Editorial: The new grown-up tween

There's not much doubt that kids today are growing up faster and sooner than children of generations past....
December 1, 1996

There’s not much doubt that kids today are growing up faster and sooner than children of generations past.

They’re more serious in many respects, and they’re certainly more worldly wise than their parents ever were when they were kids.

Our Kid Think column in this issue (page 10) asked kids age 10 to 13 about new programs that hit the air this fall: which shows they like and don’t like, and what they’d like to see more of. Kid Think found, surely to no one’s surprise, that kids overwhelming prefer comedies to other types of programming. But, as Kid Think researchers point out,

‘their reasons for liking comedies are very adult reasons. Life is tough for the preteen set these days . . . and comedies help them unwind after a stressful day at school.

‘But these kids aren’t total escapists. Again and again, they emphasized their desire for realism and relevance in all forms of programming, be they comedies or talk shows. This preference for realism was most apparent in the types of shows they would like to see in the future.’

This call it ‘accelerated maturity’ has profound implications in the consumer marketplace, and it affects just about everyone, not only those who manufacture and market products aimed directly at children.

A recent study of Canadian tweens (kids age nine to 14 years) by Toronto-based Creative Research International for the national youth cable service YTV provides a few insights that should be heeded by car makers and marketers of tourism as much as by toy manufacturers (see story page 56).

The study confirms that kids are more serious these days (more have some kind of job, and they are increasingly health-conscious), and it has some startling findings when it comes to tweens’ influence over a number of household purchases not traditionally connected to a teenaged decision-maker. About 25 percent of both tweens and parents in the survey agreed that the tweens had an influence on the family car purchase. Around three-quarters (74 percent of the tweens and 79 percent of the parents) said tweens influenced the holiday choice and 81 percent of tweens and 89 percent of parents felt tweens had a say in where the family dines.

There is growing evidence to suggest that marketers who continue to follow the straight-line assumption that the consumers who are tracked as the purchasers of their products are their only target audience may be both missing opportunities and wasting marketing dollars. Because, while the credit card used to buy the new family television set or personal computer may belong to either family parent, the real decision may have been made by the tween standing beside the parent in the store.

And in the case of some high-technology products, the decision is being deferred to the youngster not out of expediency or pacification, but because it’s now quite possible that the 12-year-old might have the better grip on which is the best product to buy.

‘Of course my parents would ask me what to buy. I’m the one in the mall all day,’ one tween told the YTV study’s researcher, who hastens to add that the young boy’s assertion was based on what the boy perceived as superior knowledge, stemming from a more active assimilation of information than his parents. Kids are not just roaming the malls aimlessly. They’re also taking the time to read advertisements and information kits. They are testing products. ‘These tweens are extremely well-informed and very active consumers,’ says Jordan Levitin, vice president of Creative Research International.

There is a report this fall that L’Oreal, a member of the Cosmair group of personal-care products companies, is about to launch a line of hair care products targeted directly at kids at the low end of the tween demographic. The shampoo line is considered to be the first of its kind to be created and marketed specifically to kids. It will be supported by a television campaign on Nickelodeon.

It appears as though the message is getting through.

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