American teens have grown up in a world where social media, cyber bullying, cell phones and selfies are the norm. New research from Mintel reveals that while there are a number of similarities between American kids and teens – such as the emphasis both groups place of the opinions of their peers and parents, as well as a preference for low-impact activities like watching TV – teens enjoy a great deal more independence than kids. They are also significantly more likely to own cell phones, to use social media and they spend more time online. For teens, cell phones allow them to feel connected to friends and family (61 percent) and their social world (45 percent). Whatsmore, 33 percent of American teens agree that their friendships would not be as close without their cell phones. American teens are also very connected to the world around them, which has contributed to their overall acceptance of diversity.

Cell phones are a form of teenage self-expression

The majority of US teens own a cell phone with ownership rates highest among older teens age 15-17 (87 percent). Data points to a pronounced growth in cell phone ownership between kids and teens: while 81 percent of all teens have cell phones, only 24 percent of kids can say the same. For teens, cell phones allow them to feel connected wherever they are with 61 percent saying they like to be constantly connected to their friends and family and 45 percent saying cell phones connect them to their social worlds. Although only three in 10 teens say they hang out with friends on weekdays and weekends, teens are regularly connecting with friends via cell phone, and 44 percent view texting to be just as meaningful a form of communication as actual conversation with a person over the phone. In fact, 23 percent of American teens agree that their cell phone is an expression of who they are.

“Unlike older generations, American teens have grown up around technology. Even the most tech savvy Millennials can remember a time before the internet. Technology and mobile devices are so enmeshed in teens’ lives that nearly half say that texting is just as meaningful as a phone conversation,” said Lauren Bonetto, Lifestyles & Leisure Analyst at Mintel.

23% of American teens agree that their cell phone is an expression of who they are

A sedentary lifestyle

On weekdays, teens are mostly sedentary, according to Mintel data. When they are not in school, roughly half of teens spend time doing homework (55 percent), listening to music and watching TV (51 percent each). On weekends, teens continue to devote their time to less than vigorous pursuits and are slightly more likely to watch TV (58 percent) and to “just relax” or “do nothing” (40 percent). Only two in 10 teens say they exercised during their most recent school day (23 percent) and even fewer say they played sports (18 percent).

While online, teens are most likely to use the internet for communication, information and entertainment with 45 percent of teens regarding the internet as one of their primary sources of entertainment. When looking at usage, American teen rates are what one would expect with 54 percent visiting email sites, 51 percent video sharing sites, 50 percent search sites, and 49 percent social networks. Girls ages 15-17 are significantly more likely to visit social network sites (75 percent) and movie sites (27 percent) compared to boys of the same age, as well as the overall American teen.

“Today’s teens devote much of their time – both at school and at home – to sedentary pursuits. However, it is important that teens exercise as habits developed during the teen years will likely continue into adulthood,” continued Bonetto. “Traditional modes of exercise, such as going to the gym and playing sports, may not appeal to all teens. Instead, they may be drawn to activities that do not ‘feel’ like exercise, such as dancing and skateboarding. Additionally, wearable devices that track activity and incorporate a social element may also encourage teens to be more active.”

Mintel research highlights that American teens spend an average of 8.23 hours online each week (excluding email), with older teens spending significantly more time online than younger teens. A full 66 percent of older teens spend at least five hours online each week, while 54 percent of younger teens spend less than five hours online. Teens are roughly equally likely to access the web using “big” screens, ie laptop and desktop computers (64 percent) and small screens, ie cell phones (62 percent).

What are teens up to these days?

Despite the perception that teens’ lives revolve around their friends, 67 percent of American teens say they enjoy spending time with family. When spending time at home, teens are likely to watch TV with their parents (48 percent) and siblings (41 percent), or by themselves (31 percent). Teens are relatively unlikely to watch TV with friends (8 percent) which suggests that they do not view TV as a social activity. In fact, data suggests teens and kids are not fully engaged when watching TV as many are multitasking. Teens are more likely than kids to text (36 percent vs 8 percent) and do homework (22 percent vs 15 percent) while watching TV. However, social media may be effective for increasing teens’ TV engagement as 42 percent of teens say they follow TV shows on social networks.

“Teens may be using the TV as background noise, while they text, go online and do homework, which means they are not particularly engaged with what is happening on-screen,” continued Bonetto. “Girls are significantly more likely than boys to do various other activities while watching TV. Some studies suggest that the female brain is better equipped for multitasking than the male brain. More importantly, it means that teen girls may be especially difficult to reach through the TV alone and may be a prime target for social, second-screen engagement.”

Teenage attitudes… Not what you’d think

American teens are heavily influenced by their peers. So much so that 80 percent of teens say their friends know about their favorite brands. Somewhat surprising is that teens’ favorite brands overlap with their parents’ favorite brands. Contrary to popular belief that teens view brands their parents like as “uncool”, Mintel data reflects that eight in 10 kids agree with the statement, “My favorite brand is a brand my parents love as much as I do.”

The influence teens have over one another extends beyond brands and into the social realm. Today’s teens could be characterized as “tolerant” as the overwhelming majority agree that it is important to accept people of different races/ethnicities (88 percent), religions (84 percent) and sexual orientations (73 percent). In fact, US teens display more open-mindedness than many adults. A similar trend is seen among US kids aged 6-11: near 80 percent agree it is important to accept people of different races, ethnicities and religions and 63 percent agree it’s important to accept people of different sexual orientations.

“American teens have internalized messages about tolerance and acceptance. As a result, they not only expect brands to be tolerant, but to be inclusive in their advertising and marketing,” concluded Bonetto.

Press review copies of the Marketing to Teens US 2015 and Marketing to Kids US 2015 reports and interviews with Lauren Bonetto, Lifestyles and Leisure Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

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