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Teens' use of cellphones to access Internet is soaring

Donald Conkey, 15, of Wilmette, Ill., checks his smartphone while doing homework in his bedroom on Monday.

Associated Press

Donald Conkey, 15, of Wilmette, Ill., checks his smartphone while doing homework in his bedroom on Monday.

CHICAGO — Keep computers in a common area so you can monitor what your kids are doing. It's a long-standing directive for online safety — but one that's quickly becoming moot as more young people have mobile devices, often with Internet access.

A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 78 percent of young people ages 12 to 17 now have cellphones. Nearly half of those are smartphones, a share that's increasing steadily — and that's having a big effect on how, and where, many young people are accessing the Web.

The survey, released Wednesday, finds that one in four young people say they are "cell-mostly" Internet users, a percentage that increases to about half when the phone is a smartphone.

In comparison, just 15 percent of adults said they access the Internet mostly by cellphone.

"It's just part of life now," says Donald Conkey, a high school sophomore in Wilmette, Ill., who is among the many teens who have smartphones. "Everyone's about the same now when it comes to their phones — they're on them a lot."

He and other teens say that if you add up all the time they spend using apps and searching for info, texting and downloading music and videos, they're on their phones for at least a couple hours each day — and that time is only increasing, they say.

According to the survey, older teen girls, ages 14 to 17, were among the most likely to say their phones were the primary way they access the Web. And while young people in low-income households were still somewhat less likely to use the Internet, those who had phones were just as likely — and in some cases, more likely — to use their cellphones as the main way they access the Web.

Already, many smartphones have restriction menus that allow parents to block certain phone functions or mature content. Despite the ability to monitor some phone activity, some tech and communication experts question whether surveillance, alone, is the best response to the trend.

Some parents take a hard line on limits. Others, not so much, says Mary Madden, a senior researcher at Pew who co-authored the report.

"It seems like there are two extremes. The parents who are really locking down and monitoring everything — or the ones who are throwing up their hands and saying, 'I'm so overwhelmed,' " Madden says.

Teens' use of cellphones to access Internet is soaring 03/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 9:40pm]

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