chapter  15
7 Pages

Mobile communication culture among children and adolescents

ByRich Ling, Troels Bertel

In the developed world, and increasingly in the developing world, children and teens have grown up with ready access to mobile phones. The mobile phone has become de rigueur in teens’ and increasingly children’s lives. It has changed the way that they experience youth compared to previous generations. This essay summarizes research on mobile phone use among children and teens in their daily lives. Though mobile phones are increasingly multidimensional devices that allow for not only communication but also portable gaming, music, and a variety of other functions, we will largely focus on mobile telephones in their role as communication devices. Children and teens are both similar and different, a fact that is reflected in their mobile

communication practices. Castells et al. (2007, p. 128) thus argue that children and teens share “a common culture of communication with various emphases in its manifestation depending on age.” While there are undoubtedly similarities between the groups it is clear that they are also

different in important areas as regards mobile communication. At the most basic level, texting, a distinctive feature of the mobile phone, requires the user to master writing. This limits the use of this aspect of the mobile phone for the youngest children. There are also differences in adoption between the groups. While ownership among teens

has been very widespread in many developed countries, ownership among younger children has been less common. The tendency, however, seems to be that the mobile phone is steadily being adopted at earlier ages. In 2004 in the UK, Davie et al. (2004) found that 45 percent of 10 to 11-year-olds had a mobile phone. In the same year in the US only 18 percent of 12-year-olds had a mobile phone. In 2005 in Norway over 80 percent of 10-year-olds owned one (Vaage, 2010). By 2009 US mobile phone ownership among 12-year-olds was up to 58 percent. When compared with children, teens in general enjoy greater autonomy. They have more

independence from parents and develop more elaborate peer cultures (Fine, 2004; Ito et al., 2010, p. 8). Their mobile communication is directed towards peers to a higher degree than children’s which is primarily oriented toward the family (Green and Haddon, 2009, p. 98). Indeed teens text and use voice calls more than any other age group (Ling et al., 2011). In addition, they use the internet on the mobile phone more than younger children. The teen period is also characterized by negotiations of identity that is less common among children (Fine, 2004; Ito et al., 2010, p. 8). Teens, because of their different life situation, use mobile

media to manage social life to a higher degree than do children. For these reasons most research about mobile culture to date has focused on teens while explicit research on young children’s use remains less common. This fact will be reflected in the material reviewed in this essay.