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Written by Tony Bianco

Teenagers spend hours each day with their faces buried in screens jumping from app to app. Streaming, FaceTime, and Vlogs are normal things for the Generation Z teenager because technology has always been part of their life. As a result, parents often find themselves playing catch-up when it comes to managing the screens in their home.

Even the most top-notch, tech-savvy parent is often outsmarted by their teenager’s ability to “workaround” the monitoring and parental controls put in place. That’s why it’s key for parents to know what to look for to stay one step ahead of their screen-ager.

Keep reading to get the inside scoop on the teenager tech scene and gain an edge for parenting in the digital age! 

ADDITIONAL EMAILS = ADDITIONAL ACCESS

Creating an additional email account is one of the easiest and fastest tasks to accomplish online. It also opens the door to a host of online opportunities for teenagers such as unmonitored screen time and private social media accounts. That’s why open communication with teenagers about the expectations of screen use is critical.

If they know the expectations, understand the parent’s desire to keep them safe, and realize that their parents know the “tricks,” then they are less likely to create these additional accounts.

To investigate and keep tabs on all accounts, parents can go to the Settings>Accounts section and review the list of email accounts connected to the device. The device must be physically in hand to fully audit the device’s content.

FINSTA = SOCIAL MEDIA FREEDOM (FREEDOM TO EXPRESS)

What is a finsta? Well-known to most teenagers, a finsta is a fake Instagram account.  This is one of the reasons teenagers try to obtain that additional email address. Not all finstas are used in harmful ways. Some students create a fake account for online contests, school or personal blogs, or to provide a platform for “other” content to preserve their “official” account.

However, these accounts may also be used to view or post material that would not meet parental approval. The easiest way to check for a Finsta account is to open Instagram and click on the lower right icon (the profile tab) to launch the profile page. The username is located at the top of the screen.

Once selected, a list of accounts associated with the phone will be visible. It’s wise to check all devices used by the teenager as they could use different accounts on different devices. As always, open communication is imperative whether or not a fake account is discovered.

Often, teenagers who create additional accounts may struggle with low self-esteem or be dealing with bullying or a difficult relationship. Parents should not assume the worst, but rather have a conversation about the dangers of finsta accounts. 

MULTIPLE CALCULATORS =/= MATH GENIUS

How many calculators does one smartphone-wielding teenager need? One. Just one.  There are several apps available that are named “Calculator” or something similar.

These apps may look like calculators on the surface, but they actually provide a way to hide files, photos, and videos in a secret file storage space. When first downloaded, the user selects a secret passcode using the calculator buttons. After set-up, users can add files to the hidden vault by typing in a calculator equation passcode.

Content in the secret vault is usually inappropriate content that teenagers do not want anyone to discover. To investigate, parents can review the apps downloaded on the phone.

If more than one “calculator” is present, check the name of the app, and then check it out in the App Store to determine what the app does. It’s the best way to determine whether the teenager is hiding content or is a budding math genius.

PRIVATE BROWSING = HIDDEN SEARCHES 

Many web browsers have a “private searching” mode. These settings were designed for people who share a computer and web history to keep something hidden from the other user. Think birthday gifts or a surprise anniversary trip or Christmas shopping.

However, private searches are also used to view inappropriate content without a web history trail as evidence. Fortunately, there are safe search web browsers that can be downloaded and added to any device. These secure search browsers contain built-in parental controls and zero “private browsing” features.

Another option is to take advantage of the parental controls feature on the device. Just remove any web browser that should not be used.

A good policy to establish is to only allow web browsing in open areas and never behind closed doors. Keeping students in the open while web browsing makes them less likely to view things they shouldn’t.

All of these workarounds and scenarios sound scary. However, the best advice parents can heed is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

A proactive parent knows these things are available and puts safeguards in place to better care and lead their family.

Remember, just because these activities are common among teenagers does not mean your teenager is doing them. Ultimately, the best way to combat sneaky suspects is to have an open conversation, be active and aware online, and establish boundaries and expectations for online safety and security.

TONY BIANCO has been in Student Ministry for 10+ years with his wife Diamend with whom they have two amazing kids. He is a former Radio DJ, Technology Reviewer, GameStop Manager, Apple Store Expert, and the author of The Family Technology Plan. www.familytechnologyplan.com