Mobile devices often get accused of alienating people from the world around them. But for U.S. teens, cell phones (especially text messaging) are a key way to stay connected with friends and other people in their lives, according to new research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Pew found that 63% of all teens say they exchange text messages every day with people in their lives, including their parents. Also, nearly half of all teens send and receive text messages with friends daily.
In contrast, 28% teens say they never text their friends — but then, 23% of teens don’t have a cell phone at all.
For teens, cell phones appear to correlate with social privilege. Nearly 90% of older teens (aged 14-17) have a cell phone, while just under 60% of 12- to 13-year-olds have a cell phone. White teens are most likely to have a cell phone (81%), vs. 72% of black teens and 63% of Hispanic teens.
More than 90% of teens from households earning $75,000 or more annually have a cell phone, compared with 62% of teens from households earning less than $30,000 per year. Also, teens who live in the suburbs or whose parents graduated from college are most likely to have a cell phone.
Only about one in four U.S. teens currently uses a smartphone, says Pew, in contrast to about 46% of U.S. adults. Interestingly, Pew found that smartphone-using teens are slightly less likely than teens with simpler feature phones to have recently used a computer to access the Internet. However, teens with smartphones also are “substantially more likely than other teens to have used a tablet computer to go online in the last 30 days.”
Teen girls (78%) slightly outnumber teen boys (78%) for cell phone ownership. And older teen girls tend to send and receive the most texts: a median of 100 per day. That said, teen boys now send 60% more texts daily than they did in 2009.
Just over one-third of all parents of cell phone-using teens report using parental controls to help them manage their kids’ cell phone use. These controls can include limits on which websites they can access, which apps they can download and limits on the amount or hours of texting.
If their teens have simpler feature phones (rather than smartphones), parents are more likely to enable these controls.
What aren’t teens doing with their cell phones? E-mail and instant messaging, which lag in popularity behind texting.
“Increasingly, teens do not have the capability or the interest in exchanging instant messages or exchanging e-mail,” Pew notes. “Nearly two in five teens say they never or cannot exchange instant messaging, and another 39% of teens say they never exchange e-mail.”