The cell phone’s centrality to teens’ social lives can be most fully appreciated when examined in the context of teens’ communications choices more broadly. In this survey, teens report that when socializing or communicating with friends, texting is the most frequent form of interaction. Indeed, when looking at all teens regardless of their access to either a mobile phone or the internet, 54% report using texting on a daily basis in order to socialize or communicate with friends. Mobile voice is used daily by 38% of teens. Further down the list are interacting with friends face-to-face outside of school (33%), talking on a landline telephone (30%), communicating daily via social network sites (25%), and instant messaging (24%). Email was the least used communication activity, with only 11% reporting that they use it on a daily basis.
It is notable that texting and mobile voice are the most common platforms of communication between friends for all age groups. Communicating through social network sites (SNS), landline, face-to-face and instant messaging (IM) cluster somewhat lower in the ordering of communication methods employed by teens. Email is the least used of these channels. The low placement of face-to-face interaction outside of school time is also of note. This type of interaction is often seen as the "gold standard" of interaction but viewed in this context, it is not the most frequent form of interaction for teens.
Older teens are more frequent users than younger teens of all communication platforms. Relatively speaking, there are only marginal differences between older and younger respondents when looking at face-to-face interaction and email. By contrast, there are wide differences by age when looking at mobile-based communication. About 35% of 12 year-olds use texting on a daily basis. This compares with 77% of 17 year-olds. Among 12 year-olds, 17% used mobile voice to talk with friends while 60% of the 17 year-olds reported the same. The differences between groups for social network sites, instant messaging, and landline telephony were less than with mobile telephony but more than in the case of face-to-face interaction and email.
Looking at the opposite end of the scale, not all teens use all channels, and the type of channel used shifts when comparing the older and the younger teens. In broad strokes, communication platforms fall into two categories: those that are used by teens of all ages and those that have been adopted by older teens but not younger ones. Landline telephony and face-to-face interaction represents the first group: roughly equal numbers of teens in all age groups report using landlines and interacting with friends face-to-face outside of school, though older teens tend do so a bit more frequently than younger teens.
By contrast, many of the younger teens report that they do not use texting to communicate with their friends. While 44% of 12 year-olds say that they do not use texting, only 11% of 17 year-olds report the same. While other material in the survey shows that texting has become a central form of interaction for teens, it is also important to remember that not all U.S. teens are a part of this revolution at the present.