Landlines still trump Web for teen chitchat

A Pew survey shows the Web is becoming more central to teen life but hasn't yet replaced the phone as the preferred conduit of gossip.

Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
Alorie Gilbert
3 min read
Teenagers may be among the most voracious users of cell phone text and instant messaging in the country, but most still prefer landline phones to communicate with friends, according to a new study.

That was one of a number of curious findings from a survey of 1,100 U.S. teens ages 12 to 17 and their parents conducted last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The group released a report on the survey on Wednesday.

The study also found that teenage girls ages 15 to 17 are the "power users" of the Web among online teens. Ninety-seven percent--a full 10 percent more than boys their age--have used instant messaging. Fifty-seven percent have sent text messages, compared with 40 percent of boys their age. Just over half have purchased something online, and they are more likely to search the Web for information about schools, health and entertainment than boys are.

While it should come as no surprise that teenage girls use the Web to socialize, the statistics reveal a less expected finding--youth with a more intense interest in the Internet are often more social than those who aren't online.

"I think there is this real myth of teenagers becoming socially isolated" online, said Amanda Lenhart, researcher and co-author of the report. "We have some findings that suggest that teen Internet users are more connected. They spend more time face-to-face than non-Internet users. They seem to have more friends and spend more time with them. The Internet is not necessarily taking people away from their social lives."

But why do teenagers, even those with mobile phones, gravitate to landline phones? Lenhart's best guess is that teens are trying to conserve mobile phone minutes. "They're actually being quite savvy," Lenhart said. "Landline service is generally paid for by parents."

Some teenagers also report a few downsides to online life, where information is so free-flowing. One in five reported friends had forwarded private e-mail or instant messages to others, Lenhart said. Another recent survey of children in Britain showed that classroom bullies consider the Web another weapon in their arsenal, with one in five children reporting they've been harassed by their peers via mobile phone or computer.

Yet such problems do not appear to be slowing teenagers' appetite for the Internet. Eighty-seven percent of American teenagers--about 21 million of them--are online, according to the Pew survey. That's up 24 percent from four years ago. Half of those who use the Web do so every day, the survey indicated.

Slightly more than half of online teens live in homes with high-speed Internet service, the report said. Over the past four years, significantly more teens go online to play games, get news and shop. Eighty-four percent report owning a personal computer, cell phone or BlackBerry, with personal computers among the most widespread.

Seventy-five percent of online teens use instant-messaging programs, while one-third have sent a text message via mobile phone. Most access the Internet at home, with school and friends' and relatives' houses close behind.

Just wait until these teenagers enter the work force, Lenhart said. Questions of work-life balance may only intensify.

"Teens will bring these things into the workplace more than they already are," she said. "Teens have the expectation of always being online and constantly connected. What does that mean for the future? What's reasonable? What does a vacation mean if you're attached to your BlackBerry all the time?"