Almost 9 in 10 (88% of) teens ages 13-18 owned a smartphone in 2021, up from 84% in 2019, according to a recent Common Sense Media report [pdf]. Among younger kids ages 8-12, tablet (57%) ownership is more prevalent than smartphone (43%) ownership, per the report, which also breaks down smartphone ownership by single year of age.

The results indicate that fewer than 1 in 3 kids ages 8 (31%) and 9 (32%) owned a smartphone last year, though these figures represent a considerable rise from 2019 (19% and 26%, respectively), particularly for the youngest. Smartphone ownership did not break the majority threshold for 10- (42%) or 11-year-olds (37%) last year either.

There is a big jump in adoption from the age of 12, however. About 7 in 10 (71% of) 12-year-olds owned a smartphone last year, as did 70% of 13-year-olds. There’s again a big jump from the age of 14 onwards, with reported rates of ownership at or exceeding 90% for almost every single year of age from 14 through 18.

Those figures tally with 2020 research from Pew Research Center, in which the vast majority of parents surveyed said it was not appropriate for children under the age of 12 to have a smartphone. For a plurality (45%) of respondents to that study, the ages of 12-14 are when it becomes appropriate for a child to own a smartphone, though more than one-quarter (28%) said children shouldn’t own smartphone until the ages of 15-17. (At the time, 4% said smartphones were not appropriate for children at all.) Two years on from that research, the Common Sense Media results suggests that those age attitudes likely hold true, although it’s possible that they may have loosened to some degree.

Meanwhile, the study indicates that smartphone ownership was higher among Black (74%) and Hispanic/Latino (70%) children ages 8-18 than among White (65%) children of that age, potentially as Hispanic and Latino adults are more likely to rely on smartphones for internet access. Tablet and computer ownership rates were consistent across races and ethnicities.

Looking at family income levels, the figures show that smartphone ownership rates were fairly equal whether the child was from a lower, middle, or higher income family. This also differed from tablet and computer ownership rates, which trailed among children from lower-income families, as also seen in previous research.

Which Media Devices Are in the Home?

Looking at technology in kids’ homes, Common Sense Media reveals that smartphones were the most ubiquitous, with 94% of children living in a home with a smartphone last year. The TV set (89%) was next, followed by the computer (laptop or desktop; 87%). Video game players were also popular (79%), as were tablets (74%), though virtual reality headsets (17%) were still far from finding widespread adoption.

As for subscription services (these questions asked of parents), the results show that 84% of kids lived in a home with a subscription streaming service (up from 72% in 2019), while about 1 in 3 (32%) had cable TV (down from 41%) and about 1 in 8 (13%) had satellite TV (down from 21%).

For more, read the report here.

About the Data: The 2021 results are based on a September-October survey of 1,306 8-18-year-olds in the US.


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