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.


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

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