75 percent of youths text - a lot - daily.

A Pew study tells us how much and how teens text. MATT SAYLES / AP
A Pew study tells us how much and how teens text. MATT SAYLES / AP (Texting on a cellphone.)

Teen texting on the upswing - way more than calling

Posted: March 20, 2012

Can you believe how much teens are texting? OMG!

More than three-quarters of all U.S. teenagers have cellphones, and of those, a growing number have smartphones - cellphones always online. Today's teens use their cellphones as their mobile soul-bullhorns.

A report published Monday by the Pew Center's Internet and American Life Project tells us how much, and exactly how, teens use them. We already know teens text, like, a lot: A now-famous October 2010 survey by the Nielsen Co. showed the average teenager sent 3,339 texts a month.

Teens text way more than they call. Monday's report shows it's getting to be even more like that. The Pew team called 799 people ages 12-17 and a parent or guardian. About 77 percent had cellphones, and about 23 percent had smartphones. Seventy-five percent of teens text, and they're texting more. Calls and texts are up, with the frequency of texts increasing and calls decreasing.

Teens 14-17 went from a median of 60 texts a day in 2009 to 100 a day (pretty near the Nielsen number) in 2011. Girls are the biggest texters, averaging 100 a day, but all groups, ethnicities, and income levels are texting more.

Oh - and heavy texters also tend to be big talkers, making more calls, too. Anyone surprised?

Sixty-three percent affirmed that they exchange texts daily with those who are important to them. Only 39 percent said they call them every day. Land lines? They're for people born in years that start with 19. Only 14 percent said they used land lines daily. Only 35 percent said they even saw their peeps face to face daily. That's so 1990. Hahaha! Only 6 percent e-mailed daily.

So what is it about texting? This is a media world young people have made in their own image. It dominates their social communications - leaving behind even social-media sites (29 percent). Texting language, long familiar, is supercharged, creative, and everywhere, full of slang, acronyms (the honored OMG for Oh, my God!) abbreviations (u for you), de-voweled words (kybrd for keyboard), pictograms ( the clever sideways heart in i <3 u for I love you), and a snowstorm of emoticons and !!!!!!

"All along, this has reflected the desire of teens to create their own group language and use it to stay in contact," says Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at Pew and the study's leading researcher. She cites a "network effect": "Once you reach a critical mass in your network of friends, you begin to text them all the time, and they expect you'll do that, and you expect them to do it." We become nodes in a network and express that network through connectivity.

Texting is short, fast, off-the-cuff, and it feels like spontaneous conversation. It's also a sign of belonging: It's in-group talk, much like slang - yet there's also an intimate pleasure involved, with the ability, on the run, to exchange crazy minds in hahaha's and LOLs. "Part of it," says Lenhart, "is that you can choose whom to share with and whom not."

Cellphones are a little cheaper than before, and calling/texting plans are everywhere. There is some class difference in access (there's a link, for example, between the parents' education and whether a teen is likely to have a cellphone or not), but all classes and ethnicities use them much and more.

That means that some families for whom cellphones and calling plans are very expensive are still choosing to buy them for their children. Why?

"It may be because they're buying these phones instead of the even-more-expensive laptop or desktop computer," Lenhart says. "These phones are a bigger sacrifice for these families, but they see the advantage in getting their children one."

For teens and their families all across the social spectrum, says Lenhart, the mobile phone "allows you to remain in robust, constant contact with the people you care about." And one in four teens now texts assiduously on the smartphone: "It's mine, it's me, I can take it with me all the time, and I don't have to share it with family." The teen life in only a few words.

Contact John Timpane

at 215-854-4406 or jt@phillynews.com, or follow

on Twitter @jtimpane.

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