The image of teenagers staring at smartphone screens is a time-capsule-worthy emblem of our times. The irony is that teens have suffered the indignity of underindexing significantly for owning smartphones, as explored in a new eMarketer report, “US Teens: How Smartphones Fit into (and Disrupt) Their Daily Lives”
Earlier in the smartphone era, parents were often reluctant to furnish a teen with an expensive device whose imprudent usage easily could get the kid into trouble. Little surprise, then, that many teens lacked a smartphone even as it became standard equipment for nonelderly adults. As recently as 2013, just under half of 12- to 17-year-olds had smartphones, eMarketer estimates.
But while parents still worry about what their teens will do with smartphones, it has become harder to deny their kids those devices as feature phones fade from the marketplace. We have passed the tipping point at which it is more normal than otherwise for US teens to have a smartphone; about three-quarters of 12- to 17-year-olds will have one this year.
Generally, a large majority of teens have smartphones. Then again, a large minority do not. Among those who do have smartphones, the amount of usage tends to be high—even alarmingly so. eMarketer estimates that 88.3% of 12- to 17-year-olds will have mobile phones this year. And among those with mobile phones, 84.0% will have smartphones.
Thus, for this whole age bracket, smartphone penetration will be 74.2%. That is up sharply from 2013, when just under half of this age cohort had smartphones. Still, it falls short of the figure for adult millennials, among whom upwards of nine in 10 have smartphones.
Results of a February 2016 survey for Adestra by Flagship Research give an indication that older teens are more likely than younger ones to have smartphones. Among the 14- to 18-year-olds polled, 87% said they “own and use” a smartphone—i.e., penetration about a dozen percentage points higher than eMarketer’s figure for 12- to 17-year-olds. (Adestra’s survey was among internet users, while eMarketer’s numbers are based on total population. But nearly all of the teen population is online—97.0% of 12- to 17-year-olds, in eMarketer’s estimate—so this difference in methodology contributes little to the disparity in smartphone penetration figures from these two sources.)