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The Issue

The widespread use of smartphones helps users stay connected, but also raises privacy concerns. According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online “almost constantly’.1

Smartphone apps let teens go online, watch videos, and game with friends, but teens most commonly use their phones to send and receive text messages. Additional Pew research notes that teens reserve voice calls for their closest friends and prefer to use text messages for newer friends and acquaintances. The research also suggests that the omnipresence of smartphones helps strengthen friendships, with 62% of smartphone-owning teens reporting that texting allows them to keep in closer contact with close friends. Additionally, having internet access via a smartphone may help teens make and maintain new friendships, with 57% reporting having made new friends online.2

Of course, near constant connectivity also poses a unique set of risks, for example, cyberbullying. Another risk that has gained national attention is sexting and sextortion. The ubiquity of cellphones has given rise to sexting as a way for teens to explore their sexuality, though in some cases these images are used against the sender as sexual blackmail.

Additionally, as most smartphones have GPS technology, users may unintentionally share their locations with the public. If a users’ photos have GPS location-tags or if a user “checks-in” to restaurants, airports, new cities, etc., friends and followers can see exactly where that person is or has been. Each smartphone brand or model may have a different way to turn off location-tracking services. Check the settings on your child’s phone, paying attention to which applications can access location data. 

By the Numbers

97% of American girls, and

95% of American boys today have access to a smartphone.

In 2015, the average teen sent and recieved 67 text messages per day.

The average age at which a child gets a cellphone in the U.S. is 10 years old.3 

How to Talk About It

Cellphones have changed the way we communicate. Help children and teens be safer and smarter while using their phones.

  • What do you use your phone for the most? Can you show me some of your favorite apps?
  • Do you know everyone you have as a contact in your phone and on different apps?
  • Has anyone ever taken an embarrassing picture of you without your permission?
  • Have you ever taken an embarrassing picture of someone else? What did you do with it?
  • Have you ever talked with someone you first met online on your cellphone?
  • What would you do if someone sent you a text or picture that was inappropriate?
  • Do you know how to turn off GPS and turn on privacy settings for the different apps you use? 


  • Expectations and guidance for when children are allowed to use their cellphones, what websites they can visit, and what apps they can download.
  • The important of privacy. Know an app’s purpose before your child downloads it. Who are the users? What type of privacy settings are available?
  • The idea that anything a user sends from their phones can be easily forwarded and shared.
  • The possible consequences of sending sexually explicit or provocative images or text messages with their phones.


Some teens say and do terrible things to each other online because they don’t see the direct effects of their actions. So what should you do if you’re cyberbullied?

Are you a parent or guardian looking for on-demand trainings related to prevention education? Check out NCMEC’s virtual child safety series, Parent Connect, available for free on NCMEC CONNECT. Topics include cyberbullying, online enticement, livestreaming, gaming, sexting, and more! 


[1] Pew Research Center, May 2018, “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018”

[2] Lenhart, Amanda, Pew Research Center, April 2015, “Teen, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015”