If you have a teen, you’ve witnessed their strong need to be connected with their phones at all times. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that 56 percent of teens feel anxiety, loneliness, and are generally upset when they don’t have immediate access to their cellphones. So what happens when you confiscate their phone, or if they just want to hide what they’re doing on the internet?
Simple: Teens are using burner phones.
“If the child is still posting, even after a phone has been taken away, then they are accessing their accounts via a different device, probably a friend’s phone or, even possibly, a burner,” says Diana Graber, the author of Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology.
How Are Kids Getting Burner Phones?
Also known as a “trap phone,” burner phones don’t only exist in action movies. In fact, they’re very easy to purchase at major department stores like Walmart, and through phone network stores like T-Mobile. Phones can be purchased in-store with no questions asked. Teens can choose between prepaid versions or pay-as-you-go phones.
Burners can’t be traced like a traditional phone. They don’t normally have a phone number, but they can connect to wifi and access the internet.
For tech-savvy as teenagers, activating a disposable phone is simple. Turn it on, insert the SIM card, activate it online or by a toll-free number, and provide the required information like a pin and activation code.
How to Know if Your Child Has a Burner Phone
As Graber tells Parentology, “Rather than trying to determine if your child has acquired a burner phone, it is more effective for parents to check in on their child’s social media accounts directly,” advises Graber. That said, if the teen is savvy enough to use a burner phone, they may have social media accounts you don’t know about.
Lisa Ringel, admin for San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children (SDICAC), recommends watching for behavior changes. “Look for signs such as your teen not asking for their phone back or not being very concerned about the consequence of no phone,” she tells Parentology. “Although these don’t always indicate something else may be going on, they are red flags.” If you notice an unknown phone using your home wifi connection, that is another good indicator.
How to Stop Teens from Using Burner Phones
Anyone with money can buy a cheap burner phone. And, since many teens have part-time jobs or an allowance, it’s difficult to stop them. Experts say that prevention is the key.
Building agency in children — giving them free choice but then making clear connections between the choice and its outcome — is vital. Good communication, established expectations, and potential outcomes of bad behavior are all on the table when having a discussion with your child. “Taking the phone away rarely works,” says Garber. Even so, most parents resort to this tactic in hopes of deterring unwanted behavior from happening again, but letting kids be a part of the tech discussion can help.
Besides communication, receiving an education in digital literacy can help. Let kids see the cons of posting inappropriate content and spending too much time online. It’s also important for kids to see their parents modeling good behavior.
As parenting expert Rachel Simmons told Good Morning America, the parent’s actions are the best lesson for kids. “If we want our teenagers to use social media wisely, we have to use it wisely in front of them, too.”