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5 myths about teenagers’ lifestyles: Busted

October 9, 2013

5 myths about teenagers’ lifestyles: Busted

I would there were no age between 10 and three-and-20, or that youth would sleep out the rest, for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.”

Shakespeare’s words, not mine. A bit harsh, I would argue, but fascinatingly relevant of some of the myths and stereotypes about teenagers that are still around today. Ranging from the 2006 controversial reports about Britain’s adults being scared of the youth (1.5M of Britons thought about moving away from their local area due to young people hanging around and 1.7M reported avoiding going out after dark as a direct results of youths gathering), to talks about their extensive social media usage and self-obsession (selfie, anyone?) – the myths about teenagers are aplenty.

We at The Little Big Partnership love working with teens and creating great experiences for them – so here are some of our pet peeve myths: busted.

1. You can easily relate to them

Let’s get the basics out of the way first. You are unlikely to be a teen (if you are, would love for you to leave a comment on this article at the bottom!). The graduates in the team who are “closer to the age group” are not them either. For the record, neither am I, though I do spend an awful lot of time getting to know and working with them.

Therefore, what matters to you, me and the team, will not necessarily matter to them, it will not appeal or be interesting. We should be careful of extending our own belief systems into the target audience and not forget to research and test.

2. They are all super cool

An average teenager goes to school. Listens to music, including Justin (Bieber, duh) and Jessie J, though tastes vary enormously. An average teen shops on the high street, wishing they had a bit more pocket money (average for a 12-15 year old in the UK is £6.96 per week, going up to £9.88 for 16-18 year olds). He or she spends a lot of time doing homework, getting ready for GCSE exams / A-Levels and hoping to do something in life. An average teenager is not into drugs, and is not in a gang. An average teenager wants to fit in.

Their lifestyles are often much closer to normal, if such a concept exists, than stereotypes would have us believe.

3. Dey have 0 writin’ skillZ

A Cambridge professor, David Afulabia, somewhat famously expressed concerns over social media sending essay skills “down the plug hole”.  He cited Twitter and its 140 characters limit for leading to compressed language which ignores the rules of writing. This recent study found that 81% of teenagers use internet slang that their parents do not understand.

Whilst the Jury is still out on whether social media and text talk are helping or doing the opposite for language development, it is by no means fair to argue that today’s teens have lost their writing skills. Some argue that condensing prose to 140 characters stimulates thinking – you have to choose your words more carefully. A British study has identified a causal link between the use of text message abbreviations and high performance on standardised spelling tests.  Over in the States, an English literature teacher has been documenting how texting affects how students write and noted that 10% of student essays submitted to him contained text language. Whilst that may be 10% more than what is seen as desirable, it is not the mainstream and the vast majority still writes in the “usual” style.

N.B.: You can test your own knowledge of internet slang on this quiz. Good luck!http://www.knowthenet.org.uk/netspeak/

4. Their parents are not relevant any more

Growing up is a time of finding your own independence and consequently can be a time of conflict between parents and their offspring as both parties establish their new roles. But parents are by no means irrelevant to their teenagers’ lives. A US study showed that 84% of teenagers say they think highly of their mum, 81% feel the same about their dad, and a (surprising?) 75% report that they enjoy spending time with their parents. Over in the UK, 54% of teenage girls cite their mum as their primary role model. In summary – parents, their opinions, protection and time spent together still matter.

5. They are all on Facebook. All the time.

The idea that teens are too busy being digital natives to engage with any traditional media is popular, easy to buy into, but false nevertheless. Time spent watching TV and “going online” is on par in the UK for 13-16 year olds, whilst other media channels such as radio or a game console account for significant portions of total media time too (Childwise 2012-13). Don’t jump to conclusions, and invest in a study of your specific audience’s media habits to for higher chances of getting it right.
Five myths: busted. Hopefully this gives you five reasons to approach your teenage audience with an open mind and question the stereotypes portrayed in the media (or in classical literature, if you are into Shakespeare).  Do you have any to add to the list?
By Jelena Stosic

Image courtesy of kathryn  

Back   |   Posted in: Audience insights

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