The love affair between teens and texting only grows deeper, according to the latest Pew Research Center report that looks at the phenomenon. More than half (54%) of American teens were text-messaging daily in September 2009, up from 38% eighteen months earlier. Overall, 72% of teens are now text-messagers.
Thumbing away on mobile devices has surpassed face-to-face contact, email, instant messaging and of course, voice calling as the main way that teens connect with their friends. The typical teenager sends and receives 50 or more messages per day, or 1,500 per month, and one in three send more than 100 texts a day.
Leading the way are older teen girls ages 14 to 17 -- averaging 100 messages a day -- with the youngest teen boys least enthralled with texting, averaging a mere 20 a day. With texting playing such a central role in kids' social lives, it's no surprise that their avid devotion to cell phones has created tensions with parents and within schools.
While most parents exert some measure of control over a child's mobile device -- checking what they're looking at and using it to monitor their whereabouts -- the Pew study found parental oversight had little impact on patterns of teen usage. Restricting text-messaging, however, did cut down on certain types of behavior including "sexting," the sending of sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images via text. A relatively small proportion of teens are involved in the notorious cell phone pastime, with 4% having sent sex-tinged messages and 15% having received them.
When it comes to communicating with parents, kids still rely on old-fashioned voice calling. Nearly 70% talk to their parents via cell phone at least once a day. Overall, teens typically make or receive 5 calls a day. Black teens exchange nearly seven calls a day compared to four for whites and five for Hispanics.
Like parents, schools have attempted to crack down on texting in class, seemingly to little avail. Pew found that 65% of cell-owning teens at schools that completely ban phones bring their phones to school every day, and 43% of all teens who take their phones to school text in class at least once a day.
On the upside, the research nonprofit said mobile phones help bridge the digital divide for less-privileged kids. In that vein, 21% of teens that wouldn't go online otherwise use their phone to access the Web. And 41% of teens in households earning less than $30,000 annually -- where only 70% in this category have a computer at home -- go online via their cell phone.
The report also notes that mobile isn't just about calling or texting, with teens taking advantage of phones' growing set of multimedia features. Taking and sharing pictures are the most popular non-voice or text activities, at 84% and 64%, respectively. Photo-sharing was followed closely by listening to music (60%), playing games (46%), exchanging videos (32%) and instant messaging (31%).
More than one in 10 (11%) buy things via mobile phone. Most don't yet have phones that support m-commerce. One things that teens aren't typically buying is a cell phone plan. Only 10% have individual contracts, and the vast majority (69%) use phones that are part of a family plan. The balance are on prepaid plans.
This Pew study was based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 800 teens ages 12 to 17 and their parents living in the continental U.S. as well as nine focus groups conducted in four U.S. cities in June and October 2009 with teens ages 12 to 18. The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.