How to Find Hidden Apps on a Teen's Phone

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How to Find Hidden Apps on a Teen's Phone

January 25, 2021
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Table of Contents

For parents concerned about their kid's online activities, it’s crucial to know what apps out there really ought to be avoided. But once you’ve decided a certain app is off-limits, what happens next? It turns out that when it comes to apps installed on a teen's phone, it's sometimes more than meets the eye. In this video, SmartSocial.com Founder, Josh Ochs, outlines how to find hidden apps on a teen's phone and demonstrates a few simple steps you can use at home.

The Wall Street Journal headline: Pandemic brings out kids' sneaky side: forbidden Apps, Burner Phones.  Socially isolated and bored, kids are finding workarounds to parental controls on their devices; experts say parents have been doing it wrong.
One night [a mom] walked into [her 14 year-old son's] room and saw him hide something under his covers. It was her old phone, which still worked on Wi-Fi. Her son had created a new Apple ID to gain unrestricted access to Snapchat, and to download social apps that help people make new Snapchat friends. Wall Street Journal

Reasons why tweens and teens might hide apps

  • To discreetly use social media accounts or dating apps
  • For hiding text messages and online chats
  • To conceal pictures or videos
  • For hiding online games
  • To prevent parents from knowing how long they are really using their devices

How can an app be “hidden?"

Instagram is Hidden in Navigation Folder screenshot
The Instagram app is hidden inside a folder titled "Navigation"
  1. Bury an app in a folder on an iPhone:
  • Drag the unwanted app on top of another app, creating a new folder
  • Hold down the app you want to hide and move it right to create a second page in the same folder
  • Drag it right again onto a third page... and so on.
  • Hit the Home button. You will now see a folder with only one app visible. The other app, hidden on the other page, is now completely out of view
Hide App from Search and Siri screenshot
The Fortnite app is hidden from Siri & Search

2. Hide an app from Spotlight Search and Siri:

  • Open Settings
  • Tap Siri & Search
  • Scroll down to the app section and select the app you want to hide
  • Toggle off Learn from this App
  • Turn off Show in Search
  • Toggle off Show App

We asked parents, educators, counselors, and safety experts to weigh in on how kids hide apps on their devices.  Their advice includes tools, resources, strategies, and more to help you monitor your kid and find those hidden apps on their phones.

The good news: There are ways to find hidden apps on a teen's phone

Spotlight Search screenshot
Spotlight Search
  1. Go to Settings and scroll down to see all the apps installed on the phone
  2. Use Spotlight Search: Go to the Home page and type the app's name into the Spotlight Search for the app. If it’s installed on the phone, and has not been hidden from Settings, it will appear
  3. Check the iOS App Store: This is a great source of information about your kid’s current or previous app usage. Do a quick search for the app you’re concerned about and see what icon appears to the right
  • Get means the app hasn't been downloaded- just as you hoped
  • Open means that app is already installed
  • If the app icon shows a cloud, the app has been downloaded on the device, then deleted
  • For many parents, knowing that an off-limits app was ever downloaded at all is a good reason to open a dialog about their concerns and/or rules regarding the app

Students can hide previously downloaded apps in the iOS App Store, but you can find them

Snapchat in the Apple App Store showing download Cloud
The cloud icon indicates Snapchat was previously downloaded, then deleted

Hide App in App Store screenshot
Swipe left to hide an app that was downloaded in the App Store

To hide an an app from your App Store Purchase History:

  • Open the App Store
  • Tap on the profile icon or your photo in the upper right corner
  • Click Purchased
  • Tap My Purchases, then find the app you want to hide
  • Swipe left on the app
  • Tap Hide

To find an app that's hidden from your App Store Purchase History:

Hidden Purchase Folder in App Store screenshot
Hidden Purchases are in your App Store Account Settings
  • Open the App Store
  • Tap on the profile icon or your photo in the upper right corner
  • Tap on your Apple ID. You may need to enter your Apple ID password. Use Face or Touch ID if prompted
  • Tap Hidden Purchases

    *This only works if you have enabled Family Sharing or if you know your teen's Apple ID

Talk to your students about app dangers

  • Stay engaged and know each of the apps your child is using
  • Bookmark our Guide to 100+ Popular Teen Apps to determine if each app is safe
  • Talk with your student about what they are doing and who they are chatting with on each app
  • Discuss the dangers of engaging in risky online behaviors
  • Have everyone in your family sign a Family Social Media Agreement. It gives kids a glance at their own responsibilities as internet users and reminds them that using social media in a negative way comes with consequences
  • Maintain an open dialog about apps and remind your kids they can always come to you if they have any questions or concerns about anything they experience online

Use built-in tools to prevent children from downloading dangerous apps

5 expert tips for looking for hidden apps

1. Check for buried apps or for applications downloaded that hides applications

John Ross headshot
John Ross

John Ross, President & CEO, Test Prep Insight

Kids hide apps on their phones in a couple of ways. This can either be technical in nature, with kids actually burying the app they are trying to hide within another app, such as Privault-Hide or Nova Launcher. Locking apps of this nature tend to look like the standard calculator app on your phone, but really hide photos, apps, and other data.

Another less technical way they do it is to simply bury apps within folders. I've seen kids download tons of useless and unnecessary apps on their phone to purposefully clutter up the screen and then folder them all together for the sole purpose of hiding apps they're not supposed to have.

The easiest and most effective means of restricting what apps a child can download and use on their phone is through parental controls. Both iOS and Android devices each have parental controls that can be accessed from the main settings menus. These functions allow parents the opportunity to set limits on screen time, restrict time frames apps can be used, and prevent downloads of unwanted apps. In other words, it gives parents full control of their child's phone. However, while this is easy to set up, the much more difficult task is talking to your child about the controls. Trust is a huge factor in developing a healthy parent-child bond, and children need autonomy to develop life skills and independence. Violations of this trust can be particularly devastating to children.

The better approach is to have a discussion with your child about expectations around screen time, and what you feel is appropriate. Then each week you can review their weekly screen time report (which both devices provide) with them. Only if there are multiple violations week after week should you resort to total phone lockdown through parental control. Setting boundaries and expectations is a much healthier means of getting the desired result. It helps to build trust and let your child assume responsibility and accountability.

In terms of some off the wall ideas for controlling your kids' apps and their phone screen time, I'd suggest going tit for tat with them. And by that I mean if you are going to ask your child to put down their phone and not play games, you need to as well. There is nothing more unjust or hypocritical in a kid's eyes than if you ask them to put their phone away, and then while they're doing homework, you pull out your phone and scroll through Instagram or the news. Make a deal with them that for as long as their phone is down, yours will be too. Or even make a challenge out of it. Offer them concert tickets or a weeknight sleepover with friends if they can hit certain screentime goals.

2. Be sure to have an open dialogue with your child

Donna Tang headshot
Donna Tang

Donna Tang, Budgeting Expert, Credit Donkey

AppLocker:

Applocker is an application available on both Android and iOS. Applocker is an application that acts as a vault for other applications. Kids can hide their apps using Applocker. When parents see their phone, they will see the Applocker application but need a PIN code to access it.

Android devices even have a built-in feature to hide applications. When hidden from the settings, these apps are not seen in the app drawer and cannot be accessed; they can only be used when unhidden.

Dialog Tips:

Treating your children like friends is the only way you can get close to them. It takes time to build this relationship. Spend some time with your children every day talking to them about how their day went, how’s life at school, and about their hobbies and interests. These conversations will draw your child closer to you. Once they feel comfortable sharing things with you, you can casually ask them about how you think they are hiding something on their phone. You can tell them it’s okay to share, and they don’t have to hide anything from you. Upon sharing, you can take them to awareness campaigns about internet dangers or teach them yourself if you think that’s what they need.

3. Develop a positive relationship with your children allowing you to check their phone

Patrick Smith headshot
Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith, Editor-in-Chief, Fire Stick Tricks

There are several third-party app hiding apps available on the App Store and Play Store. These apps usually are named calculators, app launchers, or photo vaults, and they hide apps inside them. They have a pin or a specific type of calculation to unlock and reveal the apps hidden in their folders.

Parents keep a check on their activities on the phones by maintaining a friendly relationship with them. They need to eliminate the communication gap between them and their children and share everything with them. It begins by telling them about your daily activities and then asking them about their interests and activities. Make it two-way traffic so that the children trust you with their privacy and let you check their phone now and then. This way, the kids will not have to hide an app on the phone.

4. Look for installed fake apps to deceive parents

Cale Loken headshot
Cale Loken

Cale Loken, CEO, 301consulting.com

There are mobile phone apps with deceiving icons that kids use to hide apps on their phones. These apps are designed as a clock, calculator, reminder, notes, or something similar which can hide the true identity of the app. Some of these commonly used apps by teenagers and even adults are Vault, Locker, Hide It Pro, and Calculator Vault.

However, you can have your kids open up about what they have hidden in their phones by conversing with them. One of the best ways to have your child open up about the hidden apps in their phones is to create awareness  about the dangers of the internet and misuse of data by mobile applications. Tell them how their privacy can be invaded if they engage in risky online behavior.

As for the strategy, if you have access to your child’s Apple ID and password, or have enabled Family Sharing, you can find out if they have any hidden apps. Simply open the App store, and go to the profile icon. Now tap on the Apple ID and enter the relevant details. After this just check into Hidden Purchases, to find out if there are any hidden apps. However, this strategy is only applicable for iOS devices.

5. Stay calm if you find unexpected content on your child’s phone and have a healthy conversation with them

Ethan Mays headshot
Ethan Mays

Ethan Mays, ActivePedal

The reason why children deliberately hide apps on their devices is that they don’t want parents to interfere with their private life, the contents like images, text messages, or online games for instance. However, they are too young to be aware of the positive and negative stuff of these applications.

When you find something unexpected on your kids’ phone, stay calm first. They are small without completed awareness. I advise that you should gently talk to them, discuss and explain to them about the consequences of using social media in a negative way. Try to maintain an open dialog for teens to come whenever they have any concerns.

Besides, if you still worry, install an app named MamaBear Peace of Mind Parenting which enables you to take control of all activities on kids’ mobile devices.

In conclusion, it is better if parents respect their kids’ privacy, you give them phones only when you trust them, otherwise, this kind of behavior will affect your relationship.

Conclusion

SmartSocial.com promotes awareness so parents have all the information they need to help their kids, teens, and students stay safe on social media so they can one day shine online.

Because hidden apps on a teen's phone are often used to conceal inappropriate content or behavior, it's important to be aware of and discuss each app your kid is using. Some of the apps might be dangerous and put your child at risk of encountering predators and bullies or damaging their digital footprint.

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