Teen Media Behavior; Texting, Talking, Socializing, TV Watching, Mobiling

Nielsen takes look at today's American teen, raised in an age dominated by media choices like never before, from the Internet to cable channels to web connected devices galore.

Kids Today...

  • Are the Heaviest Mobile Video Viewers: On average, mobile subscribers ages 12-17 watched 7 hours 13 minutes of mobile video a month in Q4 2010, compared to 4 hours 20 minutes for the general population
  • Are More Receptive to Mobile Advertising than their Elders: More than half (58%) surveyed in September 2010 said they "always" or "sometimes" look at mobile ads
  • Out-Text All Other Age Groups: In Q1 2011, teens 13-17 sent an average of 3,364 mobile texts per month, more than doubling the rate of the next most active texting demo, 18-24 year olds (1,640 texts per month)
  • Talk Less on the Phone: Besides seniors 65-plus, teens talk the least on their phones, talking an average of 515 minutes per month in Q1 2011 versus more than 750 minutes among 18-24 year olds
  • Grew Up in the Age of Social Media-and It Shows: While they make up just 7.4 percent of those using social networks, 78.7 percent of 12-17 year olds visited social networks or blogs
  • Watch Less TV than the General Population: The average American watched 34 hours 39 minutes of TV per week in Q4 2010, a year-over-year increase of two minutes. Teens age 12-17 watch the least amount of TV on average (23 hours 41 minutes per week)
  • Spend Less Time on their Computers: American 18 year olds averaged 39 hours, 50 minutes online from their home computers, of which 5 hours, 26 minutes was spent streaming online video

And some media myth breakers from Nielsen earlier studies. According to a report by Nielsen entitled "How Teens Use Media... myths and realities of teen media trends," the notion that teens are too busy texting and Twittering to be engaged with traditional media is exciting, but false. To develop the best strategy around teens and media focus on the macrolevel trends of media and preferences for the segment.

Ed note: Albiet contemporary but not current data in the ensuing report, its value rests in comparative materials and emerging trends. The data and insights in this report are compiled from a range of Nielsen resources including The Nielsen Company's Television, Online and Telecom practices, Nielsen IAG, Nielsen NRG, Nielsen Games, Nielsen Monitor-Plus, Scarborough Research and Nielsen's biannual global survey of consumers across 50 countries.

In this report, Nielsen chooses to debunk the myths and provide hard facts.

  • Teens are NOT abandoning TV for new media: In fact, they watch more TV than ever, up 6% over the past five years in the U.S.
  •  Teens love the Internet...but spend far less time browsing than adults: Teens spend 11 hours and 32 minutes per month online-far below the average of 29 hours and 15 minutes
  • Teens watch less online video than most adults, but the ads are highly engaging to them: Teens spend 35% less time watching online video than adults 25-34, but recall ads better when watching TV shows online than they do on television
  • Teens read newspapers, listen to the radio and even like advertising more than most: Teens who recall TV ads are 44% more likely to say they liked the ad 
  • Teens play video games, but are as excited about play-along music games and car-racing games as they are about violent ones: Just two of their top five most-anticipated games since 2005 are rated "Mature."
  •  Teens' favorite TV shows, top websites and genre preferences across media are mostly the same as those of their parents: For U.S. teens, American Idol was the top show in 2008, Google the top website and general dramas are a preferred TV genre for teens around the world.

In a word, teens are "normal," concludes the study.

The report is introduced with a snapshot of how a typical teen might spend a media day, based on a variety of Nielsen sources, both current and older. Of course, says the report, there is no "typical" teenage consumer, just as there is no typical consumer overall. The segmented behavior of extreme teen users, teens of different races or genders and teens in different regions, internationally and domestically, is poorly represented by averages. But what averages conceal in variation, they make up for it in perspective.

Media Consumption of a Typical U.S. Teenager


3 hours, 20 minutes


52 minutes including applications

Mobile Voice

6 minutes

Video on an MP3Player

1 in 4 watched


8 minutes


23 minutes


96 sent or received

Audio-Only MP3 Player

1 in 2 used


17 minutes

Online video

If they watched, watched 6 minutes

Mobile video

If they watched, watched for 13 minutes


1 in 4 read


Gaming 25 minutes

PC Games

1 in 10 played, today

Mobile Web

1 in 3 used

Movie Theater

Went once in the past 5 weeks

Source: The Nielsen Company, June 2011

Myth: Teens use media 10 screens at a time 

Reality: Teens are more likely than adults to use their media one at a time

Popular opinion is that teen media consumers are constantly surrounded by multiple media, but the image of the "typical" teen listening to an iPod, watching TV, texting and browsing the Internet all at the same time, it turns out, is grossly misrepresentative.

In 2007, In a 2007 Ball State University study, says the report, researchers found that 23% of the media time among observed teens was concurrent media exposure, where two or more media were in simultaneous use. Put differently, 77% of the time observed, teens were consuming media they were using just one at a time. This level of concurrent use is lower than Ball State researchers saw in the now famous Middletown Media Studies research, where 31% of adult media time was concurrent exposure.

Myth: Teens are abandoning TV for new media 

Reality: They're watching more TV than ever   

Hands down, television is still the dominant medium of choice for teenagers. Nielsen's most recent A2M2 Three Screen Report showed that the typical teen television viewer watched 104:24 (hh:mm) of television per month in the first quarter of 2009. While less than the average for all television viewers (153:27), it tops Nielsen estimates of teen Internet use over the course of a month (11:32).

Myth: U.S. teens are the world's couch potatoes 

Reality: South Africans and Indonesians take the prize 

Compared to teens in other markets where TV viewing is measured electronically by Nielsen, U.S. teens actually watch less television per day than most. In South Africa, teens averaged more than five hours per day of TV viewing. In Taiwan, teens averaged just two hours and 47 minutes.

Myth: Avid commercial skippers, teens favor the DVR 

Reality: Teens prefer their TV live 

35% percent of U.S. teens had a DVR in their household as of May 2009, comparable to total U.S. penetration (32%). Of those teens with a DVR, 41% say they record at least one program a day (compared to 54% of total TV viewers). The typical U.S. teen watched about eight minutes of DVR playback per day in 2008, less than the U.S. average of about 12 minutes.

Myth: Teens are driving the growth of online video 

Reality: They watch less online video than their elders 

Twelve million U.S. teens, or about two thirds of those online, watched online video in May 2009. Year over year, the audience grew 10% and the average number of minutes increased 79%: to three hours and six minutes per month. But the average teen still lags behind viewing of adults 18-24, adults 25-32 and adults 35-44. 

Monthly Time Spent Watching Online Videos by Age (hh:mm:ss; May 2009)

Age Group

Time Watching Video Online















Source: The Nielsen Company, June 2011

Myth: The only way to reach teens over their phone is texting

Reality: Teens text at incredible rates, but are early adopters of all mobile media 

Increasingly, the mobile phone plays a critical role in the media lives of teens. In the U.S., 77% of teens already have their own mobile phone. Another 11% say they regularly borrow one. Of all the mobile behaviors of teens, texting is most talked about. 83% of U.S. mobile teens use text-messaging and 56% use MMS/picture messaging. The average U.S. mobile teen now sends or receives an average of 2,899 text-messages per month compared to 191 calls. The average number of texts has gone up 566% in just two years, far surpassing the average number of calls, which has stayed nearly steady.

Myth: Teens are the biggest gamers of all 

Reality: Teens account for just 23% of the console audience and less than 10% of PC game minutes 

In the fourth quarter of 2008, teens 12-17 made up just 23% of the U.S. console gaming audience and they accounted for fewer than 10% of all of the PC game minutes played in a typical month. Though the gaming audience has broadened, console, PC and handheld gaming still plays a prominent role in the media lives of teens.

Myth: Most advertising to teens is for junk-food and entertainment

Reality: Advertisers are more likely to target teens with messages about health and beauty

Analyzing the top advertising spenders in 2008 across 14 teen-centric magazines in the U.S., the highest concentration of advertising to teens is around "image" products such as apparel and beauty. All together, Nielsen estimates that more than $240 million were spent across these 14 teen magazines in 2008. Apparel advertisers spent the largest share, $40 million. 

Top Advertiser Categories in Teen Magazines

Product Category

2008-$$$ (Millions)



Fragrances women


Entertainment software


Sporting footwear














Total (among these categories)


Total (within these publications)


Source: The Nielsen Company, June 2011


Please visit Nielsen here for the current review.

1 comment about "Teen Media Behavior; Texting, Talking, Socializing, TV Watching, Mobiling".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Helene Kremer from L'esprit de Vin, June 23, 2011 at 6:46 p.m.

    Mobile and social network marketing aside, these are frightening stats in that these kids are texting while driving also. We need to get PSAs out that they need to put the phone down when they learn how to drive/are driving.

Next story loading loading..