Beauty Rules for Today’s Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Sep 27, 2010 @ 09:42 AM

Refreshing themes from her 2001 best-seller, Bobbi Brown Teenage Beauty: Everything You Need to Look Pretty, Natural, Sexy and Awesome, Bobbi Brown recently released her newest beauty bible, Beauty Rules: Fabulous Looks, Beauty Essentials, and Life Lessons.Bobbi Brown

In an interview in the LA Times, Brown makes her main message to teens explicit:

“That you are and can be amazing. You have to realize it, then you have to know a few tips and tricks. Everything from being kind to eating healthy – to basically do the right thing. Be who you are.” Sounds easy.

On the Today Show, Brown interviewed a group of teen girls on what they love or don’t love about their looks. When one girl admitted she hated her nose, Brown made her turn to profile. “It looks like you bought that nose!” she reassured with a compliment that makes sense to today’s teens, who know the high price paid for botox, surgery and liposuction. And then came a more complex question from one of the teen panelists:

“So why do you need to wear make-up?” To which Brown responded with a canned, although simultaneously authentic response about 'making you the best you possible.'

This kind of question should come as no surprise. In her still-astute and relevant 1997 history of beauty, “The Body Project,” Joan Jacobs Brumberg notes that as early as pre-World War I, women were taught that “being a better person meant paying less attention to the self.” And while today’s teens have been raised in a post-girl power culture, they still struggle with the lived experience that looks matter. In fact, YouthBeat data from the first half of 2010 finds that only 21% of teens strongly agree that they are “happy with the way [they] look.” (Note, this is up slightly from 2009, when only 18% agreed).

So have we gone nowhere, baby? Well, today’s teens know to challenge these notions of feminine ideals. They resist, in subtle and not so subtle ways, conforming to the images of beauty that they see on screen and on the pages of their magazines. But more often than not, they’re still looking for a few good beauty tips.

Tags: bobbi brown, beauty, Youth, Teens, shopping, makeup, money

Taking Gaming to a New Level

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 @ 10:09 AM

In December of 2003, I was back in NJ visiting family for the holidays and taking a week off from my job at a marketing and advertising agency/consultancy. I found myself side by side with my then 7 year old cousin as he showed me his newest games. At the time, Zoo Tycoon was on the wish list of most young (and older gamers), and we began to play…

I could barely keep up with his clicks as he moved back and forth, building and constructing fences. He added zebras and lions. And then I suggested he spend some money on “marketing.”describe the image

“Nooooooooooooooooooooo!” he yelled, taking his eyes off screen for the first time to explain. “Marketing takes all your money and does NOTHING for you!” I considered arguing (afterall, I spent most of my days advising clients not to keep their products and services a secret), but my cousin was the client at this zoo, and he had decided. No marketing. But a few more elephants wouldn’t be a bad thing.

In the gaming world, that was a lifetime ago. While there have always been those who advocate for gaming, the aides were certainly unbalanced. Images of DSD distracted babes in the backseat were giving parents pause. Educators focused on keeping games out of classrooms, and they worried that chalkboards and storytime wouldn’t seem so dynamic without weapons and levels. 

But a lot has changed since then. First, a lot of those gamers grew up! The halls of academia and the teachers in our classrooms were more likely to have grown up on games than not or at least have children who survived a life with a little bit or a lot of technology at their fingertips. Second, a lot of these game developers became better at articulating (through messages and products) a vision of gaming that went beyond simple entertainment to sophisticated play. And finally, we got past the panic phase of gaming and began to really consider its potential and power.

If there is a final frontier in gaming, the classroom might be it. (Check out the Joan Ganz Cooney Center for more on Digital Education.) But in Sara Corbett’s recent New York Times Magazine article, she features an innovative program called “Sports for the Mind,” at a school called “Quest to Learn,” which harnesses the inherent stickiness of games to teach a range of 21st Century Skills like creativity and problem-solving.  According to their website, Quest to Learn hopes to:

  • “Embrace game design as an agent of provocation, education, and change
  • Build new domains of knowledge connected to gaming, digital media and learning
  • Develop innovative curricula around gaming literacies and other 21st century skills
  • Create experiences bridging digital and non-digital learning environments
  • Foster new models of collaboration between students, educators, and professional game designers
  • Provide a space for the experimentation and exchange of ideas across creative, technology, and education sectors”

In short, it looks like we adults are starting to pay attention. What kids “play” inherently has meaning – and often tells us more about development than distraction. With levels to master, personal and public challenges to confront and overcome, learning of complex directions and learning to look under the rocks of virtual worlds, gaming seems to be offering kids knowledge that can’t help but make it offline, off the screen and into their real world.

Check out some of these online games (the technical term: Mirrored Games, where doing good in the game actually allows you to do good in the world) with a purpose:

Free Rice

Free Rice


Tags: research, Gaming, kids, Youth, Teens, tweens

The Real World

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 @ 01:27 PM

It might seem that we’re a bit enamored with MTV right now. And that might be accurate.

Not the Jersey Shore variety – this Jersey girl can’t bear to watch her beloved Garden State reduced to an unseemly stereotype (or perhaps it’s just that it’s not all that interesting?). But if we could have created any show on TV right now, it would probably be MTV’s If You really Knew Me. And file “Challenge Day,” the organization at the center of this show, under brilliant ideas we wish were ours.If You Really Knew Me

The challenge that’s central to the show is, “Can one day change a high school?” Through the camera, we meet five key characters and hear their stories. These self-aware teens begin by revealing, in a pretty profound introduction to the half hour show, how they are “known.” Nerd, jock, even stoner – these are a few of the labels that teens (girls and boys) use to describe themselves. And then we get to know their real stories.

MTV has taken on bullying as its issue of the moment. And while our recent data shows that today’s youth don’t site bullying or aggression or violence as one of their top concerns (in fact, it falls quite close to the bottom of the many things on their minds), we know that the emotional lives of teens are, as perhaps they always have been, fragile. Beyond offenses that teens commit on each other, these teens remind us that the complexity of the human experience starts young. Many of the “characters” on the show have already experienced hurt, pain and loss that rivals most adults. And this is what they bring to the school cafeteria with them every day.

Challenge Day looks a bit more like group therapy. We see teens exposed, but in a way that feels raw and real versus contrived and camera-aware. It certainly doesn’t feel for show when a teen boy tells of a father who cut off his relationship with him for no reason. Or a black teen – who identifies himself as the only black student in the school – admits that the racially charged jokes that his teammates on the basketball team often make, are not something he feels comfortable with afterall.

To call this entertaining is a bit of a stretch. As a mom (albeit of a very pre-pre-pre-adolescent), it’s heartbreaking. As someone who has dedicated her recent past to research with kids, tweens and teens, it’s both validating and eye-opening. It’s a reminder of the vulnerability that often lives behind the most seemingly confident teen. It’s a push to see our “subjects” as having a history that lives long before they enter the focus group facility. And it’s eye-opening to see how open these sometimes cynical teens are to the kind of reflection that we might assume requires a maturity beyond their years.

Perhaps what’s most interesting is that while we look to research to help us understand the teen psyche, we might have some examples that – while being edited and produced – start to show us a different, deeper side of today’s adolescent. And it challenges us to question our own simple frameworks and definitions of what this group is – or who they really are.

Tags: kids, If You Really Knew Me, Teens, reality tv, TV, tweens, MTV

MTV Talent: Against Type

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 @ 04:04 PM

On Sunday night’s VMAs, the cheerleader got deep, the bad boy said “sorry” (kind of) and the kids on the fringe dubbed themselves the “cool kids” at the party – and everyone else seemed to agree.

The MTV VMAs have never been predictable. But the “anything goes” mystique around this event (which first aired in 1984 with Madonna as its star performer) has always represented the iconoclastic image of its host brand. In more recent years, its stage has become a platform for bad behavior. A star whose shine has subdued? Kiss someone – anyone – but preferably the most shocking person you can find (see Madonna). Feeling a bit frisky? Fight a puppet – go ahead (see Eminem). And if you think somebody got robbed of the Moon Man? Say what you think. On stage. In the middle of her speech (Kanyegate).

But on Sunday night, the VMAs were a kinder, gentler event – even as they were hosted by the biting, brutal Chelsea Handler.

If this had been the “ordinary” VMAs, we might have seen a celebrity death match between Swift and West. Eminem would have taken a day off from Lady Gagaredemption and gotten riled up. Sexuality would be challenged and played with – not taken seriously. And someone would wear an outfit wholey comprised of raw meat.

Well, that last one happened (see Lady GaGa).

But so did this…Taylor Swift took the high road, and instead of fueling the flames, she walked right into the fire. She showed a clip of the infamous incident from VMAs 2009, but quickly moved to her teenage diary entry, “An Innocent.” The lyrics, “you are not what you did” seemed to be directed to a certain someone in the audience…And while they resisted pairing up for an inauthentic duet, they did attempt to put the whole thing to rest, once and for all.

For his part, Kanye apologized all week via Twitter, and sought forgiveness again via his performance of “Runaway.” He did lace his apology with a pretty extreme number of expletives, but if he didn’t, would we doubt his sincerity.

Cher showed up. In the same outfit she wore back in her 1989 video “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

But perhaps GaGa was the thing that looked most different. It’s not that the VMAs haven’t had their fair share of spectacles (see Cher). And she delivered on the eye-candy front. The number of costumes she wore was just over the number of VMAs she received (that’s 8 for the record). But she also took the time, over and over again to give a shout out to her “Little Monsters.” As Mary Elizabeth Williams from wrote, “[She] loves her Little Monsters so much they may want to start screening her calls.” With a belting out of her mantra, “we were born this way,” Lady Gaga rallied her followers with love and acceptance, not anger and aggression. She brought the military to guard her – but she brought the soldiers expelled from the military because of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” On stage, alongside the cast of Glee!, it seemed clear that a different kind of queen had come home.  

But this isn’t the MTV of the old VMAs. This is a brand that followed the awards show with World of Jenks – a 30 Days-style documentary series in which the documentarian named in the title explores the lived experiences of people who live outside of most teens’ comfort zones (an autistic teen, for example). Its show, If You Really Knew Me, strives to bash stereotypes about everyone from gang members to gay teens. Can a brand be rebellious, romantic and relevant at the same time? For today’s teens, it seems to be a model to watch.

Tags: Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Cher, Taylor Swift, VMA, TV, MTV, Eminem, Madona

Through the Looking Glass: How Do We Really See Children Today?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Sep 08, 2010 @ 12:15 PM

If you look back through the history of childhood, you’ll quickly note that the definition of childhood is an ever-changing thing. It’s not just that children’s lives were different in the past than they are today, but it’s also that societies view the whole stage we call childhood differently.   These views or lenses through which we’ve seen children include “the victim,” “the innocent,” “the knowing child,” “the child as consumer,” among others… And the way societies define or see children and childhood had a direct impact on the way they cared for children and prepared them for adulthood – so it’s no surprise that the whole approach to these timeless tasks has also undergone evolution and in some cases, revolution, from generation to generation.

While children used to be seen as merely incomplete adults who needed to be tamed and civilized into adulthood, we now see childhood as a stage in and of itself – worthy of study, focus and respect. And to take it further, we now see “youth” as preschoolers, kids, tweens, (thank marketers for that contribution to the lingo relateKid pretendingd to childhood studies) teens and the newest moniker for the college and young twenties set, “emerging adults.”

But do we have consensus on how we view children today? If we had to take a stand, we would say that the “empowered child” is probably our default lens today – at least for marketers, program developers and organizations that work with children. In fact, we bristle even as we write “children,” which connotes vulnerability in comparison to “kid,” which implies a being with a bit more spunk. We often fight against the notion that today’s youth can’t decide for themselves, and we celebrate the independent spirit of today’s youngest generation.

If we accept the notion that the lens through which we see childhood is a product of a broader social sentiment or reality, we find ourselves looking for the drivers behind this notion. For sure, many critics of consumerism would attribute (or blame) marketers for promoting the idea that kids, tweens and teens can decide for themselves. They are discerning consumers who require information and exposure to new products and ideas in order to exercise their purchase power or their influence with confidence and effectiveness. But we also need them to be empowered. With 66% of families with children under the age of 18 having two working parents, and over 40% of births today occurring to single parents, we encourage maturity and a sense of agency like never before. Economists and educators also play a role…They talk about the need for more 21st century skills in classrooms, which include such independent and self-directed capabilities as “creativity and innovation.”  In many after-school organizations and classrooms today, teaching entrepreneurship is on leaders’ minds, if not already in the curriculum.

At the same time that many would agree that today’s kids are more empowered than ever, it’s not easy to find evidence that the notion of the child in need of protection is still part of our collective conscious. Children’s advertising and food are more regulated than ever. Today’s children rarely leave the house without their bike helmets or their car seats (not that this is extreme!). And, while today’s youth have more media and information choices than ever before, we also have more heated dialogue about what’s good and not so good for youth in these regards.

So is this just history repeating itself? Whenever society has “agreed” on a lens for childhood, we know that there have been many who argue that this lens doesn’t apply to all. The “rule” that today’s kids are empowered certainly doesn’t fit the bill for many children in the U.S., and of course it leaves out many children globally. And there is and will always be a group who challenges the norm and mainstream beliefs – regardless of what those beliefs are.

At the risk of ending this blog with more questions than answers, we’re left questioning, does our lens on childhood today match the lived experience of youth in the U.S. or elsewhere? And if it doesn’t, how should we be viewing the lives of today’s kids, tweens and teens?

Without forwarding a new moniker or a new absolute view, we think one solution is simpler than it seems…Rather than relying on easy labels, we need to be listening and observing. And of course, we need to be open to new ways of seeing youth that exist somewhere between empowered and in need of protection – where youth really live.

Tags: research, kids, parents, family, Youth, Teens, tweens