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Teens and screens - exploring the digital behaviours of todays teenagers | #PurposeMonth

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The generation of young people currently (and rather patronisingly) being dubbed the “zoomers” have spent their entire lives glued to screens. From the moment they were born, high-speed internet and smartphones were always the norm and their collective identity has, in a quite significant way, been shaped by that.

The media landscape of 2022 is in constant flux, with young people being exposed to more online advertising than ever before. But just because they’ve spent their whole lives being exposed to it does that make the children of today properly equipped to identify, interpret and critically evaluate all forms of advertising?

A meaningful relationship with your phone

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The relationship todays teenagers have with their phones is arguably the most profound relationship of their lives up to that point, parents aside. If you’ve spent time with any teenager recently you’ll undoubtedly have noticed they spend more time looking at their phones than not looking at their phones.

So, one would assume, they are all essentially experts when it comes to the digital world? To put this to the test, Media Smart, the advertising industry’s non-profit education programme, teamed up with youth centred creative business, Livity, to commission and conduct a report that dives headfirst into the digital behaviours of 10 to 16 year-olds today. 

According to Media Smart, their mission statement is to “ensure that every child in the UK, aged 7 – 16, can confidently navigate the media they consume.” The idea behind the report is that it would explore the relationship between teenagers and digital advertising by asking the kids themselves.

Is it safe or is it real?

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Livity recruited both young people and their parents or guardians to take part in the research for the report. They were asked to complete digital diaries to keep track of the adverts they were seeing and participate in focus groups to discuss responses further. 

The team also spoke to a range of Media Smart’s advertising industry partners, supporters and stakeholders to hear their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities presented by youth advertising literacy education.

Research from the report revealed that 80% of 13 to 16 year-olds are more likely to buy a product promoted by an influencer, compared to 50% of 10 to 12 year-olds, who are not even able to distinguish between ads and non-ads. The report also shows that the younger age group are more concerned about what is ‘safe’, whilst the older age group worry more about what is ‘real’

What we learned today

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The research was undertaken to ultimately establish what young people need help with to stay safe and empowered online. The resulting report seemed to find that there is a definite need for more niche focus in schools on media literacy. Critical thinking around advertising messaging is a key skill to be taught, and safety and media literacy needs to be made more of a priority. 

The importance of entertainment in online safety and media literacy is also being overlooked. Because, while there are certainly inherent dangers, there is an opportunity to meet them on the platforms they know and love by naturally incorporating educational messaging into the content they consume through entertainment.

The bottom line is that by partnering with key platforms that young people use and engaging with them through the online spaces they enjoy spending time on, we have a real chance to cut through the noise and truly understand these so-called ‘zoomers’.

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