December 19, 2007

Teens and Social Media

Teens’ online activities and gadgets

Introduction

Fully 93% of teens use the internet, and teen use of the internet has intensified in recent years. In 2006, 89% of teens accessed the internet from home.  This is fairly consistent with our survey data from 2000 and 2004, which showed that a similar percentage of teens accessing the internet from home.

Home access matters because online teens who access the internet from home are more likely to access the internet multiple times a day than teens who access the internet from somewhere other than home. The convenience of home access enables frequent internet use in ways that school or library-based internet access do not.

While the percentage of teens who access the internet from home has stayed relatively constant, the percentage of teens who report accessing the internet from school, from someone else’s house, and from the library has varied over time. The percentage of online teens in this survey who say they used the internet at school is 75%, up from 64% in 2000; the number who used it at someone else’s house is 70%, a modest increase from the 64% who did so in 2000; and the number who use it at libraries is 50%, up significantly from 36% of online teens in 2000.

Online teens continue to lead active offline lives.

Online teens as a whole are quite active offline, though less so than certain subgroups of users such as content creators and social network users. Half the online teens in this survey report being part of a school sports program, 36% report being part of a school club like drama or language, 42% report taking part in some other extracurricular activity like band, and 58% report participating in an after-school club or sports program that is not affiliated with school.  These percentages are consistent with the numbers reported in the 2004 Teens and Parents survey.22

When it comes to teens’ internet use, information gathering trumps communication activities.

While teen internet behaviors around social networks and content creation have been getting plenty of recent attention, teens still engage in a variety of activities online that cross the spectrum, from information seeking to communicative and creative endeavors.  While content creation is an important and growing online activity, the two most popular internet activities among teens in the most recent Pew Internet Teens and Parents survey have to do with information gathering rather than communicating.

Teen Internet Activities

While entertainment information seeking is the most popular internet activity in this survey (81%), the percentage of online teens who use the internet to get news or information about current events also remains high (76% in 2004 vs. 77% in 2006). There are no statistically significant differences between the number of male and female teens who look for news (both hard news and entertainment news) online.

African American teens are more likely to look for college information online.

African American teens who use the internet are significantly more likely to go online to look for information about colleges and universities they are thinking about attending than white teens. Fully 79% of black online teens say they use the internet to look up information about colleges and universities, compared to 51% of white online teens. Overall, 55% of online teens say they look for college information on the Web. As online teens get older and closer to graduating from high school, they are more likely to report using the internet to get information about colleges and universities they are interested in. Of these older teens, girls are more likely than boys to use the internet to find information about potential colleges. Over 80% of older girls look for college information online, compared with 67% of older boys.

Girls are more likely than boys to look up health, dieting, or fitness information on the Web.

Twenty-eight percent of online teens say they use the Web to find information about health, dieting, or physical fitness, which is not a significant change from the 31% of teens in 2004 who said they used the Web to learn about these topics. As in 2004, there is a statistically significant difference between the sexes in terms of the popularity of this activity. Over one-third (34%) of online teen girls report looking up information about health, dieting, or physical fitness, compared with only 22% of boys.  In general, older girls (ages 15 to 17) are more likely to report using the internet to find information about these topics.

The number of teens who report instant message use has dropped since 2004.

Despite its continued popularity in relation to other internet activities, the percentage of online teens who report having ever used instant messaging dropped a statistically significant amount from 75% in 2004 to 68% in 2006. This does not necessarily mean that instant messaging is declining in popularity among teens. Rather, it could be that instant messaging functionality has been integrated into so many social networking and gaming applications that teens no longer recognize instant messaging as a separate technology.

In comparison to the average online teen, content creators are much more likely to use instant messaging technology.  Three-fourths (76%) of content creators use instant messaging, compared to 54% of non-content-creators and 68% of all online teens. The frequency with which teens are online predicts how likely they are to use instant messaging.  Teens who access the internet daily have a greater likelihood of using instant messaging (78%) than teens who access the internet weekly (60%) or less often (31%).

However, as we have seen consistently over time, the most active users of instant messaging are older girls – 82% of online girls ages 15-17 report that they use IM. This fits with our other findings which situate older girls as the most active communicators. Not only are there statistically significant differences between the number of girls who report that they use instant messaging (74%) and the number of boys (62%) who report doing so, but there are also significant differences between the percentage of teens ages 15-17 who use instant messaging (77%) compared with the percentage of teens ages 12-14 who instant message (60%).  

Visiting a chatroom has declined significantly in popularity since 2000.

In 2000, 55% of online teens reported going to online chatrooms, while in 2006, only 18% of teens say they visited chatrooms.23 Since 2000, there have been prominent campaigns to raise awareness among parents and teens about the possible dangers of the chatroom space, which may have contributed to the drop in the popularity of chatrooms. Chatrooms are also a fairly old method of communicating with others on the internet, and it could also be that teens find that using newer means of communication such as instant messaging or sending messages over social networks are safer and more attractive internet activities.

Over half of all online teens use social networking sites.

Fully 55% of online teens in this survey reported using social network sites like MySpace or Facebook. In general, girls are more likely than boys to use social networking sites (49% of boys compared with 61% of girls), and older teens are more likely to visit these sites than younger teens (47% of those age 12-14 say they go to social networking sites compared with 63% of 15-17 year olds). While only a bit over half of all online teens report having ever gone to a social network site, 70% percent of online girls aged 15-17 say that they have done so. For more detail on this topic, see the Teens and Social Networking data memo.24

Fewer teens are buying products online.

The number of online teens who buy products like books, clothing, or music online decreased to a statistically significant degree from 43% in 2004 to 38% in 2006. While there are no clear reasons why teens are less likely to have purchased something online, we do find that there is a relationship between the amount of money made by the parents and the likelihood that the teen will buy items online. Online teens with high-income parents are more likely to buy items online than online teens whose parents earn less money.

More than half of all online teens visit video sharing sites.

In the most recent Pew Internet survey, 57% of online teens said that they watch videos on video sharing sites such as YouTube and GoogleVideo. Online teens with parents who have high levels of income and education are more likely to visit video sharing sites such as YouTube or GoogleVideo than other online teens. Older online teens, especially older online boys (ages 15-17), are more likely to report watching videos on video sharing sites such as YouTube and GoogleVideo than younger teens.

Podcasting is a relatively new activity for the Pew Internet & American Life Project to track, and as such, was not included in the 2000 or 2004 Parents and Teens surveys. Almost one-fifth of online teens (19%) say that they download podcasts in the latest survey. Online teens whose parents have at least a college education are more likely to download podcasts so they can listen to or view them at another time than teens with parents who have lower levels of education.

Wealthy teens are more likely to engage in multimedia Web activities.

This survey includes a number of online activities that we have not included in previous surveys, such as going to video sharing sites, using social networking sites, and downloading podcasts. Online teens whose parents are affluent and well educated are more likely to have engaged with a wider range of these newer internet activities such as downloading podcasts and visiting video sharing sites than online teens whose parents are less educated and have lower incomes. As noted in the Online Video report,25 wealthier people are more likely to have broadband connections that enable access to a richer array of online activities and content.

Almost half of all online teens say they play games online.

Fully 67% of teens report playing computer or console games (such as Xbox or PlayStation), and 49% of those teens say that they play games online. Boys are more likely than girls to play computer or console games, and younger teens are more likely to play computer or console games than their older counterparts.  Furthermore, teens who play video games are also more likely to report that they hang out with their friends in person, than teens who do not play video games. Teens who play video games are also likely to go online more frequently than non-gaming teens. Teens whose parents earn less than $30,000 annually are more likely than wealthier teens to play computer or console games and to play those games offline.

There is one significant correlation between playing video games online and other internet activities. Teens who play games online are also more likely to go to video sharing sites than teens who don’t play games online. Fully 63% of teens who play games online report going to video sharing websites, compared with 47% of teens who don’t play games online, which is most likely related to the overwhelmingly male nature of the populations who engage in these activities.

Teens are more likely to own desktop computers than any other type of digital technology.

Almost three-quarters of teens (72%) own a desktop computer, compared with 63% who own cell phones, 51% who own iPods/MP3 players, 25% who own laptops, and 8% who own personal digital devices.26 Older teens are slightly more likely to own these devices, and teen girls, especially older teen girls, are more likely to own cell phones than their male counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the more money their parents earn, the more likely teens are to own a large array of gadgets (including laptops, cell phones, and iPods). Older teens are more likely to report owning desktop computers than younger teens.

The majority of teens have a positive attitude toward gadgets.

The experiences that teens have with certain gadgets can affect how teens feel about technology in general. Teens who have desktops and cell phones are more likely to say that gadgets make life easier than teens who do not own those particular technology devices. Fully 91% of teens who own desktops (the type of computer that teens are most likely to own) think gadgets make their lives easier, while 81% of teens who do not own desktops think the same. Similarly, 92% of teens who have a cell phone think gadgets make their lives easier, compared to 81% of teens who also have a positive attitude toward gadgets, but do not own a cell phone.

Teen Gadgets:

  1. For historic offline activities data, please see our Teens and Technology Report at http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/162/report_display.asp and the Teens and Parents 2004 Data set available from http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/48/dataset_display.asp.
  2. We did not include a question about visiting chatrooms in the 2004 Parents and Teens survey.
  3. Lenhart, Amanda and Mary Madden. “Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview.” Pew Internet and American Life Project. January 2007. http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/198/report_display.asp
  4. Madden, Mary. “Online Video.” Pew Internet & American Life Project. July 2007. http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Online_Video_2007.pdf
  5. Please see our “Parent & Teen Internet Use” data memo for additional discussion of attitudes towards technology and household gadget ownership. http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/225/report_display.asp