Are You Communicating with Teens?

They're numerous, cool and impressionable. They already spend millions. In a decade or so, they’ll be your primary market. Are you talking teens' language?

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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They want to be cool, are impressionable and have the cash – some $150 billion, reports PBS's Frontline.

Comprising a large part of the Millennial Generation born between 1980 and 2000, the teen demographic is becoming one of the most studied and analyzed generations in U.S. history. They are the fastest growing demographic segment, increasing to 32 million between 1990 and 2000 alone. By 2010 there will be 33.5 million of them, comprising 10 percent of the population.

Sometimes called the Internet Generation, Echo Boomers, the Boomlet, Nexters, Generation Y, the Nintendo Generation, the Digital Generation, the Sunshine Generation (in Canada), most recently Generation Text, and Generation Qué (Latinos), most prefer to be called Millennials, according to a survey by ABCNews.com.

"One of the biggest surprises for adults is today's teens are really mature; they are 15 going on 25," says Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited (www.teenresearch.com), Northbrook, Ill. "They are exposed to an awful lot these days in terms of images – sex, drugs and violence – but despite this exposure they have great composure. They are basically good kids and are handling this exposure in a good way."

These teens are team-oriented and that makes sense, according to Wood. "This is the first age group that has grown up in organized sporting leagues and teams," he says. "Overprotected all their lives, they haven't really been on their own, but their parents didn't have much choice. The rules changed in terms of what play is for a teen, what they can and can't do. This is a generation that grew up wearing a car seat, a bicycle helmet, being told they can't just go out and play or trick or treat, and they've grown up experiencing some dramatic events – 9/11, the tsunami and Katrina. There's a real sense of parents wanting to protect them."

Communicating with Teens article: Jones Lemon Drop Soda
Teen researcher Michael Wood notes today's teens are rather mature in terms of what they've been exposed to, yet also have been protected and pampered by their parents. Given the chance to customize products for themselves – as suggested by this example from Jones Soda Co. – teens reveal both self-determination and childlike qualities.

Mobility and increased responsibility because of two-income families means teens shop for themselves all the time, but also are responsible for more of the family shopping, influencing major purchases as well as foods and beverages, reports RetailWire.com. The most affluent generation of young people to date, more than one-third get an allowance from their parents, nearly three-quarters work around the house to earn cash and nearly one-third work while going to school, according to Mintel International (www.mintel.com).

They control $4,500 in annual discretionary dollars at age 16, and 70 percent spend up to $35 per week on food or beverages for themselves -- mostly on snacks or fast food. Boys under age 18 have an average of $525 to spend each month, while girls have $430, according to Jim Taylor, futurist and vice chairman of The Harrison Group (www.intellisponse.com/worlds), Waterbury, Conn. Total projected spending for teens in 2006 is $128.5 billion.

The first generation to grow up surrounded by digital media, teens (and children 8 to 12) gorge themselves on eight and a half hours of media a day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kff.org). They are proficient at multi-tasking, and one can get exhausted watching them play Internet games, download movies to their DVD players, do homework, download music to their iPods, talk on the cell phone to one person and text message another, all while eating. On the downside, this generation is also known for attention problems and inability to delay gratification.

Don't dis them

Raised by protective, indulgent, active, involved Boomer and Xer parents (and grandparents), teens have been pampered and coddled. They perceive grownups as "too stressed out," and, although they actually like and admire their parents, they don't want the same lifestyle. With pen pals in Singapore and Sydney, Millennials see things as global, connected and open for business 24/7.

Success to them means being really good at your job, having a good relationship with your kids and being in control of your life, according to a survey by TRU. They exhibit a strong need for individuality in their self-expression, have a strong sense of empowerment, like to work in teams, believe they can conquer any challenge, seek out causes to support and are hip to hype from the media.

When it comes to ethnicity and race, teens are the most diverse market segment, and are not overly concerned with ethnic designators. They blur the lines between ethnicity and race, according to market research firm Cheskin (www.cheskin.com), Redwood Shores, Calif., defining themselves as "intra-cultural." In fact, one out of every three teens belongs to a minority race or ethnic group, compared to one out of five in the Pre-Boomer generation. Some 15 percent are African American/Black, 15 percent are Hispanic/Latino, 4 percent are Asian American and the remaining two-thirds are Caucasian. But Asian American teens are expected to grow 31 percent in this decade alone, to 1,1888,000 in 2010, and by 2020 the Hispanic/Latino teen market – now at 4.6 million – will balloon 62 percent, growing six times faster than the rest of teens.

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