Classroom Technology

New Research Reveals Teens’ Near-Constant Use of Online Sites, Tools

By Audrey Armitage — April 21, 2015 2 min read
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A new nationwide survey from Pew Research Center reveals that 24 percent of teens ages 13-17 say they are online “almost constantly,” and 92 percent go online daily.

According to the survey, 73 percent of teens surveyed have a smartphone, while only 12 percent have no cellphone of any kind.

The boost in smartphone ownership and increased time spent on the Web represents “a major change” in teens’ connectivity and phone habits, said lead researcher Amanda Lenhart, in an interview. Nine out of 10 teens use a mobile device to go online, the survey concluded.

The number of teens with smartphones is significantly greater than has been shown in previous research; in 2012, just one-third of teens surveyed owned a smartphone. Lenhart said researchers were initially surprised at how high the percentage of teens in possession of these devices has grown.

The survey also uncovered several demographic differences in the types of devices teenagers own.

African-American teens were found to be more likely to have smartphones, with 85 percent owning those hand-held devices, compared to 71 percent of both white and Hispanic teens, respectively, who owned those tools. However, 91 percent of white and upper-income teens have access to a desktop or laptop, while roughly eight in 10 African-American, Hispanic, and middle- and lower-income teens reported access to these devices.

According to Lenhart, these findings are similar to adult patterns in smartphone ownership. Because of their relatively low up-front costs, and maintenance costs over time, families may rely on smartphones as a sort of “digital Swiss-army knife” rather than choosing to buy more expensive desktops and laptops, Lenhart said.

While the survey found that Facebook remains the “dominant social media platform for American teens,” with 71 percent of teens using the social media site. Lenhart also highlighted increasing “diversification of social media platforms.” Seven in ten teens now use more than one social media app, such as Instagram, which is used by 52 percent of teens, and SnapChat, which is used by 41 percent.

The researchers also discovered a socioeconomic component to social media use, explained Lenhart: more lower-income teens describe Facebook as their most frequently used social media platform, while middle- and upper-income teens more likely to use smartphone-based apps like SnapChat and Twitter.

Notable gender differences appeared in the findings as well, with boys more likely to primarily use Facebook, while girls gravitated towards “visually-oriented” apps such as Instagram, SnapChat, and Tumblr, Lenhart said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.