A Parent’s Guide to Burner Phones

A Parent’s Guide to Burner Phones

So, it’s been a while since you gave in to giving your teen the smartphone they have been asking for. In all fairness, it’s necessary, considering Gen Z kids are digital natives. They need it to communicate with their friends and family and keep pace with modern trends.

You gave them a phone after giving them a pep talk on online safety. To keep tabs on them, you even apply the usual parental controls. However, recently, a parent discussed their kid using a burner phone to avoid parental control and wanting more screen time. Now, it has got you thinking and doubting that your teen may be doing the same.

Let us dig deep into burner phones, why kids may use them, and the dangers they pose.

What is a Burner Phone?

A burner phone is a mobile device used temporarily and discarded. The idea is to buy a low-cost, pre-paid phone, use it, and throw or ‘burn’ it away. The term ‘burn’ means disposing of the phone to prevent anyone from discovering the user’s identity or activity.

Burner phones are usually used by individuals who want to perform an illegal or unlawful activity. They procure the phones at a modest price through street vendors and other ‘non-official’ means. It works on the idea of ‘pay as you go,’ which means one does not need to enter any details with mobile carriers.

Traditionally, one needs to go to a company like Verizon or T-Mobile and sign up for a plan and mobile device. Teens can instead easily buy these burner phones cheaply and without registering the device to their name. They can order the phone online, from local convenience or department stores, or even giant retail stores. Most come with prepaid SIM, and a teen can use them instantly.

You may think these phones are like a $20 or $30 flip phone with limited features and little or no internet connection. However, online research shows that low—to high-end Android and iPhone models are even used as burner phones.

Why Teens May Use a Burner Phone

It is common to see a movie or crime show where a bandit buys a burner phone to make shady or coded conversation and then discards it. However, it’s a misconception that only thugs or criminals use these phones. In the mainstream, the concept of burner phones remains the same, but people use it for different reasons.

It could be to avoid spam calls, use a cheaper secondary number, or interact anonymously. Even Oscar-winning director Christoper Nolan talks about not using a smartphone but keeping a burner phone.

Adolescence is a time when teens like to explore their physical and online boundaries and keep their activities private. However, most are still under close watch from their parents and have to follow screen time rules and other restrictions.

Teens see burner phones as secondary phones that allow them to bypass the parental monitoring set up on their primary devices. This could be a burner phone they buy for cash from a store or an old phone previously used by their friend or sibling.

Here is why teens are using burner phones:

Privacy Concerns

As teens navigate the years of adolescence, they become increasingly protective of their privacy. Teens usually want to interact with friends more openly and explore online content. Burner phones allow them to practice this without fearing that their parents are monitoring them.

Evading Parental Controls

Parents activate parental control settings and screen time limits on their teens’ phones to keep them safe from cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and exploitation. Teens deem such restrictions too strict and opt for a secondary phone.

They can use it to hide messages, use social media, and extend screen time. Literally, they perform all the activities they cannot do on their regular cell phones.

Peer Pressure

If your teen’s classmates or friends have burner phones, they will likely develop pressure to have one, too. In addition, their friends will discuss how they perform activities with much freedom on those phones. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is another reason that may force the teen to follow suit and avoid being left out.

Having more Digital Freedom

Teens usually have a carefree attitude and want to establish their unique personality. They will often assert the rules instead of following them. The burner phone allows them to experiment and make maximum use of their digital freedom.

For example, your teen will likely use social media networks and even a dating app to get a potential date. Moreover, they will want to keep it a secret and without the prying eyes of their parents.

Why is Using Burner Phones Risky for Teens

Understanding why teens may use burner phones is essential, but it is more important to know the prominent risks associated with them. By knowing these risks, parents can proactively act and prevent their teens from buying and using them.

Unsafe Interactions

The primary reason teens buy and use burner phones is to engage in unsafe interactions with no one monitoring or questioning them. Without parental oversight, your teen could talk to strangers, share private details, and discuss mature content. A long-term habit can easily increase the risk of online abuse, invasion of privacy, and exposure to age-restricted content.

Unsupervised Access to Everything

With active parental controls, teens avoid searching for mature content or using dating apps even if they are curious. However, a burner phone gives them unfiltered and unsupervised access to age-restricted content on apps such as Snapchat, Kik, and Tinder. Most teens can even visit websites with adult pictures and videos.

Potential Online Dangers

Apart from cyberbullying, burner phones make teens vulnerable to other online threats, such as scams, phishing attempts, and malware. Without any security software or antivirus in the burner phone, a teen can download malicious apps and click on suspicious links. Even unintentionally, your teen may share sensitive information that online predators often use as blackmail.

Alternate Numbers Parents are Unaware Of

With advancements in digital technology and mobile applications, burner phones have also advanced. Certain burner phone apps allow teens to get disposable numbers to send messages, make calls, and do other online activities. The fact that teens can make alternate numbers and use them without their parent’s knowledge or supervision is concerning.

How to Know Your Teen is Using a Burner Phone

Considering your teen already has a personal phone, you may not think they own or use a burner phone. However, notice the difference in their screen time and eagerness to use a cell phone.

For example, if they were active on Facebook for 3-4 hours a day and then recently got down to 1 hour or less, they may be active on a burner phone. A decrease in data consumption can also indicate the use of another device.

Ways to Prevent Your Teen from Burner Phone

Discovering that your teen uses a burner phone can be tricky and challenging. However, approaching this issue with understanding and openly discussing this complex topic can make it easy.

Here are some of the steps you need to take:

Have a Discussion

The first step is openly and honestly discussing the issue with your teen. Parents can often make conclusions and accusations beforehand, preventing the kids from opening up. You must approach this situation with caution and a hint of curiosity rather than anger.

Ask them why they buy a burner phone and listen before making any judgment. By mutually discussing the issue, you can reach a meaningful conclusion.

Consider Using a Child Monitoring App

Think of additional monitoring options. Because standard parental controls come with limited options, teens can easily bypass them. Install a monitoring app such as XNSPY that offers myriad features to monitor the kid’s phone usage and online activity.

These features help you determine your child’s behavioral pattern. The app will scan the phone for unusual or online activity and even send timely alerts to the parents.

XNSPY has an exclusive screen time feature, giving you a holistic view of the apps your teen uses and their time on each. You also get added visibility on the messages and content they consume. Identifying potential risks and addressing them before they negatively affect the teen is necessary.

Educate the Teen about Digital Safety

Teenage is a crucial stage when most kids will do things as they wish and not think or care about the results. Educating your teen in today’s risky digital space is one of the best ways to keep them safe.

Tell them about online abuse, the effects of viewing mature content, and the results of sharing private information. Encourage the teen to report any unfortunate incident or concerns they have to you. Also, model a digital persona that the child follows and leaves a positive influence on them.

Closing Thoughts

Managing the kids’ use of digital devices is deemed the most significant challenge by every parent. Burner phones are just another tech-related issue that parents must deal with.

Teens, by instinct, want to be assertive and make their own rules. They think parental controls limit their access to digital tech usage.

A burner phone is just the secondary device teens look for to hide their online activities and keep their conversations private.

However, teens lack the maturity to understand the risks of owning and using a burner phone. You must employ a child monitoring app on the teen’s primary phone to know about their digital habits. Any change in their online pattern is a tell-tale sign that they are actively using a burner phone. Openly discuss why they use a burner phone and educate them on why it is unsafe.