Study: Teens prefer texting to talking

Text messaging outshines all other means of communicating on teens' cell phones, with one third of them texting more than 100 times a day.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Like previous generations, today's teens seem to be constantly on the phone. But now they're doing a lot more texting than talking.

One third of teens in the U.S. text more than 100 times a day, according to a study released Tuesday by Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Based on a survey and focus groups conducted with teenagers between 12 and 17, Pew found that text messaging is by far the most common way that kids communicate with each other, more than chatting on the phone, e-mailing, using social-networking sites, or talking face to face.

More than 75 percent of teens now own cell phones, notes Pew, up from just 45 percent in 2004. Around 72 percent of all teens, or 88 percent of teens who own mobile phones, use text messages to communicate. That marks a big jump from 2006 when only 51 percent of teens texted on their phones.

Among those 12 to 17 years old, half of them send 50 or more text messages a day, while 15 percent tap out more than 200 instant messages every day. Results vary by gender and age. On average, boys send and receive around 30 text messages each day, while girls send and receive around 80 per day. Older girls are the biggest texters, with those 14 to 17 sending out more than 100 messages a day. Younger kids ages 12 to 13 are lighter users, typically sending and receiving around 20 texts each day.

Though teens love their cell phones both for texting and talking, parents have mixed feelings. Mom and Dad often buy mobile phones for their children so they can keep track of them--98 percent of parents questioned said the main reason they give their kids phones is to stay in touch with them no matter where they are. As a result, those parents do exercise some control over the use of those phones.

Almost half of all parents limit the amount of time their kids can use the cell phone. Around 64 percent of them said they look at the contents of their kid's cell phone, while 62 percent reported they've taken away their kid's phone as a form of punishment.

Teachers aren't wild about the use of cell phones either, and as a result, many schools limit or ban their use. Around 24 percent of teens said their school bans all cell phones from the campus entirely, while 62 percent said they're allowed to bring a phone to school but not into the classroom.

But 65 percent of teens whose schools exclude cell phones from campus said they bring them anyway, and 58 percent of them said they've sent text messages in class despite the ban. Meanwhile, kids have come up with ways to avoid having their phones taken away. One teen surveyed said he has a real phone and a fake phone so that if the teacher catches him, he can give her the fake phone.

To gather the data, Pew by phone surveyed 800 kids, as well as one of their parents, between June to September of 2009. Working in collaboration, the University of Michigan also held a series of nine in-depth focus groups with teens 12 to 18 between June and October of last year.

Pew Internet and American Life Project