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There have been numerous news articles in recent years comparing teens’ likelihood to spend time together in person today compared to the past. A new report from Common Sense Media [download page] offers data suggesting that teens are communicating less in-person than they used to, and more through digital means.

The report – “Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences” – is primarily about teens’ use of social media, but contains some interesting statistics on their communication methods, and how they’ve changed since 2012.

It’s no surprise that teens today are heavier social media users than they used to be: 70% report using social media multiple times a day, about twice the proportion (34%) from 2012.

However that doesn’t mean that social media is their preferred way of communicating with friends. Asked to choose between texting, in-person, social media, video-chatting, and talking on the phone, a leading 35% of the more than 1,000 13-17-year-olds surveyed said that texting is their favorite way to communicate with friends. That’s up slightly from 33% who felt that way in 2012.

Social media is also growing as a favored way of communicating, being the top method for 16% of respondents, more than double the 2012 share (7%). And video chatting is also gaining steam, cited by 1 in 10 teens, compared to just 2% in 2012.

The big loser? In-person communication. Only 1 in 3 (32%) teens named this their favorite way to communicate with friends, down from half (49%) in 2012.

The change in preferences may be due to the continued proliferation of mobile devices: 89% own a smartphone, up from 41% in 2012, and 49% a tablet, up from 14% in 2012.

The results also suggest that teens might be texting even when they’re with their friends: a majority (55%) hardly ever or never turn off, silence or put away their phones when they’re hanging out with friends.

Texting’s More Popular With Older Teens

There are some interesting differences in these communication preferences when sorting by demographic, though.

For example, 13-14-year-olds are more likely to want to communicate with friends in-person (35%) than via text (29%). By contrast, 15-17-year-olds show a preference for texting (39%) over in-person communication (30%).

In comparing genders, the results show that male teens are split on texting versus in-person communications, whereas their female counterparts prefer texting. Females also show a much greater inclination than males (20% and 12% respectively) to say that their favorite method of communication is through social media.

Separately, females also were far more likely than males to say that social media is “very” or “extremely” important for keeping up with friends on a day-to-day basis (46% and 33%, respectively) and for having meaningful conversations with close friends (39% and 27%, respectively).

Meanwhile, among races and ethnicities, Black and Hispanic teens favor texting over in-person communications, whereas White teens prefer talking in-person. Black teens show a much greater preference for video chatting than teens of other races and ethnicities, and also seem to enjoy talking on the phone more.

Finally, when sorting by household income level, the data indicates that teens from lower- and middle-income households tend to skew towards texting over in-person communications as their favorite, whereas teens from higher-income households are more likely to prefer communicating with friends in person.

Teens Text More Frequently Now

Teens not only maintain texting as a favorite way of communicating, but also are texting more heavily than they used to.

This year’s report finds that 8 in 10 text daily, up from 68% in 2012. Only 13% text less than weekly or never, compared to 22% in the prior report.

Daily activity is ongoing, too: 55% say they send or receive texts either a few times an hour (31%) or almost constantly (24%). That means that texting is even more ingrained in teens’ habits than checking social media, 47% of whom do so with that regularity.

Key findings from the report are available here.

About the Data: The results are based on a nationally representative survey of 1,141 13-17-year-olds in the US. The survey was fielded online by GfK from March 22, 2018 – April 10, 2018.

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