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Growing Up and Liking It (Or Not)

2 Nov, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

“Growing Up and Liking It” was the name of a pamphlet I got in P.E. class somewhere around sixth grade.

It was one of those rites of passage for the American adolescent, when suddenly, one day instead of dressing out for a ribald game of racquetball, we are told to stay in our normal clothes and the boys are skirted away to some murky unknown destination and we girls are treated to a charming video full of flowers blooming and petals unfurling as we “discover” what the joys of being a woman are about to bring.

I remember my mom laughed when I brought home the “Growing Up and Liking It” pamphlet (reading material which, frankly, left me more confused than anything else). This was smack dab in a time in my life when I would often lie awake at night and cry because I didn't want to grow up, I didn't want to get old, I didn't want to die.

I had a touch of a melodramatic streak, yes.

My mother taught me the meaning of the word irony in her laughter over that pamphlet.

I thought of that pamphlet again recently as I sat listening to all sorts of marketing and entertainment executives speak about the influential consumptive power of the American teenager at the “What Teens Want Conference.”

Of late, with all the discussion of new media and digital delivery and what a strong role the teenage demographic plays in this, I can't help thinking — what happens when this age group grows up?

I mean, there are some absolutes when it comes to teenage behavior, but every generation is different. Will the next batch of teens be as digitally obsessed as the current crop? Will the Youtube phenomenon burn out like so many other fads of the past? Or will it evolve and become homogenized to the point that it is no longer even appeals to the wacky, expressive and/or rebellious teen element?

I think it's dangerous to bank a whole business model, a whole path of the industry on the teen market. And yet, every conference I attend where digital delivery is discussed, this age group is held up as a beacon of the wave of the future.

But how many things do you still do that you did as a teenager? How much of this age group's connected behaviors will carry through to their adulthood? I think you could argue that many activities will, but certainly not all.

One rather startling thing I've discovered as I sit listening to analysts and pop culture purveyors talk about this age group is how much I still seem to have in common with it.

In many ways, my entertainment consumption habits mirror what people say about teenagers. I spend a lot of time interacting with music, whether that's buying and listening to CDs, downloading tracks (legally) or going to concerts, as well as updating my Myspace page, instant messaging, etc.

Part of this I think can be attributed to me getting to the ripe old age of 34 with no children, mortgage or otherwise highly intrusive responsibilities to command a chunk of my discretionary dollar and free time.

Or part of it, I guess can be attributed to those nights crying over “Growing Up and Liking It.” Maybe it's my way of staving off that quashed fear I've felt for so many years.

Are today's teenagers like me? Are they growing up and not liking it? As they age, will they evolve away from many of the behaviors that are setting them apart from the population at large, or will they cling to them?

It remains to be seen, and while I totally buy into the idea of a trendy clothing company or soda company banking on this segment of the market, movies and entertainment have a much broader sea of users than just teens.

I hope entertainment creators and marketers will take what they have learned about teen behaviors, especially with regard to digital delivery, and use what they see to try to bring the rest of us more fully into the fold and find those layers where our interests and desires overlap.

After all, whether teens or the folks who sell to them like it or not, they are going to grow up.

(But not me.)

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