Extent of cellphone usage by children and teens worldwide

איור של ילדים על הגלובוס

Children and teens are amongst the first to adopt new technologies and are considered enthusiastic users. They spend long hours using their cellphones for a variety of purposes (communications, surfing the internet, games, watching movies, taking photographs, etc.) Just as in adults, the rate of cellphone usage by children and teens around the world is increasing.

Various studies carried out around the world in the past few years show increasing cellphone usage by children and teens, along with additional trends such as a drop in the age at which children start using cellphones, an increase in the use of cellphones for surfing the internet and more widespread use of smartphones (versus “regular” phone usage).

The following review presents data on cellphone usage by children and teens, in different countries around the world, published in the past few years.

  • The following data were taken from various studies and because the subject is constantly changing, we have noted the year in which each study/survey was conducted.
  • Most of the studies reviewed in this article described cellphone usage habits amongst children and the data was collected by personal questionnaires.
  • It should be noted that these studies used different terminology (such as ownership or access) to describe if the cellphone was available to the children /owned by them / used by them etc. In addition, as the use of the term “cellphone ownership” by children is problematic (since it is not possible for them to be registered as phone owners)  in some of the studies the children were asked to which devices they had access.
  • Accordingly, we have taken care to note what questions the children were asked in each survey/ study.


Rates of 12-17 year-old children in the USA who had access to cellphones

  • A telephone survey of 802 teens and their parents, conducted in 2012 in the USA (Madden) found that 78% of teens had a cellphone, 47% of whom had smartphones. Overall 37% of the teens who participated in the survey had smartphones (compared to 23% in 2011).
  • 1,060 teens aged 13-19 and their parents participated in a study conducted in the USA during 2014-2015 (Lenhart) that described technology usage amongst teens via an internet survey. It found that 88% of all teens participating in the survey reported having some type of cellphone. Nearly 75% of the teens had smartphones or access to a smartphone, and 30% possessed a basic cellular telephone that is not a smartphone. Only 12% of the teens reported not having any cellphone whatsoever.

Rates of 12-17 year-old children in the USA who had access to cellphones, by year

Selected results of survey of cellphone usage amongst children in Europe and Japan (2013)

  • In 2013, a comprehensive study was performed in 7 countries in Europe (Mascheroni): Britain, Denmark, Italy, Romania, Ireland, Portugal and Belgium. The study was conducted within the framework of the Net Children Go Mobile project, and assessed internet usage amongst children aged 9-16 via face to face interviews. Overall 3500 children participated in the survey; 500 from each country.
  • A 2014 study (GSMA) compared the results of this European study with data from a study that described cellphone and internet usage amongst children in Japan (the study in Japan was conducted in 2014 and included about 1000 children, also aged 9-16).


Percentage of children using cellphones, by country


Below are the main findings of the study that compared the 8 nations (Europe and Japan):

Selected results of survey of cellphone usage among children in Europe and Japan


On comparison between countries, the highest rate of cellphone usage was observed in Denmark (93%), followed by Portugal (about 76%) and Britain (about 74%). Japan was the country with the lowest rate: 58% of the participating children used a cellphone.


The average age of receiving a Smartphone

  • From the seven nations that participated in the European study in 2013, the average age for receiving a smartphone was 12 and the average age for receiving a non-smart cellphone was 9 (the children were asked: “How old were you when you received your first cellphone or smartphone?”)
  • On Comparison between countries, children from Denmark were the youngest when they received their first cellphone or smartphone (age 8 - cellphone, age 11 - smartphone), versus Belgium where children received phones at the latest age (age 10 - cellphone, age 13 -smartphone).
  • According to the study, starting in 2011 children of all ages received a smartphone as their first cellphone and not a regular cellphone.


More teens than younger children have smartphones

  • In the 2013 study (Mascheroni) that was conducted in 7 European counties, it was found that the percentage of teens possessing smartphones was higher than amongst younger children (64% at ages 15-16, 55% at ages 13-14, 40% of children at ages 11-12, and 20% of children at ages 9-10).
  • This trend was also observed in the USA, in the study conducted in 2015 (Lenhart) where it was found that 76% of 15-17 age group had smartphones compared to 68% of the 13-14 age group.
Percentage of children owning smartphones in Europe and the USA


Using a cellphone to surf the internet

A 2010 study (Stald) was conducted amongst 25,142 children aged 9-16 from 25 countries in Europe that use the internet.

The results of this study were compared to the aforementioned 2013 European Net Children Go Mobile.

The study described how children aged 9-16 changed the manner in which they use the internet since 2010 – when most of the children used PC’s (desktops or laptops) for surfing – to 2013. It was found that in 2013 the smartphone was the device that children used the most for surfing the internet, between all of the devices that they were asked about (more than desktop computers, laptop computers, cellphones, tablets, iPad and e-book readers).

Regarding the question of internet access from mobile devices, the children were asked various questions: In 2010 they were asked which devices they used to surf the internet –a cellphone or a different device? In 2013, the children participating in the survey were asked how frequently they used tablets versus smartphones when surfing the internet.



Percentage who use cellphones to surf the internet, by age and year in Europe

Comparing the data from 2010 to the data from 2013, it can be seen that:

  • In the age group 11-12 - in 2010 26% of children surfed the internet with a cellphone, compared to 35% in 2013
  • In the age group 13-14 - in 2010 34% of children surfed the internet with a cellphone, compared to 52% who surfed the internet with a smartphone in 2013
  • In the age group 15-16 - in 2010 42% of teens surfed the internet with a cellphone, compared to 60% who surfed the internet with a smartphone in 2013

The conclusion arising from this comparison is that there is a trend towards increasing use of smartphones for surfing the internet amongst children and teens.



  1. Madden, M. et al (2013). Teens and Technology 2013, Pew Internet & American Life Project , March 13.
  2. Lenhart, Amanda, “Teen, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015",  Pew Research Center, April 2015
  3. Mascheroni, G&Cuman, A. (2014) Net Children Go Mobile: Final report Deliverables D 6.4& D5.2 Milano: Educatt.
  4. GSM Association and the Mobile Society Research Institute within NTT DOCOMO. Children’s use of mobile phone. A special report 2014.
  5. Stald, G., Green, L., Barbovski, M., Haddon, L., Mascheroni, G., Ságvári, B., Scifo, B. and Tsaliki, L. (2014) Online on the mobile: Internet use on smartphones and associated risks among youth in Europe, London: EU Kids Online,LSE. Online at: http://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/EUKidsOnline/EU%20Kids%20III/Rep...


Date update: 1.11.2017