Keep teenagers and their smartphones safe online

For those who know me, I typically write about enterprise IT and more specifically Cloud Computing. This blog post can be considered a “one off. With a 12 going on 20-year-old daughter in the house, I have become a little more cognizant and wearied about how children / teens are using their smartphones in conjunction with the Internet. The reason for my research was to educate myself on the dangers present for teenagers who own a smartphone and are socially active in the cyber world. I have researched several sites in creation of this blog and give full credit to each site and author for helping make this blog post possible. I can say there is a lot of data online and I tried my best to pick out what I thought would be well consumed and beneficial to all those reading this blog. Unfortunately there is no silver bullet or magic recipe to keep teenagers and their smartphones safe online. However as the old cliché goes: “Knowing is half the battle”!

Smartphone and Internet – The new drug cocktail for teens

Let’s start with some simple stats to set the stage. Here are some staggering numbers about smartphone ownership.

Stats from the following site:

cell phone ownership-1cloudroadsmartphone ownership-1cloudroad

  • 78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half (47%) of those own smartphones. That translates into 37% of all teens who have smartphones, up from just 23% in 2011.
  • One in four teens (23%) have a tablet computer, a level comparable to the general adult population.
  • Nine in ten (93%) teens have a computer or have access to one at home. Seven in ten (71%) teens with home computer access say the laptop or desktop they use most often is one they share with other family members.

Mobile access to the internet is common among American teens, and the cell phone has become an especially important access point for certain groups:

  • About three in four (74%) teens ages 12-17 say they access the internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally.
  • One in four teens are “cell-mostly” internet users — far more than the 15% of adults who are cell-mostly. Among teen smartphone owners, half are cell-mostly.
  • Older girls are especially likely to be cell-mostly internet users; 34% of teen girls ages 14-17 say they mostly go online using their cell phone, compared with 24% of teen boys ages 14-17. This is notable since boys and girls are equally likely to be smartphone owners.
  • Among older teen girls who are smartphone owners, 55% say they use the internet mostly from their phone.

The smartphone is a very powerful device and was designed to bring the functions of a computer / laptop to a smaller form factor to the palm of our hands. Consumers and specifically teenagers have taken the smartphone and are using it in ways that perhaps were not initially intended. Although this may sound like an unfortunate thing, we have to also admit that we are now able to bring the information highway to countries and specifically those less fortunate with the help of smartphones and the expansion of the Internet. Social networking has emerged as the new way to carry news and information and the method to keep in touch with the world we live in. Tweets, blogs. vlogs, real-time video chat. The choice is yours to make!

Teens have become very dependent on their smartphone, using it for homework research, playing games and communicating with their friends. Notice I didn’t say they use it to get the news or weather. The smartphone has become an extension of the teenager because of its multitude of uses and at the same time become a dangerous dependency. When observing my daughter and her friends smartphone usage, one thing that was immediately apparent to me when it came to their smartphone, was how teenagers are communicating. Short concise messages often in acronyms. No punctuation, nor capitalization of words are required. Spelling and grammar almost never taken into consideration. We can thank or not thank auto-correct features for this. The shortened “lingo” used in text messages has become a necessity among teenagers and almost a fine art. See the appendix below where I mention 2 sites which list updated acronyms. You never know when it may be useful.

From micro and shortened communication with little or no grammar skills necessary to communicate or posting “selfies” in their favorite social network with the hopes of getting “likes” and comments and increasing their follower-ship, makes me wonder how much substance there is behind all this. For those who are entering their teenage years, this is all they know. This is how they will see life from this point on. Instant on, always on, is the way information is consumed and exchanged. Texting has become the new way of communication. Teenagers are no longer learning the basics when it comes to communication. Someone needs to remind them that in the “real world” nothing beats a face to face conversation where body language and eye contact are still the best way in establishing substantial relationships with both friends and professional colleagues. Even a phone is often overlooked and preferred to a quick text message where an emoticon can try to set the conversation mood.

The consumption and constant acceptance of information in a shortened condensed manner makes me feel that teenagers are on constant “alert” or have a higher level of anxiety because of this. This is because of the constant need to keep up with the micro communication and instant gratification of “liking” or commenting on a picture or post or simply replying to the constant barrage of online communication.

The most important thing we need to remember is that the more we communicate openly online, the more we expose and the more we are at risk. As much as you think you are safe, nothing done online today is private. Messages, pictures and all media exchanged online goes through dozens and hundreds of network access points and servers and are susceptible to intruders and malicious hackers. This information, whether in text or media format can be used in malicious ways, by those intercepting your messages or more importantly the person on the other end of the transmission.

What Teenagers are Doing Online?

Time Spent Online-1cloudroad


teens online grid-1cloudroad

Teens are spending more time on social networks rather than actually using the phone on their smartphone device. This is where the danger begins. It is important to advise your teenager that they should limit the amount and type of information they are sharing online. In recent weeks we learned about 2 major information / security breaches which took place at 2 large American Retailers. In the past, we have also seen some very secure and high-profile government agency websites hacked and defaced. My point is, if those high-profile organizations can be hacked, than anyone can. That should be a reason to think twice about sharing personal pictures and information online even if it is a few seconds, in the case of a text or Snapchat. Here we see a chart depicting the type of information teens are willing to share online.

teen activity online-1cloudroadSource:

  • 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
  • 71% post their school name, up from 49%.
  • 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
  • 53% post their email address, up from 29%.
  • 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.

In addition to the trend questions, we also asked five new questions about the profile teens use most often and found that among teen social media users:

  • 92% post their real name to the profile they use most often.2
  • 84% post their interests, such as movies, music, or books they like.
  • 82% post their birth date.
  • 62% post their relationship status.
  • 24% post videos of themselves.

Teens and Social Networking

Teenagers gravitate towards all sorts of social networking sites. In recent months, we have seen the IPO of Twitter and hear about the 1 Billion dollar evaluation of Instagram and how the were acquired by Facebook. There is a reason for all this madness. Social networks are evaluated based on the number of subscribers and the amount of usage by each subscriber. Advertisers depend on social networks and their subscribers to interact. The more subscribers enrolled and more interaction, the more the social network is worth! Here we see the most important Social Media sites visited by teens.

teens most visited SOME Sites-1cloudroad

Teens Moving Away from Facebook

It’s no secret teens are leaving Facebook in huge numbers. 11 Million teens have left Facebook since 2011. This story has been featured countless times over the last few months. They are leaving Facebook, a social networking site which in my point of view has “some” substance and moving towards instant more real-time based social networking sites. Now this is what scares me the most. I am not a fan of Facebook. For the record, I do not have a Facebook account, but do see some value in Facebook if you want to stay in touch with family and friends around the world.

These are some of the sites which teens are moving too. Thanks to Michael Gregg and Huffington Post who put together this list. After reading the list, some of these social network sites give me reason to raise my concern level considerably. First off, in my point of view, social networks primarily used by teens are a red flag. Second, social media sites which are less governed by the company who owns them, makes me wonder how safe they really are!

Here is the list put together by Michael Gregg. Note: I am not here to state that each of these sites are dangerous and that your teenager should not be on them, however it is important to note the associated network, notable risks and how teenagers are using them. The following have been paraphrased from Michael Gregg’s list.

  1. Creepy  Did you know that with just a Twitter or Facebook ID, you can track someone’s every move and find their exact current location? Creepy does just that — it allows anyone with access to another person’s online photos to pull sensitive geotag location data, allowing them to pinpoint where the photo was taken. Just provide Creepy with the needed username and it will retrieve all the locations the user has posted photos from.
  2.   An anonymous and unmoderated Q&A forum that has been criticized by many parents and anti-bullying organizations. is not well-known by many adults, but it has been associated with instances of cyberbullying in teens and a series of bullying-related suicides.
  3. Vine  This mobile app can be used to post short videos, however some teens are using the app to videotape others without their knowledge or using the app to mock or harass other kids.
  4. Snapchat  Widely known as the “sexting app,” Snapchat allows users to take photos, record videos, add text and drawings and send them to a controlled list of followers. The followers can only view the photos for a short period of time, after which Snapchat supposedly destroys them.
  5. KiK  Instant messenger service designed for use on smartphones. This is another app that has been widely associated with sexting.
  6. Pheed  Some have called this the next big social app for teens, with 81% of its user base between 14-25 years old. One the site’s more popular features is the ability for teens to livestream what they’re doing at any given moment.
  7. A social media site that allows teens to ask other users anonymous questions. This type of open access site can pose problems for teens/tweens, as users do not have to login to ask questions. There is no online moderator to check for disturbing content and adult profiles are mixed in with those of teens and children.
  8. Oovoo  A startup video chat and instant messaging application that is similar to Skype and Apple’s Facetime. While this site blocks those under 13 from registering, youngsters need only lie about their age to set up an account.

How to protect your teenager online

The biggest question which arises after reading this: What can I do to protect my teenager? There are some “hard” ways you can control and prevent your teen from using the smart device inappropriately. There are apps which can be used to “control” and prevent usage of the smartphone device and some of its functions. Here is a list of apps which have been put through a comprehensive side by side comparison. The lists at this site do have an associated cost. In no way do I recommend or suggest any or all of these apps. I leave that to your discretion. I figure if your teenager is walking around with a $600 smartphone, then hey these apps are a drop in the bucket! The goal of this article is to raise awareness and let parents know that we need to constantly educate and keep teenagers and their smartphones safe online.

Here are a few apps you may want to look at. listed a few below. Some are actually free!

Android phones
Android Parental Controls (Free)
Phone Control (Free)
Vodafone Guardian (Free for Vodafone NZ Prepay and On Account plans)

Apple iOS – iPhone, iPod Touch
McAfee Family Protection (US$19.99)
iOS Settings (Free – In built) - See this ‘how to’ guide
See also our advice on Apple Parental Controls for iPad

Symbian (Nokia phones)
SMobile Security Shield Parental Controls Edition
Kaspersky Mobile Security

Windows Mobile 7
Mobile Parental Controls

Ultimately, the best way to protect your teenager online is to talk to them and make them aware of the dangers associated with using their smartphone and tablets. Remind your teenager that what they do on their phone can be traced, regardless if they think that text message has been erased from their smartphone or recipient’s smartphone. The message or video they think will automatically disappear via Snapchat remains on a server and a hard drive somewhere and of course can be intercepted by malicious intruders.

As stated above the goal was to educate myself on what my soon to be teenager is and will be facing? I hope the information helps my readers be a little more aware of the dangers that lurk in the cyber world. If you have any questions or comments, I welcome your feedback.


Texting Acronym Glossary

LOL, LMAO, IDK. Confused about what those acronyms actually mean? You may want to visit the following sites to learn some of the lingo your teenager is using on their smartphones. Good luck!


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