you are actually doing something that would likely have been done by text message a few years ago.

Sending a picture of you at the mall is not necessarily “worse” than texting a note saying you’re at the mall, but there are three important distinctions, especially from the point of view of a teen, or the parent of a teen that has taken to picture messaging.

First, picture messaging puts a focus on not only what you have to say but also how you look. For the most beautiful among us, this is not a problem. For a teen with low self esteem or less than stellar looks, this can add a social stigma to the simple act of sending a message or participating in a conversation, in an era where teens don’t need to be under extra pressure. If the photos are shared, they also leave the sender open to cyberbullying.

instragram-thirdparentSecond, the risk is elevated if you send something you shouldn’t. Texting “I’m at a party. You should come.” is no big deal for a teen. Sending a picture of yourself at a party that includes pictures of alcohol or drugs could get you into hot water if it is shared or posted to the internet by the recipient. The same goes for sexting.

Third, photos can disclose information about the sender’s location. Depending on the settings of your phone or the messaging app itself, there may be Geolocation data attached to the photos that can reveal the exact location where it was taken. Again, if that photo is shared, you could be disclosing exactly where you live.

You’ve probably heard of Instagram and Snapchat. Never heard of WhatsApp? How about Kik, Line or WeChat? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. New messaging apps pop up all the time, and most are free to download. It’s impossible for parents to keep track of all of them, or know which one your teen will use tomorrow. It is, however, important to keep on top of what how your teens are using messaging apps, and establish some guidelines.

Thinking about forbidding their use? We’re not naïve enough to think that we, or parents, can get teens with smartphones to quit sending selfies altogether. Rather, we encourage parents to review the risks with their teen and have a plan for responsible use.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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How Much Time Do Young Kids Spend Online?

If you’re a parent of a younger child, you have probably wondered how much time other kids, or the average kid, spend online. Common Sense Media this week published results of a study titled Zero to Eight, which details media consumption by kids aged 8 and under. The study surveyed 1,463 parents earlier this year, and results were compared to a similar study performed in 2011.

Not surprisingly, the ways that the average kid can access online content are increasing, and their adoption has risen dramatically over the past two years.

Kids having access to:









iPod Touch or similar



Any mobile device




It may come as a surprise that total time spent by young kids consuming media has decreased since 2011, from 2 hours and 16 minutes to 1 hour and 55 minutes. In terms of time spent on different types of devices, the breakdown is as follows:













Video Games



Mobile Devices




Overall, time spent online (as opposed to on traditional media) is unchanged at 36 minutes per day over the past two years.

It looks like handheld devices are here to stay. 58% of parents say that they have downloaded at least one app for their kids, and time spent using mobile devices was the only category that increased in usage time significantly over the last two years.

We are in favor of setting limits for time spent online, and 36 minutes per day sounds reasonable to us. Your family may be different, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In additional to monitoring and limiting the amount of time spent online, parents should be aware of the types of content that young kids are able to access, and who they may be communicating with.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Teens, Apps and Privacy

rz-phone-1A new survey by the Pew Research Center takes a fresh look at Teens and Mobile Apps Privacy. Parents should take note.

If you have a teen, as a starting point, you should take a look at which apps your teen has downloaded. I don’t mean a detailed look at which ones, but that isn’t a bad idea. In general, get a feel for what kind and how many there are and whether your kid may be an app junkie. The apps on the home page screen are likely the ones she uses the most.

Next, have a talk with your teen about what she is doing to protect her privacy. When thinking about privacy, consider public vs. private account settings, geolocation settings including checkins and pictures (on or off) and whether she is posting too many self-pictures or too much personal information.

According to the Pew research:

  • 58% of teens have downloaded apps to their phone or tablet
  • 51% of teens have avoided apps due to privacy concerns
  • 26% of teens have deleted an app due to privacy concerns
  • 46% of teens have turned off location tracking on their phone or in-app to avoid being tracked

As far as the concerns listed above, of course we’d like to see accounts set to private (don’t let strangers “friend” you or see your content without your permission), and selfies and personal information be kept to a minimum, especially on public accounts.

Regarding location tracking, let’s refer to one of the Pew stats above. If 46% of teens have taken action to avoid having their location tracked, 54% haven’t. If your daughter checks into Dunkin Donuts every afternoon at 3:30, or all of her selfies are tagged with geolocation data that pinpoints the location of her favorite mall, she is leaving herself open to being tracked down by someone she very much doesn’t want to meet. As a parent, it’s impossible to completely control which apps are downloaded and how the settings are configured. Your teen needs to buy in to the process.

It’s refreshing to see that teens are giving some thought to privacy, and by extension what it means for their safety. As the world becomes more connected you want to be sure that your teen doesn’t become any easier to find.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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What’s on Your Kid’s Phone Part II

rz-phone-1We’ve posed the question before, “What is on your kid’s phone?” and written a number of times that it’s a good idea for parents to pick up their kid’s phone every once in a while and see what apps they’re using. Go ahead, ask for that screen lock password.

My 15 year old came into the office with me yesterday, so I thought I’d practice what I preach and take a look at his iPhone. He knows that I check periodically, so it might be a little more sanitized than it would be otherwise. That’s OK, because we get the desired result – he tends not to do things on his phone that are inappropriate.

Let’s take a look at the home screen first. Most of the items are in folders on his iPhone, which is pretty common.  Two items that are not in folders, and as a matter of fact are in the app lock space (the bottom row) indicate that he uses these a lot. These remain on the home screen no matter which page of apps he is on, if he has more than one page.

YouTube – In my experience, almost every teenager uses YouTube – a lot. While there are inappropriate videos, and the comments section can be a wasteland of bullying, racism and foul language, I can’t really justify keeping a 15 year old off YouTube.

Reddit – This is a more problematic site for a parent. Reddit is largely uncensored. User names are mostly aliases, and

rz-phone-2Reddit collects no personal data, so privacy protections afforded by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) do not exist. As a parent, you need to be pretty comfortable that your teen understands appropriate boundaries to condone Reddit browsing and commenting. If you aren’t sure, do a quick check and see which sub Reddits he is subscribed to.

A list of the most popular sub Reddits that are only recommended for users over 18 can be found here).

Taking a look at the games folder (named Such Thrill in the case of my kid), there are no issues. All of the games are rated 4+, which means suitable for any user over the age of 4. Only Mega Man II is rated 9+, which means suitable for users 9 and older. Frankly, I thought he would have more games aimed at older users. No problem here.

The only other folder that bears looking into is “Be Social”. Most of messaging apps, Twitter and Twitter Music are of no concern at all, but a couple of the others caught my eye, and I hadn’t seen him using them previously.

FML – Short for F***MyLife, is not appropriate for a 15 year old. According to the iTunes store, FML “publishes the finest slices of day-to-day embarrassments and misfortunes” and “you must be at least 17 years old to download this app.” We will be having a chat about this one shortly.

rz-phone-3Twitch – The Twitch app was formerly called, and is a video and game streaming app. The rating is 12+, so one can assume that it is considerably more harmless that YouTube.

Steam – Steam is a PC based gaming platform, and users can download the app to chat with players who they know from gaming, or manage their gaming accounts.  No problem here, but parents should note that kids gaming with strangers they’ve met online can carry on the conversation outside of the game, which could be problematic if the other player is not who he claims to be.

The entire process of checking my kid’s phone took less than 10 minutes. For apps where I didn’t know (a) what they did, or (b) their age ratings, a simple search in the iTunes app store (Google Play if your kid has an Android phone) got me the info I needed.

We encourage parents to do the same.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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13 Cell Phone Safety Tips for Teens, Tweens And Their Parents

Smartphones aren’t a new phenomenon. In the U.S. nearly 60% of tweens own some kind of cell phone.  55% of U.S. teens now own a smartphone. The world of smartphones has opened up a wide vista of possibilities for communication and media consumption, but has also opened teens up to a host of ways they can get into trouble. What should parents be worried about? In iphone-thirdparentaddition to what is on the phone, teens spending too much time on their phones (sound familiar?) and normal teen drama, the main issues that arise from improper smartphone use fall into a few categories:

  • Identity theft
  • Punishment for bad behavior
  • Predator risk
  • Involuntary/revenge porn
  • Spam/Malware/Viruses

Here are thirteen tips and best practices for teens (and parents) to ensure that your teen’s smartphone is used properly and safely:

  1. Set a password – it might seem like a hassle to have a password on your home screen, but it will be worth it if you lose your phone or if a mischievous friend or sibling grabs it
  2. Never use a cell phone while driving – texting or talking while driving is always a bad idea
  3. Don’t send anything you don’t want becoming public – it goes without saying (but is often overlooked) that even if you send a private message to a friend, that friend could resend it to someone else or post it to the internet
  4. No bullying – bullying is no less serious when you’re using your phone or a mobile app to do it, and in some cases school administrators will treat it as being more serious. Plus, there is lasting evidence
  5. Don’t give out your cell phone number without thinking about it – giving your cell phone number to strangers, or subscribing to services that require your cell phone number can open you up to spam and hackers who could be sending you malware or a virus
  6. Don’t overlook privacy settings – many people pay close attention to their web-based privacy settings but neglect to consider the same when it comes to mobile
  7. Don’t reply to anonymous texts or calls – an anonymous call could be someone trying to extract personal information. An anonymous text could be phishing
  8. Don’t store revealing personal info – while some apps and networks require that you post personal, identifying details to sign up for an account, don’t leave them wide open on your phone
  9. Think about what is saved on your phone – if your phone is lost or stolen, what info will the finder then possess? Your home address? Your little sisters’ contact info? Compromising pictures of you or a friend? Pictures from last month’s wild party? Your user name and password? Be careful
  10. Be very careful with location-based services – this is especially true for younger users. It might feel like fun to use Foursquare to check in at Dunkin Donuts every morning, but do you really want a stranger to know where you are each morning at that time?
  11. Don’t download apps or join networks that are not age appropriate – even though it is easy to “lie” about your age when downloading an app or joining a network, it’s not a good idea
  12. Download a “Find My Phone” app – free apps are available for both iOS and Andoid that will make it easy to find your phone if you lose it. Parents can also use these apps to keep track of their kids’ phones
  13. Cell phone activity makes it onto the internet – if you’re only doing something on your private cell phone based app like Instagram or Snapchat, don’t make the assumption that that content won’t make onto the public internet. Snapchat leaked sites, iPhoneagram and others are eager to post your content if they can get it

If there’s something we haven’t covered, leave us a message in the comments section below or email us here. We’re happy to weigh in on your individual issues if we can help.


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