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Why Mobile Phones Make Teens Safer

FEATURE / 03.02.20 / Ayla Madison

Even though there’s a popular belief that all teens are phone-zombies, not everyone is the same. In fact, many adults spend lots of time in front of the screen as well: a study found that members of Generation X, who are currently between the ages of 35 to 49, actually spend 32 hours a week on social media, while Millennials spend 27 hours on social media.

In terms of hours spent on their phones, Generation Z, which comprises of people born between 1995 and 2015, are neck-and-neck with Generation X, meaning that teens are spending about the same amount of time on social media as their parents.

So why has it become a “thing” for some parents to deny their teens access to their mobile phones, or have a very tightly controlled phone with no social media on it?

I’ve had friends that weren’t allowed to have Snapchat until they were fifteen, and they had to use a fake profile to hide their account. Their parents said it was because Snapchat is full of creeps, so I guess this happens because most parents feel the need to protect their children from the risks that exist in the social media landscape: cyber bullying, graphic content, online predators, etc.

Even though these things really can be dangerous, maybe not giving your teen a phone can be dangerous as well. This is because nowadays, having a mobile phone has been shown to have a positive impact on teens. Of course, there are certain dangers, but there are also many good reasons why teens should be allowed to have a phone and everything that comes with it.

Reason #1: Increasing Communication Skills and Confidence

First of all, according to A Common Sense Media Study, 29% of teens felt more confident and less shy when using social media, especially for the more introverted who saw social media as a way of developing better communication skills or boosting social interaction and also a way to express themselves better.

Another reason why parents should allow their teen to have a phone is because social media actually can help improve family relationships and keep them connected.

I remember having the social media app Path when I was younger, and my family and I only used it to stay connected to each other and close friends. It was really useful, especially for a family like mine that is dotted all over the globe.

Reason #2: Creating a Safe Environment for Self-Expression

Another important reason why teens should have their own phones, according to Secure Teen, is that social media can actually help reduce stress by creating a safe environment where teens can express themselves and their frustrations publicly or anonymously.

Not only the additional social support, but also the fact that social media can be used as a means of distraction can help reduce stress. In my case, I’ll watch YouTube videos or TikToks as a way to calm or distract myself in stressful situations.

Besides the psychological benefits, there have been countless times where phones have actually saved someone’s life. For example, Shannon Haight, a woman from Oklahoma, was able to save herself after being abducted thanks to her mobile phone. This is an example of why I feel that, while you’re out and about, having a phone can really make you safer. I’ve found myself in many situations where having a phone helped me, for example, to find my friends at a large event when I was alone, surrounded by strangers.

Reason #3: Establishing Parent-Teen Trust

Many parents have a hard time deciding the right age to give their children a mobile device. The thing to keep in mind is that every situation is different, and every child is different. There is no universal “right age” to give your child their first phone. In my case I had my first phone when I was ten, but I already had Facebook at the age of seven in order to communicate with my grandparents who live far away. So, I got an early start.

Even though I personally don’t agree with not allowing a teen to have a phone, I do think it’s important to consider the maturity of your child when deciding whether to provide them with such a powerful tool. You need to have sufficient trust that your preteen or teen won’t be using it to harass or embarrass others or waste away their lives on it.

If you don’t trust your child but they need a phone to communicate with you, you can always use apps to monitor what they do. Even though my parents trusted me they still used Wireshark on the home WIFI and an app on my phone that showed them what apps I used and for how long because I was wasting a lot of time online. Honestly, though, this actually irritated me and didn’t stop me from finding a hole in the app that allowed me to shut it on and off whenever I wanted. Then to avoid the Wireshark network monitoring of the home WIFI, I would use 4G.

Even though I was lucky enough to have a good and trusting relationship with my parents, I know that sometimes other parents trying to protect their teens can act too strictly and not allow their teens to have a phone, or monitor it constantly - in some cases they even go through it - because they either don’t have a good relationship with each other or the parents are really overprotective. Whatever the reason, according to, studies show being too strict often ends up leading to behavior problems like anger or depression.

Researcher Rick Trinkner, a doctoral candidate at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, proved that being strict only causes problems since it causes teens to end up being more rebellious and to have a lower self-esteem, which can lead to bullying and lower grades.

On top of that, in a world where so many people have access to social media and own their own devices, being forbidden from owning a phone could potentially make teens feel left out and resent their parents. So, this is why I personally feel that, if your teen is mature enough to handle a phone and to respect your rules regarding its use, they should be allowed to have one.

If you are unsure of where you stand with your teen, look into working through Hacker Highschool with them before giving them a mobile phone. My parents pushed me through it and overall it did help give me perspective and the ability to protect myself online despite the fact that I had no interest in working in cybersecurity. If you don’t have time, talk to their school about integrating it into classes. 

Ayla Madison

About Ayla Madison

Ayla Madison is a teen from ISECOM's Hacker Highschool project that has presented three times at the RSA Conference in San Francisco about teens and cybersecurity.

Ayla also illustrated How The Hacker Stole Christmas when she was 14 and is currently illustrating another book for Hacker Highschool called Hack this Book. She's currently studying art at the University of Barcelona and spreading the word that hacking isn't just about computers.