Reflections From a (U.S.) Youth Researcher Abroad

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

Recently, our family spent spring break in Italy with two boys of our own, and two nephews allItaly under the age of six. While technically “off the clock,” I couldn’t help but bring my researchers’ eyes along for the ride. This is by no means a scientific study, but this fresh look at youth and this, admittedly, random collection of observations and reminders has left me with ideas and inspiration for the past few weeks. I hope they do the same for you!

  • The slides are steeper.  In the town where we stayed, the fountain at the piazza’s center was backed by a modern playground comprised of colorful slides, bridges and tunnels, and climb-able trucks and trains. By all accounts, this play space looked like it could have been in Chicago or New Jersey, or anywhere else in the world. Except for the slide. It was STEEP! As if our American-ness wasn’t already apparent in this off-the-beaten path town, the way we gawked at the tall yellow slide signaled that we were not from “around here.” But what insight can possibly be gleaned from the slope of a slide? Like so many European TV programs (if you ever have the chance, see the brilliant David Kleeman’s presentation on the big risks that children’s television takes in other markets around the world), risk looks a little different outside our borders. There was hardly glass on the ground, and no dangerous characters lingered by the swings, but this playground didn’t have signs signaling appropriate ages, and it had one heck of a drop from the top. The fun for kids from this whizzzzzzzz came from taking off, however tentatively, one’s cloak of nervousness to experience the joy and
    bravado that comes from tackling a phobia. More was at stake on this slide than on their safer American counterparts. Too bad for all the undercover superheroes in the U.S. just waiting for their chance to fly.
  • Play is a language. The highlight of our vacation, at least for me, came not from watching the sun set over a grove of olive trees (although that was nice) or a glass of vino with family (nice as well) but watching my six year old son negotiate a game of tag with a new friend. Beyond a “bon giorno” and a cautious “hello,” the two children had little to discuss. But they were able to gesture and smile their way through a fairly recognizable game of tag (with my son’s new Italian friend sometimes hugging instead of simply tagging!). It reminded me that play is a language all its own, and it travels. The impulse to play is something that adults sometimes try to manage, promote and steer, but the desire to connect in un-productive leisure represents something more powerful than many adults can understand or facilitate. Play pushes its way through barriers of all sorts, including language barriers, to become the language itself.
  • They have the same Legos everywhere. Globalization and consumer culture are weighty issues—and ones that marketers often view very differently than the many critics who consider the loss of local flavor (in addition to many other potentially deleterious effects). But there was something amazing about the way that characters and properties bond children across the globe. Beyond Cartoonito’s decidedly dark rendition of Heidi, many of the shows on Italian TV were familiar to our kids. This universal culture might have its downsides—and in the least, suggests we should treat these ubiquitous exports as sacred symbols—but it also serves to make children comfortable across strange lands. When my son saw his favorite Legos in the window of a toy store in downtown Chiavari, he was home.
  • “New” can be nice. It could be these specific kids, or it could be this cohort of youth, but the differences in pizza, ice cream, language, and environment and even in other people didn’t seem to faze our young travelers. The excitement came from the same sources it typically did—from really, really good gelato. Or a particularly challenging playground bridge. Or that steep slide. But without making a big deal about what was different, our kids seemed to think that most things were pretty much the same. Kids are shockingly adaptable if we allow them to be. For all the concern that modern parents face about fixing schedules and helping children adjust to new experiences, kids not only survive but often thrive when they must encounter and integrate the “new.” It goes without saying that this is where learning and growth live—not just for kids, but for adults as well.

Tags: toys, food, travel, kids, play, parents, Youth, TV, culture, youth media, speaking

How to Speak Facebook: Snark

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 25, 2010 @ 04:34 PM
According to YouthBeat data, Facebook is on the rise. In the second half of 2009, the number of kids, tweens and teens on Facebook surpassed that of predecessor, MySpace, for the first time - and we think these numbers will increase until a formidable competitor replaces it.

Much has been made about the way that the latest generation of youth communicate. Just between us BFFs, the way they talk makes me LOL. But as anthropologists and linguists have long understood, the language we use is layered with meaning. And so it is for today's youth's brand of banter...

On the surface, it seems that the shortened speech employed by today's youth shows just how impromptu their elocutions are. It's clear that efficiency competes with eloquence for tweens' and teens' attention. And it also shows that informality rules when it comes to the etiquette of conversation. But if you read between the lines, we think it speaks to a need for insider status that is more important than ever to today's tweens and teens.

In a world where everyone is friends, and all spaces are public, privacy and membership can feel elusive. While Facebook may allow youth to express ideas with unprecedented ease and comfort, it also steals a timeless tool of tween and teen relationship building: the secret.

Enter snark. 

Snark is, by definition, "rudely sarcastic or disrespectful." There's no doubt that sarcasm, wit, and one-upmanship prevail on the homepages of most tweens Thought Bubbleand teens we know. But snark only works when you're talking to a group who gets the joke. Snark isn't often expressed to its target, but to those who agree. And for teens, snark is often a way of sharing with, not shunning, others. Snark is a way to cement connections, as in using the "children" tool to list the names of your unrelated best friends. Or creating groups that require little commitment to join (like "People who don't care if you need a cow to complete your Farmville collection," or "Women who know that a good man is hard to find"). Or simply infusing your status updates with irony...

What does this tell us about tweens and teens besides their Facebook behavior? It tells us that it's more about them than about us. Teen talk isn't trying to taunt us - it's trying to show others they're worthy of those ever-elusive secrets. And while language can certainly exclude, most tweens and teens use language to show that they belong - and that others belong with them.

Tags: MySpace, Youth, Teens, tweens, Facebook, speaking

Join YouthBeat at the What Teen's Want conference in NYC!

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 11, 2010 @ 01:00 PM
Hear the voice of YouthBeat, Amy Henry, speak at the What Teen's Want conference in New York on May 13th at 12:30 pm! We would love to see you at our booth - which will be up and running for the duration of the conference (May 12-13th).

In "GET A CYBER LIFE: UNDERSTANDING THE NEW SOCIAL LIVES OF TODAY'S TEENS," you can find out more about everything affecting What Teens Wantthe way teens socialize today - from virtual play grounds to Facebook "official" to Twitter tracking your every move. The social lives of teens have never been simple, but for today's connected teens, some of the timeless trials of these years are made even more complex in a world where everyone appears to be a friend and everybody knows your screen name. In this presentation, Amy will provide you with a look at what's changed - and just as importantly - what's stayed the same in the social lives of today's 13 - 18 year olds. You'll get insight on the most relevant developmental theories related to teens and their social lives, and we'll show how their most current behaviors signal shifts in the rituals that shape their everyday lives. Finally, we'll tell you what this means for brands who want to better meet their needs and fit into this often misunderstood group.

To register for What Teen's Want and hear Amy in person visit:

Tags: parents, conference, Teens, speaking

YouthBeat at the Youth & Family Mega Marketing conference in Chicago!

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, May 10, 2010 @ 10:51 AM

Don’t miss Amy Henry speaking with kid boutique agency, C3, at the Youth and Family Mega Marketing conference in Chicago on May 12th! Swing by the YouthBeat booth and meet us in person…We’ll be there May 11 - 12th.

Youth and Family   Mega

In Concerned, Connected & Plugged In, Amy will discuss the latest findings from our year-long YouthBeat survey and our Virtual Panel of kids, tweens and teens from across the country. You’ll learn: 

  • How today's youth see social: from connecting one on one to keeping up with causes
  • How dialogue has gone digital
  • How to get in touch with kids, tweens and teens with messages about your brand and program

C3 will follow up with how they use these insights to…

  • Continually keep its foundational learning around today’s youth and their families fresh and up-to-date
  • Innovate new products and services that are targeted at the youth and family market
  • Ensure marketing strategies are on-target with today’s youth and their families

To register for Youth and Family Mega Marketing and hear Amy in person visit:

Tags: conference, family, Youth, speaking