Pew Survey Shows Mobile Internet Use Soaring Among Teens

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

The pollsters at the Pew Internet & American Life Project have done it again: They´ve put solid numbers to a fact of modern life that most of us already knew. According to a new survey, a large majority of teenagers have cell phones these days, and many of them own smartphones. But these teens aren´t just using their phones to SnapChat one another — they´re also using them as their primary means to get online.

Pew surveyed just over 800 teens aged 12 to 17 along with their parents. Once complete, the group found that a total of 78 percent of American teens own a cell phone, and almost half of these kids (47 percent) own a smartphone. This number of smartphone wielding teens has grown by leaps in bounds over the past two years. In 2011, just 23 percent of teens reported owning a smartphone. According to the new survey, this number has grown to 37 percent.

Teens still have access to desktop and laptop computers, of course. Pew found that nine out of ten teens have access to one of these computers, though seven in ten say they share these computers with family members. Even though a majority of teens have access to other means of computing, one out of every four teens says they access the web on their cell phone more often than on traditional computers. Unsurprisingly, this number increased most dramatically among teens who have their own smartphones: One half of these teens say they´re more likely to connect to the web on their smart device.

The study also found that boys and girls are equally likely to own some brand of smartphone. However, the girls surveyed for the study were more likely to use their smartphone to connect to the web than their male peers. All told, 34 percent of teen girls aged 14 to 17 said they accessed the web more often from their smartphone than from a traditional computer, compared to only 24 percent of boys in the same age group. And 55 percent of older teen girls say they use their smartphone as their primary means of connecting to the Internet.

The number of teens using mobile devices to access the web gets even larger when tablets are thrown into the mix. According to Pew´s numbers, three in four teens aged 12 to 17 say they access the Internet with some kind of mobile device, including cell phones, smartphones and tablets. Moreover, this is a trend which shows little consideration for socioeconomic status. Kids in lower-income and lower-education houses were only “somewhat less likely” to use the Internet in any capacity, be it mobile or wired. Yet these kids were more likely in some cases to use their mobile devices to surf the web than teenagers from higher-income and better educated families.

“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,” concludes Mary Madden, the senior researcher for Pew Internet Project & Family Life Group.

“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.”

The current survey follows a similar one conducted last month which found explosive growth in the use of technology in American classrooms.