Teens are struggling to rebel and progress and they need – and expect – more from companies.

What we’ve seen

Every generation is shaped by their environment around them and by an urge to rebel against their predecessors, and in this regard, today’s teens are no different from earlier incarnations. However, there are a number of ‘environmental factors’ that distinguish them. Let’s start with the negatives. Many of today’s teens are growing up in an era of intense economic hardship and stringent state regulations, whilst watching on as many of their elders suffer the consequences of failing to look after their long-term financial or physical health.

This is compelling those teens entering the ‘adult world’ to react, with many opting for entrepreneurship or apprenticeship over academia and many more deciding to remain living with their parents in a bid to save money as well as nurture their disposable income. This generation may share the homes of their parents and grandparents but that does not mean they necessarily share their values. Young people inhabit an era where state legislation has made vices like smoking and drinking prohibitively expensive. They’ve also seen the cost incurred by those elders that took a reckless approach to alcohol, drugs and money and vowed not make the same mistakes. In one sense, we’re seeing a reactionary, conservative rebellion – a revolt against the traditional clichés of the rebellions of previous generations – but we’re also seeing a generation that’s been cornered by the supernanny state and left with little room for manoeuvre.

As such today’s teens are extremely health conscious and more informed then previous generations. The paradox is obesity and the fact that growing up in a better connected world has caused them to lead more virtual, sedentary and less physically active lives than previous generations. As a result, their good intentions demand a helping hand from companies in the food, beverage, health and beauty sectors. Connectivity has supported entrepreneurship and creativity, fostering a ‘sky’s the limit’ mentality and a growing desire for fame. The downside of this is that we’re seeing evidence for a more pressured and deluded generation, one that seems to have a weak emotional immune system, leaving it vulnerable to anxiety and disorders.

For all their troubles, today’s teens are growing up in a better world, one that strives for sustainable sourcing, gender equality and greater corporate accountability. They may be currently be constrained by finances, but growing up as digital natives should see them emerge as a generation that sees the bigger picture and look at things on a greater global scale. Teens are also growing up in the midst of heightened debates around sustainability and gender equality and they’re more clued up than previous generations and more than capable of checking on corporate practices and behaviour.


Africa, Latin America and the India subcontinent are rightly thought of as ‘young’ regions where we find demographic profiles dominated by adolescents. According to Unicef, there are 243 million 10-19 year olds in India, representing a quarter of the population, whilst Mexico’s 17.5 million teens represent 15.6% of its people, according to INEGI. Unicef also shows that India (243 million; 20%), China (201 million; 15%) and the US (41 million; 12%) have the highest volumes and proportions of 10-19 year olds.

The experiences of teens in emerging economies remain different from their western counterparts, but European and North American youth are growing up in hard times. The UN reports that 17.5% of 15-24 year olds are currently unemployed, whilst Davos states that for 16-24s the rates rise to 50% in Spain and 90% in Arab countries. Economic hardship creates broken homes and rising numbers of children growing up in poverty (1 in 3 in the UK and 1 in 5 in the US, according to endchildpoverty.org.uk and the NCCP). These factors are behind the emergence of a generation more frightened and depressed than its predecessors. Mental Health America has reported a threefold increase in suicides amongst 15-24s since 1960, whilst Statistics Korea reports that almost 9% of the country’s 15-24s have thought about taking their own lives. In the US, we’ve seen a study in JAMA Psychiatry argue that recession can impact negatively on young people.

In response we are seeing a growth in CSR initiatives aimed at improving the prospects of youth, such as United Colors of Benetton’s contest for young unemployed people to win funds for their personal projects (see Unemployee of the Year), Korean Telecomms firm KT’s real time education initiative Dream School (see Open Up Ed) and BMW’s hosting and training of young Spanish workers in Munich (see Giving Back).

The rising costs – and diminishing returns – of higher education also mean that teens are questioning their next moves, as documented in our trend “No Degree, No Problem”. In response we’ve seen young adults explore alternatives to academia or traditional employment routes:

There’s been a 63.5% growth in UK apprenticeship starts between in 2010/11 and 2009/10.

12.8% of 12 – 29 years olds in Mexico have tried to create their own business, according to the National Youth Survey.

42% of Indian youths want to become an entrepreneur up from 12% in 2011, as reported in the Hindustan Times.

The 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report shows that in non-EU economies, half of entrepreneurs are aged between 18 and 34, whilst in China the proportion rises to 57%.

Today’s wannabe teen entrepreneurs are supported by access to digital investing, distribution and retail networks and they can take inspiration from a host of millionaire businessmen who started as teens, amongst them Jon Koon, who founded his $80 million Tykoon Brand Holdings auto parts and fashion empire at 16 and Sean Belnick, whose $58 million BizChair.com furniture company was started when he was 14.

Innovations like 3D printers, along with established digital markeplaces (Amazon, EBay) and crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter mean that young entrepreneurs have opportunities to make their own way and challenge established manufacturers and retailers.

Another reaction to hard times is not to leave the nest. In Latin America this is the cultural norm – Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Do­­micílios reports that 60% of Brazilian 18 -29s still live with their families – but it is becoming so elsewhere:

A Pew Research report has found that 50% of US 18-24 year olds live at home with their parents.

A Junior Achievement Teens and Personal Finance survey has shown that the proportion of US teens saying that they expect to be financially dependent on a parent until the age of 27 has more than doubled to 25% between 2007 and 2013.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), almost 3 million people aged 20 to 34 already live with their parents in the UK and this figure has grown by 20% between 1997 and 2011.

The good news is that young people are doing this in part to maintain their spending power as consumers and Mintel’s Lifestyles of Young Adults UK November 2012 report shows that 16-24s living with parents exhibit much stronger spending levels than those living independently in a house share.

In the emerging economies of India and China, teenagers are also becoming a more powerful commercial force:

In India there will be 53.3 million middle class households by 2015, rising to 113.8 million by 2025, according to the National Council for Applied Economic Research.

Mintel’s Consumer Lifestyles: Meet the Little Emperors China November 2012 report shows that 92% of middle class children aged 5-15 receive monthly allowance from parents, whilst 48% receive money from grandparents and 20% receive money from other family members.

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We are however seeing this generation of teens rebel against traditional tenets of rebellion, namely alcohol, drugs and reckless spending. Are we seeing the emergence of a more financially conservative generation? As with vices, regulation is playing its part, with more stringent restrictions on credit card ownership and mortgage lending creating a more ‘conservative’ environment.

19% of UK 16-24s say saving money/paying off debt is their priority (the top response) in Mintel’s Lifestyles of Young Adults UK 2012 report.

55% of US teens say they “like to save money”, up 5 points between 2006 and 2010, in Mintel’s Marketing to Teens US November 2012 report.

And one losing interest in smoking, alcohol and drugs?

In England and Wales we’ve seen a decline (from 29% to 17%) in the proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds that have ever taken illicit drugs between 1998 and 2012 and a rise (from 66% to 75%) in proportion of 16- to 19-year-olds who have never smoked between 1998 and 2012, according to data from the Home Office.

This news is tempered in the US by the fact that we’ve seen a decade of decline recently countered by a rebound in teen ecstasy and marijuana use, as reported by the Partnership at drugfree.org. Again JAMA Psychiatry’sstudy suggests that recession can impact on behaviour here.

93% of Australian 12 – 17 year olds don’t smoke, up from 81% in 1999, according to the Australian School Students Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) Survey.

There’s been a 54% decline in number of US teens saying they drink and drive between 1991 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vital Signs report.

The paradox here is that young people still eat junk food, exhibit ignorance about health issues ranging from HIV infection, to sun protection to nutrition and exercise less than previous generations:

Just 29% of Brazilian 13-17 year olds do physical exercise, according to Porto Educacional.

57% of young Asians admit knowing little about HIV or Aids, according to AIESEC International.

1 in 3 teenagers aged 12 to 19 in Mexico are overweight or obese, according to Unicef.

There’s been a 90% decline British children’s “roaming radius” from home in the past 30 years, according to theNational Trust.

50% of US pre-school children don’t have ‘even one parent-supervised outdoor play opportunity per day’, according to the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Some of the blame for this has been apportioned the fact that teenagers are digital natives, growing up with virtual online entertainment, but being connected also has it benefits, exposing young people to information and bigger picture worldview.

Today’s teens are growing up in the midst of debates on sustainability and gender equality and as a result, they are more more capable of checking on corporate practices and behaviour and less likely to accept discrimination or lazy gender clichés in advertising.

39% of UK 13-19 year olds say being ‘green’ or environmentally friendly is important in Mintel’s Teen LifestylesUK November 2011 report.

67% of US teens characterise their favourite brand as one that “Supports good causes or gives to charities” in Mintel’s Marketing to Teens US November 2012 report.

Teens are also growing up in an era of ‘Alpha Mothers’ and stay at home Dads, where 22% of women are now the family breadwinner in the UK (see British Dads Staying at Home) and where 76% of US dads say they take primary responsibility for food shopping for the family or share the task equally with their partner in Mintel’s Marketing to Dads US March 2012 report.

This is an era where the Girl Guides fights against airbrushed models (see Guides for Life), the European Union debates mandatory gender quotas (see Time for Quotas) and sexist products and positioning are met with derision (see The Gendered Pen).


Each generation makes progress and in many ways today’s teens present a more challenging, progressive proposition for companies and marketers. They are more informed about global issues surrounding sustainability, ethical sourcing and gender equality and as a result companies must be more transparent and ethical to win their favour and custom, or else risk being exposed to trial by social media.

However the difficulties faced by teenagers in today’s educational and employment marketplaces give companies an opportunity to help – through sponsorships, apprenticeships or by opting to educate their own workforce.

Young people exhibit the desire to save money and to live more responsibly but they clearly need education and guidance on how to do this. Companies need to teach and coach them to live better lives if they are to successfully rebel against the reckless rebellion of their elders.