Internet Key to Communication Among Youth

The Internet has become the primary communication tool for teens, surpassing even the telephone among some groups, according to a study by AOL.

The national survey of more 6,700 teens and parents of teens was conducted by AOL subsidiary Digital Market Services, Inc. It found that 81 percent of teens between the ages of 12 to 17 use the Internet to email friends or relatives while 70 percent use it for instant messaging to send instant text messages both from ones’ computer and via wireless devices. Among older teens (18 to 19 years), these statistics jump to 91 percent for email and 83 percent for instant messaging. Fifty-six percent of teens aged 18 to 19 prefer the Internet to the telephone.

Teens also depend on the Internet as an educational resource. Fifty-eight percent of younger teens (12 to 17) consult online resources for guidance on their homework assignments, while 61 percent of older teens (18 to 19 years) turn to the Internet for help completing their schoolwork. More than one-quarter (26 percent) of younger teens go online to access news and current events while 61 percent of older teens do the same.

It comes as no surprise that downloading digital music is one of the most popular online entertainment activities for teens. The study found that 55 percent of younger teens between the ages of 12 and 17 years go online to listen and download digital music; this figure jumps to 65 percent for older teens aged 18 and 19 years. Playing games online is even more popular, but favors younger teens. Seventy percent of younger teens and 60 percent of older teens use the Internet to play games. Fifty-one percent of older teens rely on the Web when planning vacations and searching for travel information.

Twenty-five percent of the parents surveyed indicated that their teens currently use cell phones with instant messaging and/or email capability. When asked which wireless devices their teen would most like to own, 51 percent responded a cell phone with messaging capability.

While the AOL survey asked about wireless, research from Forrester examined the effect broadband access has on wired youth (Forrester’s research tracked ages 13 to 22). Less than half (43 percent) of online youth have broadband access, Forrester found, but 89 percent of those with broadband access regularly use it at home.

Young broadband users, like older broadband users, spend more time online than their dial-up counterparts (by five hours per week). Among the 15 online activities Forrester tracked broadband-using youth are more likely to perform all of them except entering sweepstakes. Broadband youths are twice as likely to use streaming media than dial-up youths; 28 percent more likely to play Internet games; 22 percent more likely to read product reviews; and 15 percent more likely to visit company or brand Web sites.

In the three months before the Forrester survey, broadband youth were 20 percent more likely to have made an online purchase, spending 26 percent more than dial-up youth in part because broadband youth have 25 percent more disposable income. Broadband youth are 31 percent more likely to purchase tech-related products such as software, hardware and consumer electronics.

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