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illustrated flip phone with warning sign next to it Kids and Technology

Burner Phones 101: What Parents Should Know

Haley Zapal  |  February 21, 2024

illustrated flip phone with warning sign next to it

If you’ve ever watched a movie featuring a character that throws away a cheap cell phone after using it — maybe a spy or bad guy — you’ve seen a burner phone. It’s a slang term that’s been around for a while, and many attribute its first use to an early 2000s show called The Wire

Burner phones, which are cheap, pre-paid mobile devices, have become a common fixture in modern life, and not just for criminal activities. They offer flexibility, a low price, no contract, and even minimal features on some models. 

But one of their most alluring features is that there is increased privacy with them, as they can be bought with cash and kept secret. This is why some kids buy burner phones even if they already have an iPhone or Android that was given to them by their parents. As you can probably guess, this presents a pretty big danger for teens and tweens.

In this post, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about these devices, and how you can tell if your kid may have one. 

What Is a Burner Phone?

A burner phone is any sort of prepaid, non-contract mobile device that’s easily acquired. You can buy them cheaply online or at stores like Best Buy and Walmart. Unlike going to a Verizon or T-Mobile store and spending hours signing up for a device and a plan, you can get a burner phone in a matter of seconds without having to register anything in your name. Kids can get them easily with a gift card or cash.

Types of Burner Phones

Many people may think that burner phones are only the $30 flip-phone, limited-internet type, but in reality, there are lots of different types. Searching online, a quick search for “prepaid phones” results in a wide variety of devices, including:

  • Kids’s phones
  • Flip phones (like a Nokia Tracfone)
  • Androids (both high and low-end models)
  • Recent iPhones

For many of these phones, you can pay month-by-month, or set an auto-renewal if you’re going to keep it for a while. Some have limited features (like talk and text only), while others operate exactly like a normal smartphone. 

The Dangers of a Second Phone

While we like to give kids the benefit of the doubt in a lot of cases, there really aren’t many above-board reasons for a child to have a burner phone (barring examples like situations of abuse or if a child feels they’re in danger). Here are just a few of the dangers a burner phone may pose.

Unmonitored access to nearly everything 

There’s a reason why a kid may want to buy a burner phone and secretly use it: because their parents will have absolutely no say in what they do on it. This could include unfiltered access to dangerous apps like Snapchat and Kik, as well as porn websites. 

Online predators

Burner phones can make kids feel like they can talk without their parents knowing, giving them a sense of privacy.  However, burner phones can become extremely dangerous tools if a child is being manipulated by an online predator. These devices encourage secrecy and prevent parents from finding out what’s really going on. Some predators may purchase a burner phone for a child for this very reason. 

Phone addiction

A burner device will also be free from set time limits, which could lead to all-night scrolling sessions — something many parents are super concerned about. When a kid is on their phone 24/7, it can affect their sleep and make it hard to focus during the day. Excess screen time can also contribute to mental health issues, especially when too much time is spent specifically on social media. 

How to Tell If Your Kid May Have a Burner Phone

If your child is using a burner phone privately, you may be wondering how you can tell if it’s happening. The most important thing to do is to keep an eye on their original phone’s usage. A dramatic decrease in data consumption may be a tell-tale sign that another device is being used instead. 

Also, look for specific dips in screen time — if they were using Instagram 2 hours a day and all of a sudden it goes down to zero or just a few minutes, the app may be being accessed on a burner phone. 

Bark can also help you figure out if your child is using a secret device! The Bark Home is an in-home filtering device that plugs into your router. When you set it up, you can tell what devices are connected to your Wi-Fi network. If you see a phone that you’ve never seen before, it could be a burner phone.

Beyond keeping an eye out for burner phones, Bark also helps with general online safety for your family. Bark’s monitoring technology — which comes with our downloadable app for children’s iOS and Android devices as well as our kid-focused Bark Phone — scans online activities like texts and social media for signs of potential dangers and sends parents important alerts. 

Bark helps families manage and protect their children’s digital lives.

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