Texting reigns supreme
Smartphone apps let teens go online, watch videos and game with friends, but teens most commonly use their phones to send and receive text messages. Pew research notes that teens reserve voice calls for their closest friends and prefer to use text messages for newer friends and acquaintances. The research also suggests that the omnipresence of smartphones helps strengthen friendships, with 62% of smartphone-owning teens reporting that texting allows them to keep in closer contact with close friends. Additionally, having internet access via a smartphone may help teens make and maintain new friendships, with 57% reporting having made new friends online.
Technology is not without risks
Of course, near constant connectivity also poses a unique set of risks. For example, cyberbullying is no longer restricted to the times when teens use computers. Smartphones give them the ability to go online at any time and to be notified whenever comments or updates are posted to sites and apps. This allows cyberbullying to follow teens wherever they go. Nearly one-third of teens report fighting with friends over incidents that started online or via text message.
Another risk that has gained national attention is “sexting:” the use of cellphones to send and receive sexually explicit messages or images frequently referred to as “sexts.” The ubiquity of cellphones has given rise to sexting as a way for teens to explore their sexuality, though in some states exchanging these types of photos could constitute a crime.
Additionally, as most smartphones have GPS technology which allows users’ locations to be pinpointed by apps and websites, users may unintentionally share their locations with the public. If teens’ photos have GPS location-tags or if teens “check-in” to restaurants, airports, new cities and the like, their friends and followers can see exactly where they are or have been. Each cellphone brand or model may have a different way to turn off location-tracking services. Check the settings on your teen’s phone or read its user manual for instructions on disabling GPS in specific apps.