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Cell Phone Safety for Autistic and Neurodiverse Populations

In the age of the smartphone, we have nearly everything at our fingertips. Communication, shopping, photos of great memories, work, and so much more. The utility of the smartphone also means that nearly every teenager has one or has access to one.

The tradeoff for this convenience, for all of us and not just teenagers, is the increased exposure to cybersecurity risks.

Moving so much of our lives onto the internet has recruited a wide range of wrongdoers who are looking to pull a fast one, make a quick buck, and, sometimes, do someone harm.

Luckily, the smartphone, and the connectivity it provides, don’t need to be seen as threats. There are things you can do to help your teenager stay safe while they are on their smartphone, giving them their freedom and you some sleep.

Teenagers and Their Smartphones

To give you an idea of why this is so important, consider these stats:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5]

As you can see, the threats are very real. Not only do people seem to be targeting children more and more, but it doesn’t seem to matter that teenagers are generally more comfortable with technology. All the more reason to take the time to educate them and implement some security measures that will help keep them safe.

The Dangers Teens Face on Their Smartphones

The first part of keeping your teenager safe while on their smartphones is understanding the various threats they face. Knowing what’s out there, and how easy it can be for cybercriminals to do their dirty work, will help you explain to your teenager why they need to pay attention to these security measures and take them seriously.

In general, a little bit of awareness about cybersecurity goes a long way. But thanks to the ingenuity of today’s hackers and scammers, there are quite a few things you need to teach your teenager to avoid.

Sharing Too Much Information

One of the biggest threats teenagers face when they are using their smartphones is actually themselves, or at least their naivete about what happens to the information they share on their smartphones. This can lead them to give up too much, such as photos or videos, or even their address or location.

We must remember that teenagers, while they like to think they are adults, are still children. Their lack of experience in the world can be manipulated, and so you need to work to help your child develop a guarded attitude when they’re on their phones. They should always think twice about what they’re sending and to whom.

The consequences for oversharing can range from very little to very large, bringing about things such as identity theft. Fortunately, you can avert these dangers by helping your teens develop good habits.


One of the most common types of scams out there, phishing occurs when a hacker tries to get people to give over their information, usually credit card information or login, willingly.

They do this by creating emails and other messages meant to look like those sent by legitimate sites, mainly ones with which you have an account.

For example, you might get an email that looks like it’s from Netflix telling you there’s a problem with your account and to enter your credit card information to avoid cancellation. If this is indeed fake, you’ve just handed over this sensitive data to someone you don’t know and can’t trust.

SMishing is the same tactic except the hackers use text messages instead of email.

To stay safe from phishing attempts, get your teen to do the following:


Malware is a catchall term for several different types of software that can do you harm.

The two most common are spyware, which will, as the name suggests, spy on your activity to hopefully steal your information, and ransomware, which will take your phone hostage until you give up the information it wants, usually by paying some money.

Malware gets onto your phone when you click a link that starts the download. It can come in the form of a phishing attempt, or it can come from somewhere else.

For example, a lot of “less than legal” streaming sites are littered with pop-up ads that aren’t regulated. If your teenager is watching a movie or TV show, they can all too easily click on a link that gives them a bad piece of software.

It used to be that smartphones weren’t targeted for malware, but this is no longer the case. Educate your child on how to spot shady websites and encourage them to stay away from such places at all costs.

Identity Theft

Another big risk teenagers face is having their identities stolen. Children are often targeted for this simply because they don’t know any better, and also because people are often paying less attention to a child’s personal identity information.

Sometimes, kids have their identity stolen and don’t even know it. It’s not until later in life when they go to apply for a loan or a credit card and get denied because of their credit history, which has been tainted by the cybercriminal who stole their identity.

Of course, this isn’t all that common. But it does happen, and you need to make sure your teenager knows the risks.

In most cases, this will happen when your teenager decides to give over their personal information, usually their social security number. If your teenager knows this off-hand, make sure they know how private it is, and remind them to never share it with anyone, or to ask before they do.


Although less financially threatening, kids also face threats online in the form of cyberbullying, either as perpetrators or victims.

Cyberbullying is an attempt to harm someone, either physically, mentally, or emotionally, over a digital medium, such as texting, social media, video games, etc.

Many kids report witnessing cyberbullying, yet very few report it, leaving the victims to suffer in silence. Encourage your teenager to say something if they see something, but also look for signs they might be a victim themselves. They may start avoiding their device, hiding it, withdrawing from social activity, or begin getting anxious about going to school. The effects of this can be quite harmful, so make sure they feel comfortable talking to you.

However, it’s also possible that your teenager could be taking part in cyberbullying without really knowing it.

Writing and posting stuff online can sometimes seem harmless, and they may not know what they are doing. But helping them understand what cyberbullying is and why it’s wrong can make it easier for them to self-correct their own behaviors, stay out of trouble, and have a more positive impact on others.

Online Shopping Scams

Millions of people worldwide fall victim to online shopping scams each year, and teenagers are not exempt.

Shopping scams usually come in the form of fake products. You see an ad or get an email for something that looks amazing, place an order, and then never receive a product. And since the company doesn’t exist, good luck trying to get your money back.

However, spotting these scams is similar to spotting phishing attacks. The websites are usually phony, and there should be some indication it’s not safe. Teach your teenagers to always be skeptical of where they are spending their money, and to do their due diligence before giving away their information.

Online Dating Scams

During your teens is when most people start to become at least somewhat interested in dating. Dances at school and pressure from peers can push kids towards romance whether they’re ready or not.

In most cases, online dating apps are not appropriate for teenagers. Once they are 18-years-old, they can technically start making accounts. But make sure to discuss with them what they are getting into before they do.

However, kids can still find a way around this, and if they do, they are exposing themselves to all sorts of risks. In addition to the horrors of sexual predators, online dating is also a major source of fraud and theft, to which teenagers are extra susceptible given their youth and overall lack of experience.

How to Keep Your Teenagers Safe While on their Smartphone

As you can see, there are several threats while your teenager is on their smartphone. But the good news is that there is plenty you can do to help them stay safe. Here are the most effective:

Start By Talking to Your Teen About Cybersecurity

The absolute best thing you can do with your teenager to keep them safe is to talk with them. The way to avoid most of the threats they face is awareness, which you can bring to them by having meaningful and regular conversations with them about their online habits.

Find out from them what they consider to be safe, what they are seeing when they are on their phones, and if they have any questions about what they should do. Whenever possible, consider doing something together on the phone to help build trust.

Depending on your relationship, this might be easy or super difficult. But for your teenager to truly remain safe, they need to be educated. For that to happen, you need to talk.

Help Them Set Up Privacy Settings

Talking is the foundation of teenage cybersecurity, but there are some tangible security measures you can implement that will help keep them safe as they learn and develop healthy phone habits. One of these is privacy settings.

These allow you to control what information gets shared and to whom. Make sure your teenager not only has these turned on but that they are set to the maximum. This should limit their ability to communicate and share with anyone who is not in their immediate friend network, which reduces the risk of them running into someone unsavory.

Get Them to Update their Software

Another important thing to do to stay safe on your phone is to keep your software up-to-date. Hackers are constantly working out new ways of getting past existing security firewalls so they can steal information. Phone and software companies respond by upgrading their product so that their defenses are more effective.

However, these upgrades are useless if you don’t actually download them and install them on your phone.

Typically, software upgrades come out around the same time for different phones on the same operating system.

So, if you have an iPhone and just went through an upgrade, there’s a good chance your kid’s iPhone is ready too. Ask them to make sure they accepted the update. If not, get them to do it and then show them how to set it to automatically install. This will ensure they are always up-to-date and fully secure.

Double Check Passwords and PINs

One of the most effective tools you have against cybercriminals is your passwords and PINs, both for your accounts and for your devices.

When it comes to device security, make sure your teenager has their phone set to lock when it’s not in use. This will require them to enter a pin every time they open it, keeping unwanted eyes out.

However, a PIN is about so much more than just keeping people out of your phone. It also protects you against unwanted software downloads.

These days, most phones (and laptops and tablets) will require you to verify downloads and installs before making changes to your computer. In many cases, it will do this through your PIN — if you’re already logged in, it will take this as a sign things are safe and it might bypass this step.

All of this is to say that if you don’t use a PIN, you are basically leaving the front door of your phone wide open.

Even better than a number, biometric security features such as Face ID and fingerprints make it even harder for someone from the outside to make changes on your phone, keeping you safe from most types of malware.

You also want to make sure your teenager has quality passwords set up on their accounts. This means no birthdays and no “123456.” Most places want you to include numbers, symbols, and capital letters to make passwords harder to guess, and while this makes things harder to remember, it’s a good idea that you and your teenager should follow.

Keep an Eye Out for Questionable Apps

Although you can and will do all you can to educate your teenager on the threats they face when using their phone, teenagers will still be, well, teenagers. They’re still going to try and get around the rules, and they’re still going to engage in risky behavior.

Your job as a parent is to try and be a little bit smarter and spot when your teenager is pushing the boundaries and putting themselves at risk.

One thing to look out for with teenagers is apps that disguise their activity. Two of the big ones are Calculator% and Audio Manager/Hide it Pro.

Both look like totally normal apps, but when you click on them and enter a password, they bring you to files that cannot be found anywhere else on the phone.

Other apps include Snapchat and Wiki, which let you send photos and videos that get deleted automatically.

If you happen to spot one of these apps on your teenager’s phone, find out what they are doing with it and why.

Make sure they know the risks and don’t be afraid to set down some rules. There are apps you can use, such as mSpy, that will give you access to all images that go through social media apps. Try using conversation and trust first. But if you really fear for your teenager’s safety, there are other options.

Limit Screen Time

A very effective way to keep your teenagers safe while they are on their smartphones is to simply limit how much time they use them. Less time means less risk. And spending less time on the phone can’t really hurt them all that much, no matter how much they might protest.

Again, the best thing to do here is to talk. Educate your child on the need to develop healthy screen habits and why it’s good to step away and take a break, especially from social media.

If this doesn’t work, you can install apps or change settings that will limit how much time your teenager can spend on the phone. Again, this might not do wonders for the relationship. But it’s an option if you feel you have no other.

Consider Parental Controls

If all else fails and you really can’t trust your teenager to use their smartphone wisely and safely, but you can’t take it away, it might be time to bust out some parental controls.

On iPhones, you can access these right in the phone’s settings screen. If you have an Android, you will need to download the Google Family Link app. That will allow you to monitor what your kid does on their phone and also restrict certain activities, such as downloading apps or sharing images or videos.

In younger children, it’s a good idea to implement these anyway. However, this kind of surveillance rarely works with teenagers. But if the alternative is exposing them to unnecessary risk, then it’s a step you just might have to take.

Keep Your Teenagers Safe

As teenagers grow up and continue to assert their independence, keeping them safe becomes a full-time job. However, because they are older, you can use education and awareness to help them build up their defenses and use their smartphones safely and securely. And when this fails, there are always tools you can use to shore things up and keep your teenager completely safe.

This article was contributed by Cell Phone Deal. View the original at, and visit their website at


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