For decades, adults have been counseling teenagers that “high school is the best four years of your life.” But most high schoolers would argue that adage is hopelessly out of date.
Today’s teens are sandwiched between two coming-of-age phenomena: tweens who are “growing up” at younger ages, and 20-somethings who are hanging onto their youth as long as they can. Teens, stuck in the middle, are told that they can have it all, but in reality, they feel pressure on both sides.
Like tweens, they want to assume “mature” responsibilities earlier than previous generations. They want to demonstrate their competence holding down a job, dating, handling the freedom that comes with a driver’s license, and managing a rigorous academic schedule so they can land a spot their first-choice university. Sure, they make mistakes along the way, but they want to be treated like the adults they’re trying to become.
But like 20-somethings, teens also want to be kids again — after all, they’re not fully independent and on their own yet. They’ve spent so many years trying to be grown up that they’re already nostalgic for the days of riding their bikes around the neighborhood, vegging out with TV and video games, and having fun with friends instead of having to go to work.
They want to have it both ways, which makes it tough for marketers (and parents!) to know when to tap into their adult ambitions and when to remind them to relax and have fun. After all, they don’t know the answer themselves. They switch modes at a moment’s notice — sometimes it’s more fun to be innocent and irresponsible, and sometimes it’s more fun to feel powerful and grown up. The key for marketers is to remember that teens (unlike their older and younger counterparts) can pull off both acts without question.
There are, of course, other factors affecting this flip-flop between childhood and adulthood. As with Millennials, teens are coming of age in a time when their futures are uncertain. College admissions have tightened, making it harder to get into the school of their dreams, and scholarships are drying up, making it harder to afford college. In fact, 69% of families with college-bound freshmen say they eliminated schools solely based on cost, according to Sallie Mae. Plus, teens aren’t sure if they’ll be able to get a job when they graduate. The unemployment rate for 18-29-year-olds is 14%, compared to a national rate of 9.2%, according to government data.
Today’s teens are stuck in two worlds. They are doing their best to prepare for the future (like a grown up), but every now and then, they need to take a break from the pressure and uncertainty that they’re facing to have a little fun and pretend that nothing matters (like a kid).