Teenagers. We know what they’re all about. Like we were at their age, they’re carefree, hedonistic, impetuous, cutting-edge idlers. Like a cooler version of Harry Enfield’s character Kevin the Teenager, right?
Well no, not most of today’s teenagers – not the recession generation. They’ve strayed far from our picture of the ‘traditional’ teen. A range of major polls show that today’s young people are much more likely to worry about the future. They are typically risk averse, with many focused on saving and even pensions. They’re surprisingly traditional. Frequently hard-working (though sometimes a little directionless). And new NHS figures from last month show that – despite lurid tabloid headlines – levels of teen drinking, smoking, drug taking and pregnancy have all fallen dramatically. Today’s teens are less Kevin, and more Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous.
I dislike terms like Generation Y or Generation Z. We should define a generation by its character or influences: like the Boomers (born in the Baby Boom, so having the confidence of a large group), Generation X (X stands for nothing – or everything) and the millennials (coming of age around the millennium, a time of change and possibilities).
I prefer to call today’s youngest people the Recession Generation. Although the previous generation showed signs of this new, serious attitude, it was the impact of the slump on young minds that created today’s teen mindset. Unlike the millennials – who grew up at a time of young dotcom billionaires and overnight celebrities – today’s teens do not expect something for nothing. They are doing more for themselves – and their peers. They’re expressing some traditional social attitudes, like civic responsibility. There are signs they’re not as payment-averse as their elder siblings, though they appear more wary of the risks of big-ticket spending, whether personal and governmental.
We are witnessing probably the biggest change in teenage attitudes since the 1960s. It’s going to have a huge impact on business – on strategy, marketing, sales and product design. Some positive, some disruptive, but all significant. I’ll explore some of the most important implications in next month’s column…
William Higham is founder and chief executive of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing