It’s not just adults who are paying close attention to the news emanating from various parts of the globe about recent terrorist activities. Teens are watching, too, having been raised by realist Gen X parents who are less likely than their predecessors to see a need to shelter their maturing children from unpleasant world events. To do so would be quite difficult, as news stories regularly infiltrate their social media feeds. Even the inspirational and usually uplifting sphere of Instagram included references to the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, not to mention the posts they would have seen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, and the like.
It’s these same platforms that help young people stay informed about world events and lead them to explore the stories behind the posts they see. In fact, we have found that 74% of teens say that it’s important to them to keep up with the news and current events, just a few scant percentage points behind 19- to 34-year-olds. Even seemingly “fluffy” outlets are addressing the news, as evidenced by this thoughtful piece about Syrian refugees in Teen Vogue; it would seem weird to teens if such major news weren’t addressed.
There are several circumstances that have led to this generation’s interest in world affairs. Today’s teens might have been too young to remember the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, but they are highly aware that the world is a different place as a result. They only need to experience the hassles of airport screenings to remind them. And while more immediate issues top their list of worries, such as school and family matters, many also worry about the state of the world. It’s hard for them to ignore because it has been a concern in their lives from day one.
Following in the footsteps of Millennials, Gen Z has a highly global outlook. They have unprecedented access to media from around the world, and they catch glimpses of what life is like for people their age in other countries via social media. Nearly half of teens (44%) even have friends who live in other countries. This wider worldview gives them a reason to care about what is going on in distant places. Even if they have never visited, they feel a connection to young people living in France and Lebanon because they have an understanding of what life is like in those countries from their feeds. This makes such events taking place thousands of miles away feel much closer to home because they often affect people they know personally (even if they’ve never met them in real life).
With this understanding, it’s not a surprise that teens would rather have a meaningful impact on the world (60%) than make a lot of money (40%), as we have found. What’s more, they believe that they can make a difference because they’ve seen other young people have a significant impact at an early age, including Malala Yousafzai and Alex Scott. They gravitate to such role models because they’re “regular kids” like themselves. They prefer self-made role models in general—including social media stars who have become the new celebrities—because they seem more relatable, relevant, and authentic.
As brands respond to recent world events, they should be thoughtful not to leave teens out of the equation. Rather, they should help teens feel empowered. Brands have an opportunity to support young people as they strive to keep on top of what’s going on in the world by providing relevant and teen-oriented coverage of current events. They can also inform them as to how they can make a difference, by guiding them to charities and organizations, including those led by other young people, that need volunteers. While many brands may feel that it’s safer not to get involved, teens don’t share the same opinion. They have more respect for a brand that takes a stand, is transparent about its practices, and makes a difference in the world alongside them. After all, 72% believe brands and companies can have a greater impact on the world than politicians (28%).