Teens are increasingly addicted to their smartphones, and parents, psychologists and even investors are increasingly concerned about it. Last month, researchers published a study showing that a longstanding rise in teen happiness and satisfaction reversed itself in 2012, probably due to smartphones and social media reaching a critical mass around that time.
Separately, two of Apple’s biggest shareholders complained that the company needs to do more to combat teen smartphone addiction. And across the country, parents are wrestling with when to give their kids a smartphone, what limits to place on its usage, and how to police their kids’ social media accounts.
When even Apple shareholders are expressing concerns over the effect that the iPhone is having on teens, clearly that’s a canary in the coal mine. Youth-oriented brands have led the way in developing innovative mobile campaigns targeting teens, and utilizing social media to keep them continually engaged. And now these same brands need to lead in addressing the negative effects among teens, including disconnecting from family, friends and the “real world” around them; comparing themselves to unobtainable ideals they see on social media; and getting bullied by classmates and Internet trolls via text and social media.
How can brands step up and help teens form a healthier relationship with their smartphones?
*Provide educational tips to parents. Share best practices with parents on the right age for kids to have a smartphone; what restrictions should be placed on its use; how to ease those restrictions over time; and what to watch out for on social media. Parents might be familiar with Facebook and Instagram, but not know all the intricacies of Snapchat, much less the “anonymous” apps like Whisper and ASKfm.
They might also be unfamiliar with the extent of “texting culture,” and the fact that the average teen sends and receives over 60 texts a day (and nearly 80 for females). Arm them with information, new studies, pro tips from mental health and child development experts, and advice from other parents on how to manage teen smartphone and social media usage.
*Sponsor anti-bullying initiatives. Harassment is pervasive online, and anybody who carries a smartphone can be exposed to hateful messages 24/7, up to and including taunts to commit suicide. Be a leader in combating online hate. Vigorously police online forums, and immediately remove any inappropriate messages. Disable the accounts of those who bully, and/or ban them from posting or participating in the community.
Make it clear that your online platform is safe space for all, and that you have a “zero tolerance” policy for those who violate the rules. And celebrate the diversity of your customers, and show that you recognize and appreciate people of all ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, income levels, immigration statuses, sizes, mental and physical abilities, and other characteristics.
*Promote meaningful real-world connections. Online campaigns can be wonderful and powerful, but they shouldn’t leave customers “stranded” online. Some of the best mobile and social media campaigns are those that encourage people to take action in the real world, and provide them with the tools for doing so.
Think of REI’s campaigns to get people to explore the great outdoors, or Ben & Jerry’s “Empower-Mint” campaign to support voting rights. Inspire teens to connect with their peers to volunteer, exercise, support a cause, mobilize politically or explore the world around them. By doing so, you’ll give them good reason to put down their smartphones for a few hours and engage with the real world.
By promoting healthy smartphone usage among teens, brands can take a leadership role in addressing one of today’s most pressing social issues, and develop a strong and healthy relationship with their customers for decades to come.