Today, Conforming Is The New Rebellion

Ah, the times, they are a-changin’.

For most adults, our teenage years were marked by various attempts to further distance ourselves from our parents’ generation with piercings, tattoos, unfortunate hairstyles, and provocative clothing choices designed to make the stick-in-the-mud adults in our lives cringe. 

The same likely held true for our parents’ generation and, even our grandparents’ generation. Since time immemorial, an essential rite of passage for teens and parents alike has been a shared sense of mutual mortification of the choices that the other makes.

This is an important turn in the circle of life, as teenagers and young adults push societal boundaries to create momentum and spark changes in cultural norms. Young minds that break boundaries and create a new culture often result in the rejection of more conservative norms taught to them by their parents. Consider the hippie movement in the 1960s or (on a more serious note) the Arab Spring protests and uprisings that began in 2011. All events led by young people fighting against “the Man.”



But something seems to have stalled with today’s American teens and their seeming lack of desire to rebel against their parents. In fact, it seems that teens nowadays don’t see their parents as squares and, instead, view them as role models and friends. Teens friend their parents on Facebook, follow their Twitter feeds, and heart posts on their Tumblr blogs.

For the first time, parents are keeping up with technology—maybe even better than their children. This legitimacy in the modern world is, perhaps, why teens no longer see their parents as a force of backwards thinking, but as people whose opinions they can trust.

According to Good Intentions, a 2009 study of young people and their values sponsored by the Girl Scouts of America, youth today are more likely to confer with a parent regarding tough choices and decisions. They are also more likely to go to parents for advice on a number of issues once thought too private for parental consumption, and are accepting of those with different cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as sexual orientation.

While cultural boundaries, especially regarding the acceptance of LGBT rights, have shifted slightly, the values held by teens are not so radically different from those held by their parents. For Millennial teens, it seems as if there is nothing left to rebel against—for now, the next generation is happy with what’s been laid out for them.

What does this mean for marketers?

This is a tough question to answer, as parents are still making the majority of big-purchase decisions for their teens. The first instinct is to continue targeting parents to attain the most ROI. However, as a result of their similar values and opinions, teens and parents are probably closer than ever. This results in a depth of communication that our parents could only dream about, bringing teens not only closer to their parents, but to the purchase decision as well.

According to Bing adCenter, 63.5% of parents say their children have at least a 50% say in what they purchased during the back-to-school season. Is that large amount of input because teens think similarly to their parents? No one knows. But one thing is for sure—that’s an influence too big for marketers to ignore.

If teens are no longer aiming to shock the world and differentiate themselves from their parents’ generation, what can marketers do to overcome the dull roar of brands looking to the teenage market?

The key to capturing this increasingly viable segment is to go where both parents and teenagers go—social media, the Web, and television—and help to create a dialogue between the two. Because of their newfound power in parents’ purchase decisions, it is essential to capture the teen’s interest enough to not only remember the product or brand, but to also bring it up in conversation with parents. This call to action will be the key to leveraging this newfound conformity that teens are so comfortable in, as well as the bond they have with their parents.

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