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Teens’ tech getting very mobile: New study

Ninety-five percent of US 12-to-17-year-olds use the Internet, 93% have access to a computer at home and 71% of teens with that computer at home share it with other family members, according to a study released today – the biggest explanation, most probably, for why teens’ Net use has gotten so mobile. It allows them to keep their connectivity personal.

“The nature of teens’ Internet use has transformed dramatically – from stationary connections tied to shared desktops in the home to always-on connections that move with them throughout the day,” the study’s lead author Mary Madden writes in the report, “Teens & Technology 2013,” a study issued by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. As for that mobile Net use…

Source: Pew Internet 2013

  • Devices used: 78% of teens now have a cell phone and 47% of those devices are smartphones – which means that more than a third of all US teens (37%) have smartphones, up from 23% two years ago. Almost a quarter (23%) of teens have a tablet computer.
  • Mobile access: 74% of teens access the Net on cellphones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally.
  • Mostly mobile access: A quarter (25%) of teens are “‘cell-mostly’ Internet users – far more than the 15% of adults who are cell-mostly,” Pew reports, and “among teen smartphone owners, half are cell-mostly.”
  • Older girls even more mobile: More than a third (34%) of girls 14-17 go online mostly by cellphone, compared to a quarter (24%) of boys 14-17 (they use Xbox Live more, I figure, but this is purely anecdotal!). Pew says the gender discrepancy is “notable since boys and girls are equally likely to be smartphone owners,” bearing out, I think, the theory that cellphone use is very individual. “Among older teen girls who are smartphone owners, 55% say they use the Internet mostly from their phone.

Mobile digital divide narrower

Pew found that teens in “lower-income and lower-education households are still less likely to use the internet” – mobile or wired – but they are “just as likely and in some cases more likely than those living in higher income and more highly educated households” to be “cell-mostly” with their Internet access.

So we might extrapolate that the mobile platform is narrowing the digital divide in the US the way it is between developed and developing countries.

Here are some digital-divide data points:

  • 89% of teens living in households earning under $30,000/year use the Internet, compared to 99% of teens in HHs earning $75,000+/year.
  • 30% of teens in HHs earning under $30,000/year are cell-mostly Net users, compared with 14% of teens in HHs earning $50,000-74,999/year and 24% living in HHs earning $75,000+/year (the last category probably indicating the most free-flowing access on any and all devices).

Parenting’s changing too

Regardless of income or education level, it seems, tech parenting is changing. It’s difficult to control either the use or the users of an Internet that goes wherever the users go. But was control ever easy either? What replaces control? You might call it a guidance system, both internal and external. Psychologists and game designers talk about intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards in learning and gaming. I think what we’re collectively learning now, urged on by the media shift, is that the most effective parenting starts with mostly external guidance (though I think children arrive with all the parts of an internal guidance system already in place; it just “learns” with use) and becomes increasingly internal and increasingly effective.*

My friend author and teen and parent adviser Annie Fox calls it our children’s moral compass. The child him or herself, parents, many other people, and life experience activate, calibrate, and improve it. Those who care the most are “there” the most when the guidance system hits an unknown. That’s why we need to keep the communication channels as wide-open as possible so they’ll seek the external guidance they need to do the calibrating. So, as my friend professor Henry Jenkins says about parenting our very mobile, connected kids, we need to “watch their backs, not look over their shoulders.”

Related links

*We probably need more research on what the right conditions are for children to develop their internal guidance system in the digital age, but we have plenty on child development, at-risk youth, and parenting – and a diversity of perspectives on moral development. But I suspect that most children have reasonably useful external conditions and largely unacknowledged inner resources for healthy, meaningful participation in community online and offline.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anne #

    Anytime I can help, Amy! :)

    March 19, 2013
  2. See? I knew if I waited a bit, you’d write up the response to that op-ed so I wouldn’t have to. ;)

    March 19, 2013

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