Teens. Who are they? In a nutshell, they are a mass of contradictions: Realists at heart, yet they believe they can and will make a difference in the world. Savvy consumers, yet don’t think they are influenced by advertising. Overflowing with cynicism, yet happy and optimistic. Teens are totally self-absorbed and self-focused but purport to be very conscious about the environment and the social practices of businesses. And, finally, teens are brash, confident and have an in-your-face approach to life, yet they haven’t figured themselves out.
Teens are a tough nut to crack. They are in the process of defining both their world and themselves and each are constantly changing contradictions. They’re hyper connected but their world barely stretches beyond what is around them today; “global” is a term without real meaning but one that they use frequently. When it comes right down to it, they barely look at the world beyond high school. (And whose high school experience was really that great, anyway?)
Teens are redefining the rules of life.
How teens live.
Not only is the world around them changing fast, but their daily schedule is practically swirling around them. They have to juggle like crazy or (heaven forbid) the might miss someone or miss out on something. Juggling is innate for todays teens. For GenXers, it was an acquired skill. For today’s teen, it’s as natural as breathing.
Terms like “Internet speed” and “Social Media” are meaningless to teens since they’ve never lived without them. Life, as defined by technology today, is instantaneous. Need a book for school? Download it off Amazon. Want to see what your friend is doing on her vacation? Check out her Instagram feed where she’s posted today’s photos from Paris. Voilà! In fact, for the teen, social media isn’t a thing you do, it’s simply a way of life. Documenting and sharing even the most mundane moments (“Eggs for breakfast. #Nomnom.”) are just how teens live and express themselves. And more importantly, it’s how they connect with the world.
How teens think: It’s a wired world.
We invited teens to pizza night to talk about their lives. The first thing we did was to ask them to disarm themselves.
Oh. You mean turn off my phone?
It was as if the concept of turning it off was totally new. And they very begrudgingly obliged us. What is the concern here, we wondered? “Well, Joshua, my boyfriend is supposed to text me when he goes on break from work tonight. I can’t text him back since he’s at work, so I don’t want to miss him.” Anything pressing you need to talk to him about? “No, not really, I guess. I just want to talk to him.” Uh, but you’re texting, not talking? “Yeah, I guess. It’s the same thing.” Thus ensued some embarrassed giggling and knowing eye exchanges around the table. The message here: Being connected is a way of life. One senior told us, “My cell phone is one of the most important things I own. If I lost it, I’d feel lost.”
How teens feel.
Unlike other generations before, this group of teens believes that success is not necessarily based on hard work. IT JUST HAPPENS. In fact, they really believe it is going to happen to them in a way that it hasn’t happened for their parents. Given the dramatic shift in television programming over the last 10 years – the formative years of today’s teens – it’s not surprising that they not only embrace Reality TV, but think of themselves as their own stars. This change marks a significant shift in our culture where stars no longer have to be “movie” stars or models. One driving truth in this Reality TV craze is that teens love this in-your-face brutal honesty. To them, the crazier the better (hello, Snooky) and they no longer see a clear distinction between reality and what is real.
Thanks to this blurred distinction between real and reality, teens have developed an elevated sense of self. They think of themselves as being untouchable because they’ve always had the empowerment of the Internet and access to any information right at their fingertips. No waiting, no roadblocks, no delays. Just what you want, when you want it. They see themselves as undefeatable and interestingly, they have no heroes. They think of themselves as indestructible because while reality may be hard, like what they see on Reality TV, they can do anything. Have a problem? Fix it yourself. Want something? Charge it. Need some advice? Post your question online. Popularity is gauged by how many followers you have and cool is about how many likes your posts get.
They believe they can rise above their circumstances whenever they want. Right now, they just don’t want to.
Which leads to the “It’s all about me” attitude.
At the heart of the teen world, they don’t see a future. Masters of Zen, for teens there is only the moment in which they are living right now. Their decisions don’t really have consequences and at the very least, they believe that any consequences passed down are not going to have any lasting impact on how they live or what they do. Getting caught drinking is a nagging worry, but not because they have guilt over doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Instead, they worry they might have to miss the next party. To them, long-term is never more than a semester.
This lack of regard for the future or their actions makes it easy to mark teens as being predominately selfish. But, is this really true? Or is it perhaps, they just don’t know any better? Snarling in disgust, teen after teen will tell you:
Adults see us as troublemakers, babies, materialistic, selfish partiers.
They don’t think of us as people.
Ironically enough, blockbusters on screen continually perpetuate these negative stereotypes, but teens can laugh at themselves because they don’t believe the stereotype is true.
What teens value.
There is an ongoing, much heated debate over the burning issue around what teens value. The myth that marketers have rallied around is that teens prefer new, exciting, fresh experiences over comfort. But, that’s not always true. We’ve debunked the myths to get down to 4 real truths:
TRUTH #1: Teens seek comfort over cool.
This doesn’t mean cool isn’t important. It just isn’t the end-all, be-all of their world. Comfort is about establishing an environment and mindset that belongs just to you. It isn’t something that is shared with others and isn’t something they typically talk about either. But comfort items top the list when asked to name the possessions they couldn’t live without.
TRUTH #2: Teens crave the familiar.
They love nostalgia. Just look around their rooms. They surround themselves with pictures and photo albums, documenting their lives. “My photo albums contain my memories that I will always have a visual of.” Surrounding themselves by the familiar is really celebrating connections with the people in their lives. Favorite activities are typically hanging out with friends, spending time with boyfriend/girlfriend, having fun with others.
TRUTH #3: Convenience is a desired way of life.
Their whole lives are dictated by convenience. This is readily apparent in the value they place on their devices – their cell phones (“If I left home without my cell phone, it would be like going out without taking a shower. I wouldn’t feel right.” -Michael) their computers (“I usually get online and email and chat with my friends every night. If I couldn’t do that anymore I’d feel so cut off.” -Amy) and their cars (“Before I had my car, I stayed home most of the time. Now I can go wherever I want, when I want to go without waiting for my mom to give me a ride.” -Crystal).
TRUTH #4: Teens seek control – but passively.
Ask them what they believe, they say things like, “What is meant to be will happen.” They are cynical, yet have a very Zen attitude. Control over one’s life is important, like setting the rules on what to do and how you do it. The thought of controlling one’s destiny sounds good, but in the bigger picture, they believe things happen no matter what you do.
“I don’t know where to meet guys. When I’m meant to be with someone, he’ll find me.” -Keri
The lesson here:
For the teen, their values stem from their technological way of life: it’s fast, convenient, straight-forward, live, personalized, brutally open and (in their minds), totally share worthy. Teens have always been an important influencer market and this has never been more true than it is right now. They live, breathe, eat and sleep with technology and use it seamlessly to express and experience all aspects of life simultaneously.