Teens, Your Parents Are Definitely Snooping Through Your Phone

Privacy Cyber Security AH Nov 10 2018

According to a recent survey from WhistleOut, most parents admit they are phone snooping on their kids and most teens are actively hiding mobile activity from their parents. In fact, that’s as many as 78-percent of parents with teens between 15- and 18-years-old. The parents indicated in response to the survey that they have complete knowledge of their children’s phone activity. And 64-percent are actively snooping on their kids’ devices.

That’s not an activity that’s going to be ending anytime soon either. 53-percent of parents said that no privacy should be granted to teens until age 18. That’s compared to 40-percent who said it should be allowed at 17-years-old or younger. A further 7-percent claimed that even kids older than 18 aren’t necessarily deserving of privacy.

With regard to exactly what parents are spying on, that tended to vary. Texts or direct messages and browser history were at the top of the list at 32-percent and 30-percent. 26-percent of parents snoop through phones to look at social media accounts or to secretly keep track of teens’ location.


Just 25-percent of snoopers are looking through photos stored on teens’ devices. 24-percent check phone or video call history. Only 20-percent of parents admit to having picked up and ‘unlocked’ their teens’ phones. Presumably, just to check that they could but that seems unlikely given the other figures here.

So how do teens feel about phone snooping?

From the teen perspective, parents snooping on their phone is effectively a given. But expectations from parents aren’t exactly clear to teens. While parents felt they were setting clear rules — at a rate of around 82-percent — kids disagreed. Only a third of teens though the rules were clear.

Some of the more common rules, as reported by teens, centered around designated phone times. But teens were also ‘not allowed’ to respond to communications from strangers. Both of those categories were common among 33-percent of teens. 47-percent of teens indicated that parents required knowledge of their passwords or other device unlocking mechanisms.


Even where rules were clear, teens showed that they value privacy more than actually having a phone. And that’s not surprising since there’s a close correlation between what’s being hidden and what parents are looking at. No fewer than 54-percent of teens said they’d happily go for a full week without their phone than let parents go snooping through it. And what teens tend to hide falls directly in line with that.

31-percent of teens hid their texts or DMs with 35-percent of those deleting them outright and 22-percent using self-destructing services such as Snapchat. No fewer than 11-percent of those respondents created fake accounts while 9-percent log in on another person’s phone.

41-percent of teens admitted to having accounts that their parents were unaware of.  Those were mostly Instagram and Snapchat accounts — 37-percent and 19-percent. Twitter came in third at 18-percent.


Conversations were the highlight of privacy concerns for teens. A third of respondents noted that was the thing parents need to back off on. That’s as compared to just 16-percent of teens who hid photos and 13-percent who were concerned about browser snooping. Finally, only around 15-percent of kids that were hiding usage did so by turning off location tracking.

This should come as a shock to precisely nobody

Even though privacy is a big concern for everybody, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that parents are snooping on any phone belonging to their teens. Not only does the current state of technology effectively dictate that everybody is a victim of snooping of one kind or another. Facebook and other social media groups are prime examples of that.

So spying by companies, at the very least, has become ‘the norm’ — albeit one that’s being challenged by legislators.


Parents also have access to any number of tools to engage in the activity. And at least some of those are free to use. At least some of those tools, such as Google’s Family Link, aim to inspire healthy device usage rather than aiding parental overlords. But not all of those apps are created with noble goals in mind.

When asked, 62-percent of respondents — both teens and parents — said they’d be likely or very likely to use an app to monitor their children’s phone. That’s monitoring without letting them in on the monitoring. Just 28-percent said they’d be unlikely to do tshat. And 10-percent of respondents weren’t decided on the matter.

As noted above, parental fears may also be justified, to a certain extent. At least in the US, parents are typically held responsible for their child’s or children’s behavior legally. And, of course, some activities teens might engage in can result in financial or other consequences for parents as well.


So the practice may well be justified in at least some cases and 82-percent of snoopers said they do so out of concern for safety. Others do so out of curiosity or out of a desire to be a bigger part of their kid’s lives — 6-percent and 9-percent, respectively.

Now, this topic and others like it tend to raise up a strong emotional response. Regardless, the data here seems to show a stalemate. It doesn’t appear that the phone snooping or activity hiding engaged in by parents and teens is going anywhere anytime soon.

WhistleOut survey phone snooping parents teens
WhistleOut’s survey shows close parity between phone snooping by parents and activity hiding by teens