Teenagers have previously lagged behind adults in their ownership of cell phones, but several years of survey data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that those ages 12-17 are closing the gap in cell phone ownership. The Project first began surveying teenagers about their mobile phones in its 2004 Teens and Parents project when a survey showed that 45% of teens had a cell phone. Since that time, mobile phone use has climbed steadily among teens ages 12 to 17 – to 63% in fall of 2006 and then to 71% in early 2008.
As can be seen on the chart, older teens are much more likely to have a cell phone than younger teens. But that doesn’t mean young teens aren’t connected to their friends. Phones aren’t the only mobile device teens use to connect them to other people and other networks. The most prevalent of these devices are mobile gaming devices like the Nintendo DS and DSi and the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP).
Mobile gaming devices are owned predominantly by younger teens (those ages 12-14). Two-thirds (67%) of 12-14 year olds own a portable gaming device, compared with 44% of teens ages 15 to 17. The most notable drop occurs at age 14, typically a time of transition between middle and high school for many teens.
These mobile gaming devices are also more likely to be owned by boys, with 61% of boys owning one of these devices compared with just under half (49%) of all girls. There are no differences in ownership by race or ethnicity or by family income or education – all groups are equally likely to have portable gaming devices.
But what can teens do on these devices, beyond local game play? The PSP offers internet connectivity (generally through WiFi) and now has a version of Skype, a free voice over IP (VoIP) application that allows users to make calls, often for free, over the internet. Skype also has an embedded instant messaging client, meaning that PSP users can IM others from their device.
The DS(i) is somewhat more limited, but has a local area wireless network tool that allows users to interact with others also on a DS(i) within 30-100 feet of them, via a visual chatting interface called pictochat. The DS(i) also allows gaming over the local network as well as WiFi-based internet gaming.