Relating Your Work to Children’s Rights

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 07, 2014 @ 04:29 PM

Conducting research, or creating content, or engaging in marketing with youth can be tricky business. Many of us who have made our careers in the youth and family space know that attending to the legalities of youth marketing and research – online and offline – is just the beginning of considering the ethics of these endeavors. Many of us who spend significant time working on kid, tween or teen brands, products, and at youth oriented companies and organizations reflect upon the way our work affects the lives of children. Most of us question and worry about our work. We treat the job of communicating with and to children as a sacred one – not business as usual, but rather business that can make a difference – positive or negative – in the lives of children. But linking our work to children’s rights? Is that going too far?unicef

Not surprisingly, LEGO doesn’t think so. Recently, LEGO announced that they were going to start taking steps in their online and offline marketing to protect the rights of children, specifically those outlined in UNICEF's Children's Rights and Business Principles, a guide to help business encourage and protect children's rights. UNICEF contends that companies not only have a responsibility to ensure that communication and marketing does not have an adverse affect on children's rights, but that marketing should be encouraging children's rights.

These principles might be geared towards businesses, but they call to mind a more comprehensive document, United Nation’s Conventions of the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC), that serves as the first legally binding international instrument created to protect the human—civil, cultural, economic, political, and social—rights of children. 

Established in 1989, the UN-CRC outlines the basic rights and protections that all children should be given.  While the UN-CRC is a political instrument meant to help governments, it also gives us insight into a global idea of what rights children have.  Certainly all the articles of the UN-CRC are interesting, but three stood out to us and being particularly important for youth marketers and content creators:

Article 13: Freedom of Expression.  Children have the right to give and receive information as long as that information is not damaging to them or others.  Children’s voices are important, and Article 13 acknowledges that not only do children have voices, but what they have to say is valuable.  This article not only encourages creative expression and children’s rights to express their feelings and become active producers, it also encourages adults to remember that the voices of children should be heard.

Article 17: Right to Media.  Children have the right to get information that is important to their health and well-being.  Rather than discourage media, the UN-CRC encourages media specifically designed for children, media that considers the needs and interests of children.  More than just produce media for children, Article 17 also reminds us that this media should be available in multiple languages and be made available to all children.  Children have the right to access media that represents the diversity of the world.   

Article 31: Right to Play.  Children have the right to relax and play and join in cultural and artistic activities.  Article 31 is our favorite and one we completely agree with.  Play can promote health and foster relationships.  More importantly, play is a human right, something all children need to experience.  The UN-CRC doesn’t limit itself on what play and leisure mean.  Sports, games, toys, and relaxation should all be made available to children. 

The UN-CRC reminds us that children are active agents in the world, and that our work has the power to support them. It’s likely the work that you’re doing considers children’s voices, or children’s right to media or children’s need for play. But considering these “strategies” or brand equities or positioning as rights might raise the stakes in your own organizations and on your youth teams.

Tags: Social Issues, kids tweens teens, culture, news

Giving Back at the Beginning

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 @ 01:27 PM

We often hear about great causes and organizations at the end of the year. But since kids, tweens, and teens don’t care about tax write-offs, we see little reason why January 1st can’t be the start of their support of people, places and products/brands/companies that are making a difference! We know that this group of youth care about the world outside their neighborhood more than ever. They feel connected to others through many means. And they are prepared to solve the world’s biggest problems in ways that we might not always notice, but that, nonetheless, make them one of the most entrepreneurial generations ever to walk the earth! The organizations below sometimes include youth, but often serve their needs. Either way, we think these organizations deserve some recognition and also provide some valuable lessons for youth marketers.

Capes for Kids

We believe in kid empowerment, and certainly, no kids need or deserve to feel like superheroes more than kids who are sick. The Hero Project, which provides pediatric in-patients with customized superhero capes, understands that visible symbols of strength can go a long way towards making kids feel better, or at least braver in the face of unthinkable challenges. This group recognizes that one way to catalyze donations is by getting donors to give of their creativity, not just their money, as they encourage groups of friends, family members, etc. to get together and create capes as a collective.

Project Night NightProject Night Night

For victims of homelessness, having a snuggly toy or a care package offers more than just physical comfort – it gives a glimmer of hope and assurance that they matter. Project Night Night creates Night Night packages designed for children under five years old, “who can’t articulate their concerns overcome the anxiety, emotional and mental stress that comes with home displacement.” The project also offers a secondary benefit – keeping slightly used toys out of landfills. Project Night Night reminds us that there’s no place like home for small children, and when it’s not a safe space, kids need significant signs and symbols of well-being to help them carry on.

Room to Grow

The first “100 days” of a child’s life are incredibly important to their cognitive, social and emotional development. Room to Grow assists women living in poverty by providing them and their children with resources they need, including baby gear and clothing, along with an actual place where they can find support and community. This idea grew from the notion that many moms have baby gear that they didn’t want to go to waste. We think this is a great example of an organization that responded to an asset and found a deserving group of moms who needed it. This makes us wonder, who could benefit from the gifts your organization has to offer? How will you give with authenticity and integrity?

Imagination Library

Who knew Dolly Parton would make our list of kid philanthropists in 2014? We think her idea – to provide preschoolers with a specially selected book, via mail, each month - is both ahead of its time, but also taps into many timeless truths about youth. First, getting something in the mail might make kids feel more special than ever before! A physical book can still feel like a gift to a child who has few. And bringing good-for-you content to kids is more effective than expecting them to come to you. We love this idea, which began in Tennessee, but is reaching the rest of the country rapidly.    

Donors Choose

Many of us are lucky enough to live in places with great schools, and almost all of us can remember a teacher who went above and beyond. You’ve likely seen statistics about the amount of money that teachers spend out of their own pockets to make their children’s learning environments live up to their own, and to kids’ expectations. Donors Choose also solves a frequently cited dilemma about non-profits – people often want to act locally, but most organizations that they can easily find are more national or global. But on the website, you might even find a well-deserving school or classroom close-by that you can help in other ways than just donating your time. And everyone loves a thank you – which the teachers and students agree to send to supporters of their cause. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing more gratifying that receiving a card created by a grateful teacher and appreciative kids after providing them with something that truly enhances their learning environment.

Teens Turning Green

There’s no question that kids, tweens and teens are capable of compassion. But what we like about teens Turning Green is its competitive spirit! Games and contests (not of the random winner variety) appeal to youth who are often up to challenges. Like dieting (speaking of New Year’s resolutions), doing good is often easier when it involved a few friends. And these events – like a 30 day sustainability challenge or a “green your dorm room” contest - are also chic. It’s no surprise – this organization isn’t run by adults for kids, but was actually founded by students striving to change the world.

In 2014, we think youth brands can give as much as they get. We recommend you follow the lead (and fuel the good work) these organizations are doing – let’s begin!

Tags: Education, Social Issues, Youth, culture, youth media

Five Ways to Make Earth Day Fun

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 @ 03:50 PM

Celebrate Earth DayHappy Earth Day to all our YouthBeat friends! Youth’s involvement in the environmental movement is, in some ways, both a timely and a timeless topic. Children and nature have been indelibly bonded in literature, social history and even psychology (with well-being often linked to children’s ability to connect with nature in positive ways). This cohort of youth certainly sees the environment as important, although in the past few years our YouthBeat data has shown kids’, tweens’ and teens’ concerns related to global warming to be waning.  We know that this group is inundated by messages related to sustainable living, and that might be part of the problem. The normalization of green discourse means that environmental action might lack a sense of urgency surrounding it.  So how can you make your messages matter to kids? Take a cue from these companies and organizations who are seizing this Earth Day as an opportunity for fun.

  1. Tree Fu Tom, featuring Sprout’s newest superhero, reminds preschoolers that nature is full of adventure. And Tree Fu Tom shows that kids don’t have to choose nature shows or adventure shows – they can get excitement alongside their environmentally friendly programming.
  2. Get creative. One way to encourage kids to recycle is to show them the bins…Another way? Remind them of all the great things you can make if you pay attention to the art tools available in your home…Check out Scrapkins’ site and the Scrapkins Collector app for inspiration.
  3. Put kids on the case. Saving energy starts at home, and kids love being put in charge of making positive change (and telling their parents and sibling what to do!). Check out the Energystar site, designed for kids, for ways to make environmental issues accessible for them.  And remember, putting kids in charge makes getting things done less of a chore and more of a welcomed challenge.
  4. Inspire youth to take action. It might not sound like fun, but sometimes kids, tweens and teens need to know that doing the right thing can sometimes be recognized. The Children’s Environmental Health Network’s Nsedu Obot Witherspoon (NOW) Youth Leadership Award acknowledges tweens and teens who have engaged in good work surrounding the issue of children’s health issues caused by environmental problems. This organization acknowledges that their future depends on tweens and teens taking an interest in this important aspect of the sustainability story while reminding youth that their participation in the cause can reflect positively on them.
  5. Finally, focus on entertainment. Jack Johnson contributes to the cause by crafting a song that kids can’t help but sing: the “3 R’s song”. Enjoy!

Tags: Education, Social Issues, play, outside, culture, news

Marriage Equality as Children’s Rights

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 @ 02:42 PM

On the surface, two cases before the Supreme Court this week seem to have little to do with children. The challenges to California’s Proposition 8 and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act might appear to involve the desire of a group of adults to participate in an institution that should be available to all. But, in very different ways, both the proponents and the opponents of gay marriage have suggested that these cases aren’t really about adults; they’re about kids.

This is far from the first time that children have been invoked in the rhetoric surrounding marriage equality. While it’s debatable what purpose marriage serves in contemporary society, both sides would probably agree that it comes with benefits (and the promise of government support with child-rearing if needed) and it symbolizes stability (considered an important factor in children’s development). On one hand, opponents have suggested that marriage should be reserved for those who procreate (and by procreate, they mean “the old fashioned way” – not the way many parents become parents today). On the other, many child advocates believe that denying gay parents the right to marry puts children at risk. Last week, The American Academy of Pediatrics came out in support of gay marriage because of the protections it offers children. And while today’s youth might be more accepting of families of different configurations (even my five year old knows that there is “no normal family”), receiving validation that their family isn’t lesser because of their parents’ gender clearly matters to children being raised by same sex couples.

If asked, which they rarely are, we could expect that most children of this cohort would see denying a group of people their rights was simply unfair. They are more informed than any generation before them on the need and desirability of diversity and the importance of inclusiveness. The Republican National Committee has recently acknowledged that the debate over gay marriage might in fact be a generational one (read: young people don’t get what bugs old people about gay marriage).

But children might also be confused about why they’re so critical to the discourse surrounding this issue. Many of them are likely to know children who are raised by loving, stable, responsible same sex couples. It’s likely they also know children whose families don’t look so nuclear – and who are just as loving. And, sadly, they probably know some children whose parents are married but don’t necessarily come from happy homes.  Even young children are likely to recognize that marriage isn’t the “insurance” that adults sometimes suggest it is.

Does this mean that marriage equality doesn’t matter to youth? Absolutely not. Following through on our national promise of equal rights for all assures kids, tweens and teens today that they can expect to have their rights protected no matter who they are or who they might become.

Tags: youth research, Social Issues, trends

What Makes Perfect Youth Partnerships

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 @ 02:00 PM

When it comes to selecting the perfect partner for your promotion, cause effort or communication efforts, strategic thinking should always trump availability. Rather than accepting the offer of properties or entities that come to you, you should pursue the perfect partner to embody or compliment the essence of your own brand, organization or initiative. But some recent team-ups in the youth space suggest that this bit of conventional wisdom and common sense marketing might be ready for a rethink.

Let’s face it – sometimes the most intriguing initiatives or most unexpectedly effective pairings were due to serendipity more than strategy. And some unlikely partners have popped up in categories closest to the hearts of youth. This generation has grown up expecting that country crooners (young and old) can partner with pop stars. Or that hard rockers might make nice with pop princesses. One look at the recent “chemistry” created (or attempted to be created) on American Idol attests to the desire to see what happens when J. Lo and Steven Tyler get together or when Nikki Minaj, Keith Urban and Mariah Carey share a stage. Of course, genre bending and blending might be too bold a move for many brands. But one promotional partnership that brings together unlikely partners recently caught our eye.

With its “Flag for the Future” contest, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl ScoutsWAGGs (WAGGS) have teamed with Vivienne Westwood and Green Peace. WAGGS and Green Peace have solicited designs for a flag that will represent “the youth of the world; a flag for peace, hope and global community” according to the contest website. The winning design will be taken to the North Pole, where it will be lowered four kilometers beneath the ice and plant it on the seabed in a time capsule containing the signatures of millions of “Arctic defenders.” The contest and its sponsors hope to remind those who find the flag (assuming the ice cap will, tragically, melt to reveal it) that the Arctic should belong to all people, not one nation.  

Certainly, the Girl Scouts have been quite public about their own brand of girl power in recent years, so perhaps partnering with the outspoken designer, whose early fashion identity was more closely linked to the Sex Pistols and punk scene than the playground, is a more natural fit than it might seem. But perhaps this was intentional? WAGGS clearly wants to make a statement about the bold acts required to save the earth, and they believe that the girls who participate in their programs are ready to handle it.

It’s hard to fathom that U.S. Girls Scouts would have a strong connection to Green Peace or Westwood, and it’s doubtful that their parents would find them to be persuasive. At least at first glance. But perhaps this is the point. The modern marriage of property, celebrity and brand might be more about leading than following, and as much about exposure to the “new” as it is about borrowed equity. This promotion might be challenging the rules of traditional promotions, but isn’t pushing the thinking of girls (and their parents) these entities’ true goals?

In the Millennial brandscape, unconventional pairings seem to be preferred over the neat and strategic brand fits of years past. This doesn’t necessarily mean that brands should take the first offer that comes their way. But it might mean that the perfect partner is more different than similar. Of course, not every partnership or promotion has the same goals, but expanding our view of what “fits” with our brands might lead to brand events that are more relevant to youth.

Tags: youth research, Social Issues, culture

Miley Cyrus’ Haircut and What it Says about Youth Right Now

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 @ 01:39 PM

56386418When it comes to trend spotting, sometimes it makes sense to head right to the top…of the head. When we say “80’s” music, shoulder pads, or neon jelly bracelets may come to mind, but almost undoubtedly you think about hair. Big bangs, tight curls, macho Mohawks, creative colors. They all serve a more symbolic purpose than it may seem. It’s not uncommon to hear a cohort characterized by the way they wore their locks – bobs, pompadours, bee hives, feathered locks, afros, and “poofs” – or a star to transcend because of their hair – Farrah, Dorothy Hamil, Mr. T, “Rachel,” Vanilla Ice, Snooki, and, of course, the Bieb.

And, if you want to understand a cohort’s connection to convention or to read into their beliefs and values, you may want to pay attention to the changing look and length of youth’s locks!

Like Samson, girls know that hair holds power. So, what does it say that Miley Cyrus just got rid of hers? Is she too young to remember what happened when Felicity lost her trademark tresses? Is Miley’s bright blonde shade and punked-up style a personal statement, PR move, or, possibly, a ploy to just fit in? We think it could be all three.

Of course, Miley might be engaged in a very age-appropriate search for identity, and she just happens to be doing it under the spotlight (see our blog post about the first time Miley started to explore). It’s possible that she’s trying to shock us to ensure that she stays on our minds. But, could it also be that Miley’s look is part of a bigger statement being made by many youths right now?

It was just a few months ago that Katniss’ feminine braids – which created an intriguing contrast with her powerful persona – dominated fashion. Taylor Swift, with her twirly tresses, dominated our list of top musicians. Stars stopped hiding their use of extensions and started showing off the ways they made their hair longer with ease.

Now it seems hair has flipped with even Willow Smith foregoing whipping her hair back and forth for a shorter look.  Miley’s move may be more about asserting her independence from the haters who question why this 19-year-old needs to get engaged to finance Liam Hemsworth, who, ironically, shared the screen with Katniss’ braids in The Hunger Games. Rihanna recently donned a daringly short do as she courted controversy by embracing her ex, Chris Brown. Perhaps, like getting over an ex, getting a haircut just helps you get over hurtful words and the scrutiny of the public and the press.

Or perhaps this look is about a bigger trend? It seems that 2012 is the year of girls empowerment: from the Fab 5 of Olympics fame and survivalist stars like Katniss, to the empowered sounds of Selena Gomez, Pink, Beyonce and Rihanna. Girl power isn’t new but what may be new is what it looks like right now. It’s a trend we’ll be watching, but right now it seems most characterized by:

  • Substance over style. Power gained through ideas or talents, not through press.
  • Physical strength, along with feminine fortitude.
  • Savvy over sass. Think less sassy sayings on their backsides and more smarts about managing their career, image or relationships with authenticity.
And focus over frolic. We don’t see Lindsay on this list. We don’t see scandalous celebs making their presence known. Instead, girls’ re-empowered might be a reclaiming of girl power by real girls – even if they are still famous ones.

Tags: Social Issues, girls, kids tweens teens, Miley Cyrus, olympics

Tough Talk on Childhood Obesity

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 @ 09:33 AM

Recently, a group called Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta ran a series of PSAs with the goal of reaching Georgia’s parents by breaking through the clutter of anti-obesity messages (see the PSAs and the article from the Chicago Tribune on this debate). Their tagline, “Stop Sugarcoating it, Atlanta,” suggests that their aim was to shock, or at least to shake up a populace that they perceive to be apathetic about the increasing size of its children. The only problem…they succeeded.

Most of us would probably pay little attention to yet another TV spot that spewed statistics about childhood obesity and its consequences (increased levels of diabetes and asthma, just to name two oft-highlighted downsides of carrying around extra weight); but these ads not only spoke about, but also showed the emotional consequences of being overweight. The captivating commercials feature overweight kids standing in sparse settings. We can’t tell where (presumably in Georgia) they’re from, what SES category they fit into, and in most cases, whether they come from obese parents. We don’t know what type of schools they attend, or what they serve in the cafeteria. We, the viewer, are simply confronted with the outcome of a complex system of events, conditions, and choices. And, importantly, the outcome is more apparent in the eyes of these kids than in the size of their bodies.  Child Obesity

It might be easy to applaud the efforts of this group and call it a day, but as the Tribune’s Bonnie Miller Rubin suggests, the response has been far from what this non-profit group expected. Instead of receiving accolades, the group has found themselves accused of “blaming the victims.” Experts have lined up on either side of this debate: do we stigmatize children further by showing unhappy overweight children, or do we keep these real children out of it? And, to echo a concern we raised in a blog post in 2011, are we focusing kids’ attention on weight in a way that might have undesirable side effects? We want our children to want to be healthy, but what are the consequences for those kids who currently are not? My own four-year old is proud to show off knowledge gained in school about how terrible it is to eat unhealthy foods (while, just a minute later, he refuses the broccoli we offer and begs for a fruit snack). Our kids know, at increasingly young ages, that eating healthy and being overweight is “bad.” Even if the shame in obesity is more about caring for your health and less about looks (at least for the youngest kids), there’s no doubt that we’re presenting the anti-model without unpacking the complex causes of the childhood obesity epidemic.

And importantly, will these ads really work to change behavior, or at least, affect attitudes? Perhaps they will make their viewers uncomfortable, and even angry. But in the aftermath, maybe families will take stock of their habits. On the other hand, this approach could open the door for many other ads that stigmatize the children who have become obese (again, because of a host of complex factors). This campaign could, as its critics contend, convey a less-than-flattering image of overweight kids that may be hard to combat on the playground, or in the classroom. Or maybe, the seemingly authentic fears and tears of these children will make us sympathize with them. The only thing missing from these ads: some solutions that empower kids, not just expose them.

Tags: research, Social Issues, advertisment, Youth, culture, youth media

Getting Away From Setting “Good-for-you” Goals for Kids, Tweens and Teens in the New Year

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 09, 2012 @ 12:23 PM

At this time of the year, gyms are packed, diets dominate the banter or morning talk shows, and advertisements attach products and services to a collective desire to re-craft ourselves…But like so many other cultural rituals, setting New Year’s Resolutions might not be a concept that can be easily applied to kids, tweens and teens.

“Resolving” to do anything that requires long-term commitment might seem like a dealbreaker for youth. But we could find countless examples of kids, tweens and teens who set goals and achieve them. One recent example: Jordan Romero’s Christmas Eve feat of climbing to the top of the seven highest peaks in the world (ending his journey in Antarctica!). Too ambitious for your ten-year old? Fret not. There is something to learn from Jordan’s story…Jordan Romero

While psychologists and educators note the importance of teaching youth to set goals (with interventions among at-risk youth often incorporating planning and goal-setting as part of a holistic “recovery” program), and both sets of experts acknowledge that this might be a practice that requires support from adults (i.e., it’s not instinctive), Jordan’s story suggests that a healthy New Year’s Resolution might be focused more on what youth are passionate about than what youth “should” do. In the early days of any new year, blog entries abound that suggest helping kids set health-oriented New Year’s resolutions…Encourage your preschoolers to put away a toy every time they play…Challenge your tween to try a veggie at every meal…Ask your teen to research one potential college once a week. And while all of these goals might be noble, and clearly worthy of mom’s and dad’s encouragement, maybe these self-help ideas are more about parental hopes than about connecting kids with great goals. It’s not just that these “to-dos” feel more flat than fun (we know that teaching kids, tweens and teens that sometimes meeting their obligations isn’t all about entertainment), but it may be demonstrating that planning is unpleasant.

As an extreme, but telling case in point, look at Jordan’s journey…He set a difficult goal, but one that he (and his family) was personally invested in. He not only thought that fulfilling his goal would be a feat, but he described a sense of passion and fulfillment that he got from the view at the top. Climbing, for him, is a lifestyle he embraces – not a chore he’s charged with. Jordan and his family have founded the “Find Your Own Everest” movement to encourage youth to set meaningful goals, but more importantly, to find that goal that matters to them.

So if you want the youth in your life to stick to a promise this year, start by sussing out their interests, not their shortcomings, and focus on helping them find what they love, not fix what’s wrong with them. Perhaps this should be the New Year’s resolution that every parent and organization embraces for 2012.  

Tags: research, Social Issues, play, outside, Youth, Teens, tweens

CTAM and C+R Research Partner to Study the TV Consumption Habits of 13-34 Year Olds

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Nov 17, 2011 @ 10:26 AM

CTAMIn the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing’s (CTAM) just released study, Watching Gens X, Y & i, findings for teens are put into the overall context of a cohort that watches TV in very different ways than ever before. The goal of the study—conducted by C+R Research—was to investigate the effect of lifestyles and life stages on media and technology usage among younger consumers. It included both qualitative and quantitative online phases in the summer of 2011, and utilized data from C+R Research’s comprehensive syndicated YouthBeat study to provide additional context. 2,124 total interviews were conducted as part of the quantitative phase.

Check out the press release for yourself.

In the meantime, here are a few highlights:

  • 13-34 year olds average 4-5 other activities while watching TV
  • Adults 18-24 and 25-34 are most likely to connect social media to TV viewing
  • 18-24 year olds are almost twice as likely (37%) as teens (19%) to look up information online while they’re watching TV
  • Teens are most likely to watch TV with friends and family (note, according to YouthBeat’s 2011 findings, siblings are most likely to sit on the sofa next to teens when they’re tuning in)
  • Only 12% of teens watch video on their cell phones

For more information on this study, please contact:

Jason D. King, ABC
CTAM
Director of Communications & Media Relations
301.485.8914
Jason@ctam.com

Tags: Social Issues, Youth, CTAM, TV

The debate over learning – and teaching – for today’s youth

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Aug 09, 2011 @ 10:55 AM

Don Tapscott, a self-described “digital revolution expert,” writer, educator and business consultant has spent more than a little bit of time and money exploring how this generation learns, and importantly, how they should be taught. While his research has focused on higher education, his claims and his studies hold implications for kids, tweens, and teens and how they receive and process information across multiple contexts.

In his latest book, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (2010), he suggests that the way we teach today’s youth is misaligned with how their brains are wired. Specifically, he describes the classic university lecture model (and let’s face it – the oft used research presentation model) as applying 17th century technology and philosophy to a 21st century student-base. Expanding on an idea that served as the centerpiece of his 2006 work, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, (which along with his latest work, was co-authored by Anthony D. Williams), he describes today’s students as being cognitively oriented towards collaborative learning versus “being broadcast to” based on their life-long experience “making, changing and learning from digital communities” (listen to an interview in which he describes this shift, in depth, on the website for NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”

Tapscott has investigated this theory in numerous studies (one which he priced at $4.5 million and included a sample of 11,000 youth!)…But perhaps what was more interesting about his theory, which seems to hold some water, is the strong reactions it garnered from callers into the above-mentioned radio show on which he was a guest.

First, a professor (who revealed his age to be a young 31) vehemently disagreed with Tapscott’s assertion that we need to change classroom approaches to adapt to today’s students’ learning styles. Using his own college students as evidence, he claimed that this generation was more entitled, more self-absorbed and more isolated and isolating than they should be. He described students who protested assignments that involved reading over 30 pages, and cited numerous examples of students bypassing class, only to search a topic on Wikipedia, where they can find questionable but convenient information in sound-byte chunks. Rather than catering to these tendencies, this professor asked educators to continue to push and challenge students to engage in “real learning,” even if it meant sitting and listening or reading a book.Teen at computer

Tapscott has heard this rebuttal before. He countered with a compelling story of one student who he met who claimed that he didn’t “read books.” Upon getting to know him better, Tapscott found that the student had a 4.0 GPA. He had friends and was president of his school’s student body. His girlfriend was from New Orleans, and when Katrina hit, they went to her home and set up a health clinic (based on information and know-how they gained from networking – virtually and with people they met through social networks. They became immersed in understanding how to provide affordable healthcare to a population in need. The clinic continues to serve 9,000 patients per year. 

But can you get a job without reading books? Well, it might be too soon to know. This guy followed up his college experience at Oxford, where he went for free. He received something called a Rhodes scholarship.

To be fair, we have straddled this issue. Anyone who reads our blog, or knows us, knows that we see few youth trends as signs of a doomed generation. We explore – and are fascinated by – change as part of our trade. But some of us (this former English-major writer included) still revel in reading the old-fashioned way, and really hopes our children find reading to be one of life’s great joys. While I’m confessing, I also like lectures – which makes me an overly eager and enthusiastic Ph.D. student – I apologize to my peers. But I think Tapscott’s point is not to suggest that paper is going away or that listening to an expert isn’t important. He champions dialogue and connection. He pushes for experiences that engage students in hands-on learning, not passive receiving (giving an interesting example of how Boomers grew up being broadcast to by the television, in contrast with this generation who expects to log-on and customize and even co-create content to make it work for them). Finally, he promotes the idea that today’s youth have ideas to give, not just information to learn. This makes sense to us (and it’s in line with the 21st Century learning initiative, which most educators have embraced as the new way students should be learning today).

This debate might have started with questioning the college classroom, but we think it has implications for anyone creating programs and sending messages to today’s youth. First, make sure you’re bringing them into a dialogue – not merely dictating to them. Second, recognize that they relate to authority different than in the past. It’s not about rejection, but it might mean that you need to partner more than posture, and allow for multiple ways of being right. Finally, don’t underestimate their desire to connect. This is far from an isolated generation – this is a group eager to build and engage in community, and to make a difference in the places where they live and play.

Tags: research, Social Issues, kids, parents, Youth, school