The 'Teen Life' Category: a Tribute to Marketers' Ability to Swallow its Own Hype
A Tuesday YPulse session dubbed Totally Wired: Life seemed unable to decide whether it was dissecting Gen Y or seeking a restraining order from it. I managed to extract the following interesting points from the discussion:
* Every kid from middle school on down never knew a world without internet access
* Every kid from college on down never knew a world without video computing
The moderator noted, "[Technology for them] is natural, it's part of their DNA."
I don't know about all that, but it was a very poetic statement.
The trouble all started when a woman from the audience said something along the lines of, "Young people are media savvy, as in they understand how to use the tool. But do they have the values and judgment required to engage it?"
At this point the session unraveled into that ancient argument about how responsibly teens (don't) behave - who's protecting them from online predators? what about the high rate of teen depression and negative behaviors like wrist-cutting? with earbuds in ears, a mobile in hand and an AIM convo rolling all the while, what's happened to their eating habits?
Icing on the cake: when someone noted that a teenager's frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps them gauge the consequences of their actions, aren't fully developed until they're in their 20s. Okay, now there's scientific data to back up erratic teenage behavior.
(Because by the time you hit your 20s, you become an instant responsible adult.)
The room required a reality bitchslap. Here are three big things to remember about teens:
1. We were teenagers once, and we survived it. It wasn't hard
2. Most teens see through marketing bullshit. Most teens also see through predatory come-ons over the internet
3. Marketers invented the teenage demographic in the 1930s. We taught them how a "teen" is supposed to behave with television, music, intention and plenty of our own fantasies, just as we're doing with tweens
Who understood the monster better than Dr. Frankenstein? Are we really going to plead ignorance?
Which brings me to an important point. I think a major lesson I learned at this conference is if you approach a demographic with a sense of condescension and a clear inability to trust the judgment of these people (which, really, goes hand in hand with respect), you're going to get your hand bitten off.
And rightfully so.