Teens value their cell phone privacy—But most parents snoop

Wo Parent Teen Cell Snooping 1.0

How do you respect your child’s privacy while also protecting their safety? We asked parents and teens about the issues surrounding cell phone privacy and safety to get their perspectives.

Teen Perspective

Teens (ages 15-18) aren’t overly concerned about their parents snooping: 63% of teens surveyed said their parents were “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to go through their phone. And even if they did, a majority of teens (66%) said their parents wouldn’t find anything that would get them into trouble. Despite this,  most teens (62%) still admit to hiding certain cell phone activities.

Teens value privacy more than their phones themselves.  More than half of teens (54%) said they’d rather go seven days without their device than give their parents permission to look through their phone.

Teens hid the following from their parents:

  • Texts or DMs (direct messages (31%)
  • Photos (16%)
  • Browser history (13%)

Nearly a third of teens think conversations are off-limits to parents, whereas photos and browser history were less of a concern.

Here’s how teens hid their cell phone activity:

  • 35% deleted text messages and DMs
  • 22% sent self-destructing messages like Snapchats to keep their parents from being able to see them
  • 15% turned off location tracking
  • 11% created fake accounts
  • 9% logged in to personal social media accounts using another person’s phone

About two in five teens (41%) revealed they have “secret” social media accounts that their parents are unaware of. Instagram accounted for 37% of secret accounts, followed by Snapchat (19%), and Twitter (18%).

Parent Perspective

A significant majority—78%—of parents with 15-18-year-old teens said they are fully aware of what their children do on their cell phones.

What’s more, 64% of parents with teens said they have snooped on their children’s cell phones.  Nearly the same amount of teens, about 62%, hid some form of activity.

Here’s the breakdown of what parents secretly do on their kid’s phones without their permission:

  • 32% have read their texts or direct messages
  • 30% have looked at their browser history
  • 24% have checked their child’s recent phone or video call history
  • 26% have looked at their social media accounts
  • 26% have secretly tracked their child’s location
  • 20% have unlocked their phone
  • 25% have looked through their photos

Teens and parents alike are concerned with conversations above all else, but parents are more concerned about browser history than teens are. (Maybe teens are familiar enough with incognito browsing?).

Most (82%) parents who snooped said the main reason they went on their child’s phone was to ensure their kids’ safety. Another 9% said they snooped to stay in the loop of their kids’ social life, another 6% said it was out of curiosity, and 3% said it was for other reasons.

So what’s the right age for a child to have the right to cell phone privacy?

Over half (53%) of parents said age 18, while 40% said 17 or younger, and 7% said older than 18. Most parents believe that teens still need check-ins or monitoring until they are old enough to have a right to privacy.

Communicating Clear Cell Phone Rules


We asked parents of teens if they had cell phone rules for their children, and about 82% of parents claimed they did.  When asked the same question, only one-third (33%)  of teens in the survey said that they had clear rules in place.

What rules did teens have in place?

  • Teens are required to use a passcode that their parents know or have no passcode. (47%)
  • Teens need to put phones away after a specific time in the evening (33%)
  •  Teens are not allowed to answer calls or messages from strangers (33%)

Monitoring Apps

We asked parents with teens how likely they would be to use a monitoring app for their child’s phone usage, without letting them know. Here’s what they said:

  • 62% said they’d be likely to very likely to do that
  • 28% said they’d be unlikely to very unlikely to do that
  • 10% said they didn’t know


WhistleOut partnered up with Lux insights, a cutting-edge market research company, to survey over 600 people (300 parents and 304 teens) about parenting concerns with cell phone privacy, safety, and rules.