By Anne Collier
Three-quarters of US 12-to-17-year-olds text on cellphones, and the volume of texts they send and received is now 60 a day for the median teen texter, up from 50 a day in 2009, according to a just-released study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Older teens [14-17], boys, and blacks are leading the increase,” Pew says, but “older girls remain the most enthusiastic texters, with a median of 100 texts a day in 2011” (when this survey was done). Texting has clearly passed up all other modes of communication for American teens: 39% do voice calling every day, compared to the 63% who text daily; 35% engage in face-to-face socializing outside of school; 29% messaging via social network site; 22% instant messaging; 19% talking on landlines; and 6% emailing. Among those who actually talk on the phone, Pew found that those who use landlines is declining quickly: 30% did in 2009, and now only 14% do, and 31% of teens say they never talk on a landline with friends. As for in-person socializing, it has “declined slightly to 25% from 33% in 2009,” Pew says, but “teens who say they talk with friends face-to-face outside of school several times a week has increased to 37% from 28% in 2009.” More than three-quarters (77%) of US teens now have cellphones and 23% smartphones.
So what do these numbers say? I think not a whole lot besides the fact that texting has replaced our favorite mode of communication when we were teens. Of course it also shows that we all have a lot more options to choose from – for matching communication mode to our intention for communicating (and what device is at hand) at any given moment. I’d like to see more research on why teens love texting so much, but most parents have their hunches: that it’s basically silent, so it allows for privacy, and texting conversations can happen virtually anywhere without anyone around know what’s being said. There’s nothing inherently negative about that, unless we choose to make it so. The volume of texting isn’t particularly negative in itself either, since each text is only a tiny piece of a typical conversation. Sixty texts a day could easily be just 2-3 conversations (and they can be a little asynchronous, which adds flexibility too). What we all need to be mindful of, probably, is the context of texting – most important, if it’s going on while driving, but also the various kinds of impact it’s having on the feelings of people around us during those private text-based conversations. Because the devices on which we text are mobile, the context is very fluid, so mindfulness needs to be too. Which is probably why parent-child conversations about the appropriateness of texting need to be contextual and thoughtful as well. [Here’s my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid’s coverage of the study at Forbes.com.]