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As most parents of adolescents know all too well, text messaging has become the preferred method of communication for American teenagers, with one in three teens sending more than 100 texts a day, a new survey says.

The survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project illustrates the indispensable role that text messaging, and mobile phones in general, play in the lives of today’s teenagers.

Three-quarters of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones, up from 45 percent in 2004, and daily text messaging to friends has increased rapidly in recent years.

The research, made public Tuesday, confirms that teens make and receive far fewer phone calls than text messages. They primarily use their phones for voice calling when communicating with parents, although they prefer text messaging when it comes to communicating with their peers.


Although teens make or receive about five calls a day, half of them send a minimum of 50 text messages a day, the survey found.

“Texting is so functional and efficient,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at Pew, when asked to explain the survey results. “It’s convenient and fits into those small spaces in daily life. You’re not talking about much, but you’re telling people you’re connected to them.”

How do teens manage to send so many text messages while spending the better part of Monday through Friday in the classroom?

Forty-three percent of teens who take their phones to school reported sending at least one text message from class a day, despite the fact that many schools have banned cell phones in class.

Lenhart said this just goes to show how important text messaging is to teens.

“Teenagers have been looking for ways to skirt around rules and defy administrators for millennia, whether it’s passing notes in class or passing digital notes in class through cell phones,” she said.

And teenage girls are doing most of the texting. Girls send and receive about 80 text messages a day, while boys send and receive only 30.

This is not a surprising find, according to Pew, as females also use other communicative tools more than males. Girls will text for social reasons more so than boys will, the survey found. For example, 59 percent of girls text their friends multiple times a day “just to say hello,” as opposed to 49 percent of boys who do the same.

The fact that girls use their cell phones more than boys might be one reason that of the 64 percent of parents who have monitored their teens’ cell phones, the vast majority are parents of 12- to 13-year-old girls.

“It’s a historic relationship. … Parents tend to regulate girls more than boys for a variety of social and gender reasons,” Lenhart said.

Teens are using their phones to record and share their daily experiences, Lenhart said. In addition to texting, 83 percent of teens use their mobile phones to take pictures, and 64 percent of teens share their pictures with others.

During focus groups, Lenhart said, she asked teens what they liked to take pictures of with their cell phones. The most common answers: their pets, the people in their lives and the funny things they want to share with their friends.

Lenhart said the growth of wireless carriers’ unlimited texting plans has made it easier for teens to communicate via text message.

“It’s like the all-you-can-eat plan,” she said. Teenagers “don’t have to worry about cramming everything into 160 characters anymore. … It doesn’t cost 20 cents to send ‘OK’ to a friend.”

The Pew survey was conducted last summer on landline and cell phones, and it included 800 youths ages 12-17, plus one of their parents.

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