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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