UK teenagers spend less time online than adults – an average of 331 minutes in September for users aged 12 to 17 compared with 373 minutes for adults.

Nonetheless, 12-17 year olds account for nearly a sixth of active UK users and, despite their lack of financial credit, teenagers spend a good chunk of their disposable income online – 13 per cent according to a recent US Jupiter consumer survey. More than three-quarters use their parents' credit cards to pay, though there are now a variety of new schemes to hook the under-18s with their own cards.

Teenagers are often very busy people, so the Internet has to compete with other entertainment activities – from seeing friends, shopping and spending time on the latest fads. It can be difficult to win and keep their attention. Teenagers see the Internet as, primarily, an entertainment and communication tool, not something to improve productivity or ease everyday responsibilities – assuming they have any.

Gender gap The US Jupiter research showed that, beyond the common interests of email, search, and instant messaging, the gender divide is strong. Girls are more likely to send e-greetings, do homework and read magazines online, while boys were more likely to download music and software, and play online games. Games news sites – sites with hints, tips and reviews of games – have a very loyal following among teenagers.

Boys are heavier Web users than girls in general – although France is an exception – both in terms of time spent online and average pages viewed. The top ten sites for boys are devoted to games, building Web pages and downloading, whereas girls' favourite sites concentrate on communication – email, mobile ring tones, electronic cards and gossip. The number one girls' site is Another.com, which provides alternative email addresses: the most popular choice for girls is angelwings.co.uk. Boys prefer something a bit more macho or rude, such as bogroll.co.uk or babemagnet.co.uk.

Research by Nielsen//NetRatings found that teens were less responsive to advertisements. Their overall click rates are lower than adults, but they do click on adverts targeted at their interests, particularly if there is a free offer involved.