December 7, 2006 3:54 PM PST

Teens and media: a full-time job

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For teens, consuming media is a full-time job.

According to a study released this week, Americans aged 13 to 18 spend more than 72 hours a week using electronic media--defined as the Internet, cell phones, television, music and video games. Because teens are known for multitasking, their usage of devices can overlap.

So much technology makes teens feel they are playing a starring role in their own reality TV show, said Jim Taylor, vice chairman of the Harrison Group, which conducted the 2006 Teen Trend study.

"This generation is unique," Taylor said. "Teen life has become a theatrical, self-directed media production."

The Harrison Group, whose 2006 Teen Trends study was sponsored by VNU Business Media, surveyed 1,000 Americans aged 13 to 18 on their thoughts and habits, to extrapolate trends for the estimated 25.2 million teens in the United States. This is the third year of the study.

The study estimates that despite their age, teens have great purchasing power, thanks to money coming in from part-time jobs and parents. Teenagers spend about $195 billion annually on clothes, eating out, cars, movies and cell phones, according to the report.

They're also spending money on technology.

For 2006, one-third of teens reported owning an Apple Computer iPod, up from only 1 percent in 2003, according to the study. More than half said they also own and play Sony's PlayStation 2, and one-third said they own an original Microsoft Xbox game console. But as many as three quarters reported playing video games on a regular basis.

As you might expect, music is high on the average teen's to-do list. Their love of music is second only to their love of friends and even ahead of their love of family, according to the study. Harrison estimates that 75 percent of teens spend two or three hours a day downloading or listening to music online. Roughly half of those kids say that downloading music for free is illegal. But 41 percent are unconcerned with the ramifications or ethics of illegal downloads.

An estimated 68 percent of teens have created profiles on social networks like MySpace.com, Xanga or Facebook. More than a quarter of the population keeps in touch with friends online on a daily basis, either through instant messaging, e-mail, message boards or chat rooms. According to the study, the average teen chats via IM with 35 people for a total of three hours a week. But the average teen will only call or e-mail with seven people who are not on their IM list on a weekly basis.

Yet teens are not without some fear. Among their top concerns are Internet predators, the Iraq war and energy consumption. More than half of all teenagers cited in the study said that environmental issues are a "critical or extremely serious problem."

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