Cell Phone Usage in Teens

A good number of American teenagers own and use cell phones. These devices help parents stay in touch with their teens, aid teens in completing school work and give teens access to emergency services, but they also come with risks. An alarming number of teenage drivers admit to using their cell phones while driving. Understanding how your teen uses a phone can help you set appropriate boundaries.

Ownership Stats

In its 2013 study of 802 teens between 12 and 17, Pew Research Center found that 78 percent owned cell phones 124. A total of 37 percent of all teens owned smartphones, up from 23 percent two years earlier. Older teens and those living in urban and suburban areas are more likely to own phones than younger teens and those living in rural areas. Boys and girls are about equally likely to own phones.

How Teens Use Phones

A number of Pew studies reveal information about just how teenagers use their cell phones 1. Research done in 2011 found that 75 percent of teens texted, and sent an average of 60 texts per day. Older teen girls sent the most texts, averaging about 100 per day. At that time, 39 percent of teens reported making or receiving cell phone calls each day. Research done in 2012 found that 58 percent of teens had apps downloaded on their cell phones or tablet computers, including social media sites 4.

In a 2009 study, Pew found that 86 percent of cell phone-owning teens age 14 and older had slept with their phones next to or in bed with them 24.

In a 2010 study, 64 percent of teens with cell phones reported having texted in class, and 25 percent reported having made or received phone calls during class 4.

Cell Phones and Teen Drivers

When teens are asked to report their own risky driving behavior, the results are murky. What is clear is that teenage drivers are distracted by their phones behind the wheel.

In the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, a service of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen drivers were asked whether they had texted or emailed while driving at any time during the previous 30 days 3. Just over 41 percent of those drivers said they had used their phones at least once while behind the wheel.

But in a study by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions, also done in 2013, 86 percent of teen drivers admitted to using a phone while driving, and 68 percent admitted to reading or replying to texts while driving.

Tips for Parents

Make a family media usage plan, suggests HealthyChildren.org 5. Meet with your teen and lay out the times and places in which cell phone use is allowed and forbidden. Ask that her phone be left in a central area overnight, not in her bedroom. Brush up on her school's cell phone policies and go over the rules with her. If you're paying for her phone plan, you should have access to records of her received calls and texts. Let her know you'll monitor them to see whether she's using her phone when you know she's in class or driving, and explain what the punishment will be if she does.