The Dreadful Return of the Burner Phone

The Dreadful Return of the Burner Phone

Remember the 90’s???  They’ are back…. 

Teens have turned to burner phones when devices are revoked to maintain the active status among friends and avoid FOMO (the fear of missing out).  

What is a burner phone and how do your teens get one? 

Burner phones are pre-paid phones that can be disposed of after they have been used. They can only be used on wifi, and contain a phone number that cannot be traced. The low cost and anonymity of burner phones are what attract teenagers to use them. 

Teens usually turn to a second device when their regular one has been taken away. 

For the purpose of maintaining privacy, having a back-up device, or a pre-paid plan without a contract, many retailers sell these devices. Options include prepaid or pay as you go. Burner phones are not the only answer. Numerous apps available on the app store allow people to message or call from a temporary phone number. Examples of these apps are Hushed, Burner and more. Previously used phones that have not been discarded are often used as well.  

Why a burner phone?

Phones are considered a lifeline in the society of today’s youth.  When a device is taken away as a punishment, teenagers don’t know how to cope with lost access to their networks, inability to stay engaged or maintain their followers.   

The Pew Research Center conducted a study in 2018 that showed, 56% of teens feel lonely, anxious or upset without their cellphones. With feelings brought on by the loss of a cellular device, teenagers will go out of their way to not feel that way. 

Certain schools require students to check in their technology when they enter the building for the day. Burner phones allow students to check in their regular device to avoid getting in trouble and use the second device throughout the day.  Kids are accessing these devices through their peers, who are selling burner phones out of their lockers at school. 

A popular reason teenagers turn to these disposable devices is to hide activities their parents wouldn’t approve of such as gaining access to drugs or alcohol or pursuing sexual or romantic relationships. The use of a second phone may also be a way for students to keep secret accounts hidden on social media. A finstagram or sinstagram are examples of these accounts. 

How do you know your teen has a burner phone?
  • Not asking for their phone- When you take a cellphone away from a teenager, typically they are highly concerned about when they will receive it back.  When they stop asking or seem not to be concerned with the consequences of getting their phone taken away, they may have access to another device.
  • Wifi Connection- Look for an unknown device using your home wifi network. You can do this by checking the router’s activity log which shows the IP addresses and browser histories of devices operating under the wifi network. 
  • Look for a low in data- Review with your carrier the monthly data usage from each device. If your teenager’s data seems to drastically dip from one month to another, they could be using a burner phone. 
What can you do?
  • Be consistent with rules- Consistency means credibility. If rules have been set in your household, be sure to follow through with them. Rules should apply to all family members to guarantee them being viewed as equal or fair. A good way to do this is through a cell phone contract. Within the contract, state the rules you wish for your child to follow and state the results if they choose not to follow. 
  • Set boundaries-  Encourage a set of values that will mirror a teenager’s online presence. Make them question, “Does this align with who I want people to see me as?” 
  • Reward Honesty- Make it known that if your children make a mistake online, they can come to you without fear of serious repercussions.  By building their trust, this will enable the child to be more open with you about their online activities. 
  • Getting devices out of the home- Old devices no longer in use should either be turned into your carrier or should be recycled for materials. Be sure to clean them up first and remove any photos or personal information.  Cellular phones only need wifi to work and teenagers can reactivate an old device to replace their current one. 

Need a copy of the SGS Digital Family Planner to help establish boundaries in the home?   Request one here!  


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