To rummage through your teen’s cell phone or not?


The problem with cell phones is that they are essential! Want to cut sugar out of their diet? You just don’t buy candy and sweets. Want to keep them off their cell phones? Then they won’t be able to find information about their tasks, talk to their friends, text or call – and the list goes on.

Unlike the cell phones we parents had in the past, where all we could do was send 100 max texts and make calls, mobile phones are now sophisticated and bring a series of problems which have been troubling parents for a few years now.

For example, you could be reading your teen’s cell phone messages and still not know what he’s up to unless you also check the messages on his WhatsApp, SnapChat, or Instagram accounts. But this assumes that you should know his codes not to mention, that his act to check his cell phone could be considered as one personal data breach. After all, you’d never ask to read his diary – so why should you look any differently at his mobile phone? What’s a worried mom to do?

Below, experts advise all parents about when (and if!) it’s okay to “spy” on their child’s cell phone.


Little girl is lying on the sofa and playing with the mobile phone.


Should parents check their children’s cell phones?

The answer is complicated. “It dependssays Megan Moreno, psychotherapist and researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “You have to consider a number of factors, including age and whether their phone is being used according to the terms you set when you bought it as a gift. I have heard many times that parents are looking at their child’s cell phone without their permission and reading all their private messages, without the child having given their permission.” For someone who kept a diary in middle school and high school, it sounds “tragic” and of course it is destructive to the parent-child relationship. However, it is still important to know what your children are doing.

Sophie Pierce, PsyD, a Los Angeles-based child and adolescent psychologist, agrees. “It is important for parents to be clear with their child and set conditions before buying their child a mobile phone”. This way parents are less likely to want to rummage through their child’s cell phone to see what they’re up to.

Is there a way to respectfully monitor your child’s phone?

Sometimes parents want to use device tracking apps to track their kids and control their devices. This sounds good, but kids hate it. A 2018 study of 736 children who wrote reviews of online mobile safety apps from Google Play found that 76% of children (ages 8-19) gave the apps a single star, explaining that the apps were “too restrictive and intrusive on their personal privacy and negatively affect their relationships with their parents”. So he not exactly the way to foster healthy communication and teach your children the importance of boundaries.

Fortunately, there are ways. As stated by Dr. Piece the parents they should talk openly with their children about the risks, to pose boundaries, to put conditions and keep communication open with each other.

“Kids need to know when they get their first phone that parents may at some point in time ask to see their cell phone.” states and continues: “Parents can emphasize that the reason they want to look at their phone is because safety is important to them and they want to teach them (their children) how to use the internet properly. It is also important for parents to emphasize that the reason they are asking for the mobile phone is not some kind of punishment, but a way to protect the children themselves.”

Controlling mobile phones secretly by children is not allowed, according to Dr. Moreno, who recommends “parents to look at the mobile phone with their child. This will give them the opportunity to build a relationship of trust!’


Little girl with mobile phone at school

Should there be different rules depending on the age of the child?

Age is not as important as your child’s developmental functioning and overall maturity, according to Dr. Pierce.

“Younger children probably need more supervision as they learn rules and boundaries. In this way parents may begin to feel more comfortable as children grow older and appear to adhere to these rules and boundaries. That way they won’t have to check the kids’ cell phones.”

Setting boundaries around social media and screen time

A 2019 study by Sell Cell found that 42% of kids spend 30+ hours a week on their cell phones, and 40% of parents admit to letting their kids use phones to take a break.

While some screen time is certainly allowed by parents, it can also lead to bigger problems. Your children may be cyberbullied, which according to a 2019 Youth Behavior Monitoring System report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 15.7% of high school students nationally reported experiencing in the past 12 months.

Or, they could develop phone addiction (especially if parents and peers use their cell phones a lot, according to this 2021 study), a behavior linked to anxiety and depression.

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