Show of hands. How many of you are parents of a teenager? Then you realize that kids today have never lived in a world without the Internet or cell phones and have a myriad of media choices. So I’m sure it isn’t news that our younguns’ (teens 13-17) are burning up the phone lines with texting. (Figure of speech since Smartphones don’t use old school phone lines.) I work for Nielsen, but even I was stunned when one of our latest studies revealed just how much texting was going on. In the first quarter of 2011, teens sent an average of 3,364 mobile texts per month! I compared my 14-year-old son’s phone bill against this number and was astonished to learn that he actually sends more than that each month. That’s a lot of talking! But texting isn’t actually talking now is it? Case in point: consider this typical titillating conversation we have daily when I call to check in on him after school:
“Hey KC, it’s mom. Whatcha doin’?”
“Anything exciting happen in school today?”
“Ok, anything happen in school today that I should KNOW about?” (Big sigh, but no response.)
“Hellleerr, you still there? Anything I should know about?” (Even bigger sigh, because clearly I am annoying him now. Sound familiar?)
“Ok, well, I’ll be home on time tonight. What do you want for dinner?’”
“I don’t care”
“Alrighty then! Been great talking with you too. Love ya!”
“Love you t —-” Click. He hangs up before he even gets a full, whopping three-word sentence out. But he can send more than 3,000 text messages a month? Really?
If you ask him why the freeze out over the phone he’ll tell you, “I’m just not a phone person.” Period. End of story. This is in line with his “peeps” as Nielsen also reveals that amazingly, teens talk less on their phones than any other group, running neck and neck with seniors 65-plus for an average of 515 minutes per month. (Can someone please call my mom and let her know on average she’s talking way more than this? I would call her, but then, um, I wouldn’t be able to get her off the phone!)
Back to your teens: don’t try reaching them through e-mail either. If it wasn’t for his school assignments my teen probably wouldn’t touch his laptop because he can do everything through his Smartphone. He may be a little ahead of his age (and I’m modestly blushing here, because, well, he always has been advanced!) because Nielsen says American 18-year-olds also spend less time on their computers, averaging 39 hours, 50 minutes online per month from their home computers. When it comes to online video viewing, 12- 17-year-olds watched 7 hours, 13 minutes of mobile video a month, compared to 4 hours, 20 minutes for the general population. Perhaps that explains why teens age 12-17 watch the least amount of TV than the average Americans, 23 hours, 41 minutes per week as opposed to 34 hours, 39 minutes for most of us.
And who foots the bills for all of this mobile texting and video viewing? Like many of you, I totally foot the bill for my son’s texting addiction. But Nielsen data shows that out of eight countries surveyed young people in the United States are the most likely to say that someone else is footing the bill; with only 45 percent saying they pay for their own service. While a whopping 84 percent of youngsters ages 15-19 in Germany and 88 percent in Russia report paying their own mobile charges. (Before your head spins totally around keep in mind that it wasn’t specified if they paid their mobile bills from their own money or parent-paid allowance.) But still!
My sister lives in Germany, and she hasn’t gotten my 10-year-old nephew a cell phone yet. I think it’s worth the international call to her to find out how all of her German friends are getting their kids to foot their own cell phone bills — allowance funded or not. I’ll let you know what their secret is. But it may take awhile, because like my mom, my sister can talk up a blue storm too. So don’t hold your breath, it may take me awhile.
I know I preach that knowledge is power. And, it is. So, Mom and Dad, consider yourself warned and armed with information. Go forth and do with it what you will!
(Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to www.nielsenwire.com.)