According to research from the Pew Research Centre, 78% of US-based teens now have a mobile phone and almost half (47%) have a smartphone. This marks a significant increase from 2011, when just 23% of teens owned a smartphone.
While teenagers have access to a range of electronic devices, the smartphone has become the primary means by which 25% of those aged 12 to 17 access the internet. Among teen smartphone-owners, 50% say they use the internet mostly through their phone.
The trend marks an important shift for brands, which are increasingly being encouraged to move away from viewing the mobile as the "second screen", but rather the primary marketing channel to reach young consumers.
The nature of teenagers' internet use has transformed dramatically since 2006 – moving from stationary connections tied to desktops, to always-on connections that move with them throughout the day.
Three in four teenagers (74%) aged 12 to 17 are "mobile internet users" who say they access the internet on mobile phones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally. By comparison 55% of adults are mobile internet users.
Notably, smartphone ownership among teens is not tied to their parents' income levels. Teens in the lowest-earning households are just as likely as those living in the highest-earning households to own smartphones.
Mary Madden, senior researcher for the Pew Research Centre's Internet Project and co-author of the report, said: "The nature of teens' internet use has transformed dramatically — from stationary connections tied to shared desktops in the home to always-on connections that move with them throughout the day.
"In many ways, teens represent the leading edge of mobile connectivity, and the patterns of their technology use often signal future changes in the adult population."