Survey: Teens Forging Internet Growth and Usage

July 29, 2005 — -- In this week's "Cybershake," we take a look at a new survey that delves into the growing online population of teens and what they're doing on the Net. Plus, we look at the push to keep kids from finding pornography online.

Teens Driving the Internet

It's no surprise that in the United States Internet and digital technology has drawn the attention of people of all ages. But a new survey from the non-profit research organization, the Pew Internet and American Life Project in Washington, D.C., says the Net has reach near-saturation point with American teens.

According to its latest "Teens and Technology" report, approximately 87 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 now use the Internet. Amanda Lenhart, senior research analyst at the Pew organization, says that amounts to roughly 21 million teenagers -- a nearly 25 percent jump in numbers from the online teen population of 17 million just five years ago.

"We've seen a similar growth in the adult population online," says Lenhardt. But, "they [teens] are more likely to go online on a daily basis. About half of teens go online every single day."

And what they use the Internet for is, in some cases, vastly different from their parents or even older siblings. For example:

81 percent -- 17 million -- Internet teens say they play games online. Only 32 percent of adults admit to logging on to the Net for games.

57 percent of online teens log on to find information about potential schools while only 45 percent of online adults do this.

67 percent of online adults made purchase online while only 43 percent of online teens admit to shopping. Still, the report notes those 9 million teens marks a 71 percent growth in teenage online shoppers.

More online adults -- 44 percent -- seek job information online compared to online teens (30 percent).

Both teens and adults view the Net as a great communication tool. But even here, there's a vast split. While adults still view e-mail as the must-have, "killer application" online, teens in the survey report that they view e-mail as something to use to talk to "old people," institutions or to send out complex instructions to large groups of people.

Instead, teens prefer instant messaging systems -- short, impromptu text messages over more established e-mails. Seventy-five percent of online teens -- or about two-thirds of all teens -- say they use IMs, compared to only 42 percent of online adults.

"They're much more savvy with the instant messaging," says Lenhart. "They have adopted these technologies more intensively than adults have, so they're the leaders."

For its Teen and Technology report, Pew conducted telephone surveys of 1,100 pairs of parents and children during October to November. The margin of error is 4 percent.

The complete report, including the survey questions, can be found at the Pew organization's Web site:

-- Richard Davies, ABC News

Another Push Against Online Porn

The population of children and teenagers isn't the only thing growing on the Internet.

A new report by a Washington, D.C.-based group called Third Way notes that the number of pornographic Web pages -- 420 million -- has jumped over 3,000 percent since 1998. And the group claims the online porn industry makes it easily accessible to anyone online, rather than just "adults only."

For example, there are online porn search engines such as "Booble," a clever knockoff of the mainstream Google search site. And, according to the report, only 3 percent of explicit Web sites use any "age verification" technology to ensure that material is available to adults only. The rest, says the report, rely on an "honor system."

On Wednesday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln. D-Ark., led a coalition of fellow legislators to introduce a new bill designed to prevent the growing number of online kids from being easily exposed to online smut.

One of the major provisions of the proposed Internet Safety and Child Protection Act, would mandate operators of adult Web sites to use much more robust technology and methods to confirm that their visitors are indeed of adult age.

"Right now to purchase cigarettes, alcohol -- even adult magazines -- at your local convenience store, proper identification is required by law," said Lincoln. "Therefore, it is just plain common sense to do the same thing for the Internet."

Moreover, the bill would institute a 25 percent tax on any transactions related to online porn and establish a protection fund that would be used to fight online pornography crimes against children.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., says such provisions in the proposed bill make sense given the amount of money the Internet porn industry rakes in annually.

"Internet pornography now generates $12 billion a year," said Lieberman. "That's equal to the combined revenues of the three major TV networks, CBS, NBC and ABC."

The adult industry is lobbying hard against the bill, saying it is being unfairly targeted.

"People in the adult business -- let me make myself very clear -- don't want kids seeing their product. Period," said Jason Tucker, president of Los Angeles-based Falcon Foto, an erotic library that supplies a majority of the explicit photos seen in men's magazines and online.

Tucker, a parent of two stepdaughters and another child on the way, says he understands the need to protect kids from adult material. But he believes that should be the responsibility of parents or other adults.

"This is where parents are supposed to step up and take responsibility … for supervising or at least impressing upon the youth what is OK and what is not OK," said Tucker. "The government is not going to be able to be a parent."

-- Andrea Smith, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.