Notable & Quotable: All The Other Kids
Tweens have been getting a lot of attention among the fretful followers of media this week, with AdWeek's "tween issue" featuring a lengthy cover story on the power of the youth market. While seeming to replay some of the same things that have been said of young people at least since the 1950s, always with the implication that this sort of situation has never occurred before—"She wants to be anything but the age she is, always looking toward the future, is ambitious, opinionated, influential …"—the article does contain a standout quote from "consumer psychologist" Kit Yarrow:
“Before, kids had to fit into the parents’ lifestyle. Now, parents fit their lives around their kids. In many households, lives—social, financial and intellectual—are at a tween level. [As a result], kids get a sense their own judgment is much more valuable and relevant.”
So I guess one thing that has changed over the last, say, 20 or 30 years is the notion of a generation gap. The gap's been bridged—by parents willing to meet their progeny more than halfway.
AdWeek followed up with news about the tween magazine market, "Where Did Young Magazine Readers Go?" The basic message of the piece—the main difference between the tween media market today and in the "golden age" of the early 2000s—is that social media has changed the game. Reference the worlds of marketer Nick Fuller:
“Tweens no longer need to look up to celebrities or read magazines to know what's 'hot' in fashion. Social media allows brands to reach beyond the pages of a magazine and have real conversations through real people, and influencers that teens aspire to be like."
AdWeek's tween issue is generating a lot of buzz, inspiring some great riffs on the music and TV currently aimed at the demographic. While The New Yorker recently featured an article pointing out that programming for the very young has seen something of a renaissance in recent years, an essay at gossip site Jezebel had this to say about tween shows on the Disney Channel:
"Basically every show is just a variation on the theme 'a bunch of kids in a room.' Then something zany happens, everyone runs around screaming, somebody learns a lesson, and possibly there is a monkey. It's silly, and I don't particularly like it. But it's also incredibly sophisticated and polished television ... empowering kids (with a significant assist from modern gadgetry) to create pretty sophisticated art at a really young age."
As the parent of a rising tween, I can vouch for all this. The question is, what can other media learn from the popularity of these shows? Can publishers find new ways to appeal to tweens that can engage them in similar fashion, while perhaps being more edifying?
The Jezebel essay writer, Lindy West, notes the potential pitfalls of these shows doing what they do so damn well. Youth TV has mastered the art of speaking to its audience on their own level—the media equivalent of parents allowing home culture to revolve around the kids. The Boomers and Gen Xers thought they knew more than their parents, rolling their eyes at all the square stuff they were forced to do, but today's youth may actually believe the world was built for them. What's the pop culture equivalent of tough love?