Cell Phones

Did You Know?

A study from the Pew Research Center reports that the average teen sends and receives 67 text messages per day.

Lenhart, Amanda, Pew Research Center, April 2015, “Teen, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015”

Be smartphone savvy

The widespread use of smartphones helps users stay connected, but also raises privacy concerns. 

In recent years, cellphones have made a massive jump from handheld calling devices to essentially pocket computers and gaming systems. According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, 73% of teenagers ages 13 – 17 have access to a smartphone, while just under 30% cited having access to a basic cellphone. Ninety-four percent of “mobile teens” report going online daily, with nearly a quarter noting being online “almost constantly,” thanks in large part to the widespread use of smartphones and Wi-Fi connectivity. 

Texting reigns supreme

Smartphone apps let teens go online, watch videos and game with friends, but teens most commonly use their phones to send and receive text messages. Pew research notes that teens reserve voice calls for their closest friends and prefer to use text messages for newer friends and acquaintances. The research also suggests that the omnipresence of smartphones helps strengthen friendships, with 62% of smartphone-owning teens reporting that texting allows them to keep in closer contact with close friends. Additionally, having internet access via a smartphone may help teens make and maintain new friendships, with 57% reporting having made new friends online.

Technology is not without risks

Of course, near constant connectivity also poses a unique set of risks. For example, cyberbullying is no longer restricted to the times when teens use computers. Smartphones give them the ability to go online at any time and to be notified whenever comments or updates are posted to sites and apps. This allows cyberbullying to follow teens wherever they go. Nearly one-third of teens report fighting with friends over incidents that started online or via text message.

Another risk that has gained national attention is “sexting:” the use of cellphones to send and receive sexually explicit messages or images frequently referred to as “sexts.” The ubiquity of cellphones has given rise to sexting as a way for teens to explore their sexuality, though in some states exchanging these types of photos could constitute a crime.

Additionally, as most smartphones have GPS technology which allows users’ locations to be pinpointed by apps and websites, users may unintentionally share their locations with the public. If teens’ photos have GPS location-tags or if teens “check-in” to restaurants, airports, new cities and the like, their friends and followers can see exactly where they are or have been. Each cellphone brand or model may have a different way to turn off location-tracking services. Check the settings on your teen’s phone or read its user manual for instructions on disabling GPS in specific apps. 

What can I do?

Cellphones have changed the way we communicate. Help children and teens be safer and smarter while using their phones.

  • Establish rules for when they are allowed to use their cellphones, what websites they can visit and what apps they can download.
  • Understand an app’s purpose before your child downloads it. Who are the users? What type of privacy settings are available?
  • Remind your children that anything they send from their phones can be easily forwarded and shared.
  • Talk to your child about the possible consequences of sending sexually explicit or provocative images or text messages.
  • When shopping for a cellphone for your child, research the security settings that are available.

Start the Conversation!

Make discussions about cellphone use a habit
  • What do you use your phone for the most? Can you show me some of your favorite apps?
  • Do you know everyone you have as a contact in your phone and on different apps?
  • Has anyone ever taken an embarrassing picture of you without your permission?
  • Have you ever taken an embarrassing picture of someone else? What did you do with it?
  • Have you ever talked with someone you first met online on your cellphone?
  • What would you do if someone sent you a text or picture that was inappropriate?
  • Do you know how to turn off GPS and turn on privacy settings for the different apps you use?