Everyone's Doing It — Why Teens are Constantly on Their Phones

March 21, 2013


With the dramatic shift to mobile in the past several years, a new study from the Pew Research Center reveals that teens are now the leading age group to catch on to this trend. Phones are now a staple in every teen’s life. They habitually check and ritually use them multiple times a day. The new study gives us insight into the internet and phone habits of teens and reveals just how intense their relationship with using their phones has become. Teens excessively use their phones mainly because:

1. Everyone is Doing it

Simply put, teens like to fit in and follow the crowd. The study shows that 78 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 have a cell phone, and one in four of them say they are “cell-mostly” internet users. Part of the junior high and high school culture now revolves around cell phone usage.

"It's just part of life now," said smartphone user Donald Conkey, a high school sophomore in Wilmette, Ill. to Associated Press reporter Martha Irvine. "Everyone's about the same now when it comes to their phones -- they're on them a lot."

2. They Like Privacy

Even though teens have the option of using desktop computers or laptops at home, they prefer to use their phones to avoid the risk of their parents looking over their shoulder. It is easier to keep internet use private on a small device rather than on a shared computer screen. On a communal computer, their time may be limited for other family members to use, whereas internet usage on their phone is essentially unlimited.

3. They Are Addicted

Teens’ phones are extensions of their hands. The amount of time spent using apps, searching for information, texting and downloading music adds up to a couple hours a day, and that time is only increasing.

"The occasional day where my phone isn't charged or I leave it behind, it feels almost as though I'm naked in public," said Michael Weller, a senior at New Trier High School to Irvine. "I really need to have that connection and that attachment to my phone all the time."

4. It’s Convenient

Mary Madden, a senior researcher at Pew Internet Project, explains that it's much more convenient for teens to check social networks or search for videos through their phones since they sleep with them on or near their bed. Teens can also access their phones quickly and nonchalantly anytime of the day, whereas accessing a computer is not as readily available to them.

"Unlike many adults, teens aren’t sitting in front of a desktop or computer all day at work, so the different rhythms of daily life may be a factor influencing the different patterns of use," said Madden in a Mashable interview.

5. They Are More Tech Savvy

Teens grew up with mobile phones and internet, which automatically puts them ahead of the curve when its comes to technological knowledge. It is part of their second nature and because of that, Madden states, the future of utilizing technology is in their hands.

“In many ways, teens represent the leading edge of mobile connectivity, and the patterns of their technology use often signal future changes in the adult population.”

What can be done?

Now that we know the excessive amount of time teens spend online and on their phones, parents can take action. The most important thing to do is to communicate with teens about their time spent on the internet. Many smartphones have restriction menus that allow parents to block certain phone functions, or mature content; however, Madden stresses, that it is better to guide their online usage rather than try to control it. The key is to balance surveying their use of technology while also respecting their need and desire for privacy.

About the Survey
The study was based on a nationally representative phone survey of 802 parents and their 802 teens ages 12 to 17. The surveys were conducted between July and September of 2012. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 4.5 percentage points.