It’s the Age of Teen Texting

If you have in your head the stereotype of a teenager yacking away on a cell phone, it’s time to replace it. A more accurate picture, according to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, would show a teen texting away on a cell phone.

Noting that 75 percent of teens now have their own cell phone, the report stresses that texting has surged in importance even as the use of other communications channels has remained pretty flat. For instance, the proportion of teens who use a cell phone to text friends on a daily basis jumped from 27 percent in November 2006 to 54 percent last September (when the polling of 12-17-year-olds was completed). By comparison, the proportion who call friends that often via cell inched up from 34 percent to 38 percent. Asked to cite the functions for which they use their cell phones, 88 percent included texting. Eighty-three percent use their cells to take pictures, 64 percent to exchange pictures, 60 percent to play music, 54 percent to record video, 46 percent to play games and 32 percent to exchange video.

Indeed, says the report, texting via cell phone has become “the preferred channel of basic communication between teens and their friends.” Among teen cell users who text, three in 10 of them send 100 or more messages per day. Boys send and receive an average of 30 texts per day, while girls exchange an average of 80. A good thing for their bill-paying parents, then, that 75 percent of teen cell users have unlimited texting plans. Texting is so much a fixture of life that 48 percent of cell-owning teens use the phone to text their parents(!) at least once a day, including 24 percent who do so several times a day.

Another part of the survey asked the teens to say why they text and how often they text for various purposes. Winning the highest “several times a day” vote (51 percent) was “to just say hello and chat,” followed by “to report where you are or to check where someone else is” (28 percent), “to coordinate where you are physically meeting someone” (19 percent), “to exchange information privately” (17 percent) and “to have long conversations to discuss important personal matters” (15 percent). Notwithstanding what the teens may say to their parents, a mere 11 percent told the pollsters that they text several times a day “to do things related to your schoolwork.”

Of course, it’s not as though teens have given up on using cell phones to talk to people. Ninety-four percent of the survey’s teen cell owners said they use it to talk with friends. But the typical number of calls is vastly lower than the typical number of texts, with 58 percent of the teen cell owners making between one and five calls per day. And odds are good that there’s a parent on the other end of the conversation. Sixty-eight percent of the teens talk with their parents via cell phone at least once per day. Maybe they’re hoping mom and dad will enjoy this habit and let them keep the phone. After all, 62 percent of parents have taken a teen’s cell phone away for some time as a punishment.

As is the case with texting, girls are more communicative than boys when it comes to using the cell phone for talking. One sign of this: 40 percent of girls who have a cell said they use it to talk with friends several times a day, vs. 26 percent of boys.