New study on social & mobile media use

Today the Pew Internet & American Life project released “Social Media & Mobile Internet Use Among Teens and Young Adults,” its latest report on media experiences of teens and young adults. For this study, Amanda Lenhart and her team conducted interviews with 800 adolescents and more than 2,250 adults over the age of 18. Data were collected between June and September of 2009. Amanda Lenhart, danah boyd, Eszter Hargittai, and I are each cited in this article about the study in the Washington Post. The article highlights the fact that teens don’t use Twitter as much as we might expect – which I comment on below.

75% of teens have a cell phone; 66% text

First, here’s what they’ve found:
TEENS:

* Three quarters of teens now have a cell phone. 12 seems to be the age at which many get a cell phone; 58% of 12-year-olds have one. This is a dramatic increase over 2004, when just 18% of 12-year-olds had a cell phone.

* 66% of teens say that they send and receive text messages.

* 93% of teens say they go online.   Two thirds of all teen Internet users go online every day (63%).  14 seems to be the age when they’re most likely to start going online regularly, as 95% of 14-17 year olds go online compared with 88% of teens 12-13.  White teens go online more regularly than Hispanic teens.
* 73% of wired U.S. teens now use social networking sites, with Facebook leading the way. This is also an increase from previous years. In 2006, just over half of online teens (55%) used social networking sites. But their usage of these sites is shifting…

* Between February 2008 and the current study, some uses of social networking sites have become less frequent among teens – at least, fewer reported sending daily messages to their friends, sending bulletins, sending group messages, or sending private messages. (**why? Here are my guesses)

* Teens aren’t using Twitter much. About 8% of Internet users use Twitter, with older teens and high school girls more likely than other teens to use Twitter.

* But they are getting their news online – much to the chagrin of the news industries that haven’t figured out a workable financial model for this practice yet.  62% of online teens say they get news online.

*  They’re also doing more buying online: now, 48% of teens buy things like books, clothing, or music online, compared to 31% who bought online in 2000.

* And they’re getting personal information online, such as health, dieting, and fitness info (31%) as well as info on hard to discuss topics like drug use and sexual health (17%).

YOUNG ADULTS:
*93% of 18-29 year olds own a cell phone.

*93% of 18-29 year olds go online.

* 72% of young adults ages 18-29 now use social networking sites – just about the same percentage as teens.

93% of 18-29 year olds have a cell phone

* They remain the most significant Twitter users. One third of those 18-29 who are online post or read status updates.

* Half of 18-29 year olds have accessed the Internet wirelessly on a laptop or cell phone. About a quarter have accessed the Internet with another device such as a gaming device or an e-book reader.

* Two thirds of 18-29 year olds own a laptop; they’re the only cohort more likely to own a laptop than a desktop.

ADULTS:
* The number of adults using social networking sites has increased dramatically over the past year. Now, 47% of online adults use social networking sites, compared to 37% a year ago. Fully 73% of adults who use social networking sites are on Facebook. 48% have a MySpace profile and 14% have a LinkedIn profile.

*About half of those adults who are on social networking sites (52%) say that they have two or more different profiles (meaning they may have one on Facebook and one on LinkedIn or another social networking site)

COMPARING GROUPS:
* 81% of 18-29 year olds are wireless Internet users. But among those 30-49, only 63% use wireless, and the numbers go down further for those ages 50 and up: only 34% of them access the Internet wirelessly.

* Whereas 93% of both teens and young adults say they go online, only one quarter of adults over 18 go online.
* Compared to November 2006, fewer teens and young adults, and more older adults, are blogging.

FOR PARENTS:

* Three quarters of families with children between the ages of 12 and 17 have broadband Internet access at home. In 2004, only half of households with teens had broadband access.  This means that Internet access is faster and easier than it was just 6 years ago.

* Of the 25% of families that don’t have speedy Internet access, 10% use a dial up model, 8% have no computer, and 4% have a computer with no Internet access.  Some families and teens may be opting for a cell phone in lieu of a more expensive computer.

WHY??

Why does cell phone, social networking, and Internet use continue to rise among all ages?  It’s a function of critical mass, or what Malcolm Gladwell called the tipping point.  The more your friends use these things, the more these things become something you see as a necessity rather than an option.  These technologies are becoming a taken for granted part of everyday life for people across ages, incomes, and ethnicities.  They’re being used in different ways by differing groups – and how they’re used has a lot to do with the needs of the particular groups.  Teens need more constant contact with their peers; relationships are what’s of central importance to them during those years when they’re trying to figure out who they are in relation to others.  For adults, concerns about relationships remain important, but we start to see ourselves playing different roles in different parts of our lives: hence the need for multiple social networking profiles in places like Facebook, LinkedIn, or somewhere else.

**But if Facebook and relationships remain important for young people, then why does it seem that teen uses of certain social networking sites are going down? Teens see Facebook as a “social resume,” to use the words of one young person I’ve spoken with. It’s necessary to have an online social networking profile in order to be seen in today’s social world. But it’s not the most convenient way to communicate with your closest friends. Text messaging is preferred for continuing conversations and for coordinating activities. If a particular message gets too complicated to type out, a phone call is next in line of importance.

So Facebook is seen as something that’s important, but less convenient, since you and your friends have to check in to the site and you may want to convey a message to a particular friend immediately. Facebook’s good for keeping up with friends you may not see every day or every hour.

And Twitter might be fun if you’d like to be a celebrity, but I think teens are not finding Twitter to be useful because they worry that they’ll find that their peers think of them as self-promoters who give TMI – too much information.  Figuring out how much to share and with whom is part of a delicate cost and benefit analysis for teens.  Twitter’s broadcast-like function doesn’t allow for the kind of nuance that teens seek in this area. This is why I think texting is on the way up: it allows for much more personalized decision-making about who to reach with which messages.

One thing I’ve noticed that this survey didn’t really discuss is teens’ increased level of familiarity with privacy settings on Facebook. My guess is that teens started to have greater incentive to figure out the privacy settings as the number of adults on Facebook and other social networking sites started increasing over the past year. After all, when you’re getting a ‘friend’ request from your aunt, you may not want to deny or ignore it — so you’re motivated to figure out how to limit her access to all of your photos and other information. It’s not increased awareness of online dangers, then, that has motivated the attention to privacy – it’s concern over keeping control over the information that’s available to a wider circle of adults in your social circles.

WHAT DO TO?

What are parents supposed to do about this increasingly mediated world in which our young people live?  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Don’t try to friend your teens or preteens on Facebook. It’s the equivalent of trying to barge into your teen’s room without knocking.  Respect their privacy.  But do talk with them about your expectations: you expect them to be the same person both offline and online (kind and respectful of others and not a bully, for starters).

2. When you talk with your kids about the technologies in their lives, look for ways to find common ground.  Find things to like in their choices of music, fashion, or other popular culture choices.  They see these choices as expressions of themselves, so criticizing these things is heard as if it’s a criticism of them.

3. Many parents are concerned that they need to help their preteens and teens figure out how and when to “unplug.” If you want to establish household rules about when it’s appropriate to use cell phones or laptops, ask them if they have suggestions about how and when they think you should use these things, too.  Some teens mention the fact that they wish that their parents would watch them play soccer rather than texting or chatting on the phone throughout their game.  Make sure you’re ready to listen to their suggestions about unplugging if you want them to listen to yours.

4. Use digital and mobile media as an excuse for you to demonstrate your willingness to learn from your teens and preteens. Ask them advice and suggestions on how to make better use of these technologies in your life.  Ask them to give you a tour of Club Penguin, Webkinz, or even World of Warcraft.  Many preteens and teens like to have opportunities to be in a leadership position within their family.  If you find yourself needing to comment, see #2.

5. Consider using digital media in ways that will bring your family together. Start a Wii sports tournament, or create a family video about an event that you can share with extended family members.  If you share the workload, you’ll all benefit from the collaboration – and you’ll be amazed by the creativity you can have when you work together!

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