Kids And Smartphones, How Do We Monitor Them?



As a parent of a teenage daughter I know all to well how long and how much use her iPhone gets. While I would love for her not to be tapping away at her phone every second of the day, I also know that most of the responsibility and blame rests squarely on me. If I had not given her that phone she would not be nose deep in it 24/7. So how do I police her activity? The honest truth is I try but I know I cannot catch and lock down everything she is doing. Harris Poll recently did a study on this very subject and the findings are interesting and thought provoking. Read on below for their report.

Harris Poll

Any parent who has ever watched their child hunched over their smartphone, furiously tapping away, may have wondered – “What exactly are they doing?” And, “Should I check their phone?” These questions are what a recent Harris Poll sought to answer in a survey of 2,286 U.S. adults (ages 18 and older) and 1,217 U.S. youths (ages 8-18) surveyed online by Harris Interactive from August 14-19 and August 14-23, respectively. Youth surveys were conducted using Harris Interactive’s Harris Poll YouthQuery omnibus platform. (Full findings, including data tables, available here)

As more Americans adopt such technologies, including more American children who are using their smartphones in ways that may make their parents cringe, the need may be arising for new and different household rules and parenting habits.

To snoop or not to snoop?

Many parents and kids appear to have found some common ground on the issue of parents monitoring their child’s smartphone activity.

  • Among smartphone users ages 8-17, 43% say that their parents occasionally check their smartphone.
  • An identical 43% of parents (of smartphone-using kids under 18) say they occasionally monitor their child’s smartphone activity…with their knowledge.
  • However, 35% occasionally check their child’s smartphone without their knowledge. While parents display both habits, enough are doing it only on the sly to drive the combined percentage of these parents up to 57%.
  • When it comes to location tracking, two in ten (20%) smartphone users ages 8-17 say their parents occasionally use smartphones to track their location but a total of 25% of parents of smartphone users say they in fact do so (22% with their children’s knowledge, 10% without).

The Rules of Engagement

While many parents may struggle with just how much to monitor smartphone activity, just one-fourth (26%) of youths say they have a “contract” with their parents that they must follow in order to keep their smartphone and only two in ten (19%) have a smartphone “curfew,” after which the phone must be off and/or not in their possession. Rules are more commonly reported by 8-12 year old smartphone users, with majorities of this younger set saying their parents check their smartphones to monitor activity (65%) and have disciplined them by taking away their smartphone (54%). Additional findings among this age group include:

  • Nearly four in ten report having a smartphone “curfew” (38%) and/or “contract” (37%).
  • Two in ten (20%) are not allowed to password-protect their smartphones, while over four in ten (43%) say they are allowed to do so but must share the password with their parents.
  • Three in ten (29%) say their parents use their own smartphones to track their location.

Parents DO Understand

Not to contradict the Fresh Prince, but parents – at least those of smartphone users – actually do seem to understand. While not boasting 100% accuracy, they appear to be generally realistic about many youth smartphone behaviors – whether they like them or not – and in their estimation of what children are doing with their smartphones.

  • 46% of parents of smartphone users under 18 believe their child texts or messages while in class, while 42% of 8-17 year old smartphone users admit to ever doing so. The same trend holds true for some other behaviors, including:
    • Sending and/or receiving suggestive texts (18% parents, 19% 13-17 year olds)
    • Checking the phone while crossing the street (20% parents, 19% 8-17 year olds)

But kids aren’t as bad as parents may think, as parents appeared to over-estimate bad behavior in a couple of areas:

  • 26% believe their smartphone-wielding children use their devices to share negative gossip, while only 18% of 8-17 year old smartphone users say they do so.
  • 14% believe their children have used their smartphones to cheat on a test in some way, while only 6% of 8-17 smartphone users admit to having done so.

Not Your Dad’s Smartphone

Not surprising is that kids are more likely to use their smartphones as media devices, while adults are more likely to use them as… well…phones!

  • Potentially because it’s the device most often in their possession, smartphone users ages 8-18 are more likely than the 18-and-up crowd to use their phones to listen to music (80% vs. 57%), play games (78% vs. 60%), watch videos (74% vs. 43%), engage in social media (73% vs. 60%) and video chat (35% vs. 18%).

  • Adults, on the other hand, are more likely than youths to use their phones for actually making calls (91% vs. 85%), along with emailing (78% vs. 56%), mapping or navigation (65% vs. 34%), research (47% vs. 31%) and purchase (25% vs. 14%) goods and services and find or research restaurants (45% vs. 21%).

So what do you think of those numbers and results? As a parent I know there is more I could and should be doing to monitor my kids usage, content and dependency on her smartphone. What are your thoughts? We would love to hear more from you in the comments, Google+ or Twitter. Let us know what works for you.

Story Credit: The Harris Poll

Photo Credit: Digital Trends

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