Teenagers textingHow many teenagers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: none – they leave it until their parents do it. The common view of teenagers is that they are a bunch of grunting, lazy, self-centred individuals who suffer from “hormone trouble”. The truth is far different. Teenagers are amongst the most active people in society. They are keen to improve themselves, to learn and to contribute. Indeed, the word “teenager” did not exist until the 1950s as this whole period of our development was never seen as anything “different” until then. What has happened is that we have “constructed” the notion of “teenage” and then when we see a 14-year-old behaving in a way that appears different, it merely confirms our idea of teenage-hood.

Along with our assumptions about “being a teenager” we also think they spend their entire life on Facebook, or they never read books or that they are spend hours locked away in their bedrooms “surfing the net” for strange websites using their mobile phone at the same time. And if they are not doing that, OMG, they are blasting us with what they call “music” which only gives us “grown-ups” a headache. “Turn that noise down,” is the favourite phrase of many parents – who seem to forget it was the favourite phrase of their parents 25 years ago or more.

This picture of teenage life is, of course, an exaggeration; most teenagers study hard, work hard and contribute a great deal to society. Yet the stereotypes we apply to youngsters can cause problems. After all, if you are an online business trying to target teens you would probably put all your marketing cash into web promotion and the like. Wrong. Equally, if you were launching a new school textbook for children you’d probably think it was worthless putting it in print when “all teenagers want these days is stuff online”. Wrong again.

A study of the habits of teenagers has shown that they consume a whole variety of media; indeed 60% of their media consumption is OFFLINE. In other words, if you want to reach a teenager you are MORE LIKELY to get to them in print, or via the radio or TV. If you run an online business aimed at teenage consumers and you ignore the offline world you are missing out substantially.

Businesses of all kinds appear to make assumptions like this all the time. For instance, they assume because their target market are elderly, they don’t use the web. Wrong. Indeed, this week I read about a 95-year-old who was attending a “blogging for business” workshop. And for the past year or two, the fastest growing group on Facebook has been those over the age of 65.

The Internet is a medium which is used by all age groups. But the offline world has media which are similarly used by all age groups. In other words, if you assume that your target market behaves in a particular way you are likely to be using stereotypes which will simply damage your business potential.

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