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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