Today’s Teens, Tomorrow’s Net Consumers

For the first time since making its way into our living rooms, television has had to share viewing time with another medium – the Internet. A. C. Nielsen reports 25 percent of prime television viewing time (7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.) has been replaced by Internet surfing.

Today’s teens (13 to 18 years old) and kids (5 to 12 years old) are leading this communication and entertainment revolution. They are the first generation to embrace Internet shopping as the norm and research school assignments by surfing the net. Because of its early introduction to the Internet, the teen market is sophisticated, dictating trends, and demanding fast response times and endless choices.

Teens are spending more time using the Internet as a tool for school work assistance, playing games, communicating with friends and surfing just to explore. A. C. Nielsen reports that the number of teens meeting friends at venues such as parties, night clubs and sports events is decreasing, as teens simply turn on the computer to keep up with their social life, extending social contacts beyond the country in which they live. The Internet has taken the age-old concept of pen pals a step further, allowing for instant communication across cultural and geographic boundaries at the click of a mouse.

Jupiter says almost 70 percent of teenagers go online to read and write email, and 50 percent will typically head for a chat room during an Internet session. A survey conducted in Northern Europe by AIM Nilsen shows that 15 percent of the teens interviewed ask new friends for email addresses rather than phone numbers, and participants cited that 7 percent of contacts with friends are made with Internet tools such as email.

The Internet allows people to interact with each other in ways that would have previously been impossible. Two years ago, the world’s first web kindergarten opened in Denmark. Using computers, working parents have direct access to what their children are doing via live picture feeds from 60 cameras. Children also had access to their parents through private chat rooms.

Although the Internet offers teens valuable research and communication tools, there are also some disadvantages that past generations were not exposed to. For instance, there are currently more than 8,000 web sites offering homework and examination support. Students can purchase exam papers and finished essays, paying on a sliding scale, depending on what marks they expect. Although teachers may get suspicious, it is difficult to prove student Internet fraud beyond a doubt.

Escape From A Linear Society

A fundamental problem facing most countries today is that education systems are not geared to the new globally networked society. In many cases, even very young children know more about some aspects of technology than their teachers. Education has not adapted to the near reality that all the world’s information is at a user’s fingertips. Our education systems need to incorporate information technology into the curriculum from junior to senior levels, teaching our children new skills.

At higher educational levels, there are also problems in fine-tuning the way technology is being integrated into the curriculum. Due to the rapid rate of change in the information technology industry, students being trained to work in new information industries are often taught skills that may be obsolete when the time comes to apply them in a work environment.

The Internet is changing our children’s skills and learning patterns. In 1996, LEGO toys conducted research on a group of children and found that motor skills such as juggling had been replaced by a new set of skills that included heightened reaction speeds, advanced understanding of 3D environments, and quicker overviews of large amounts of data.

As Jack Winebaum, President of Disney Online observed, “The kids we know are changing and so is our world. A seven-year-old boy was overheard in school asking, ‘where can I click in my book to get more information?'”

The Consumers Of The Future

Jupiter forecasts the number of teens online will double to more than 16 million by 2002. But most important to web businesses, teens will be the first generation to begin their lives as consumers in which the online world is a natural and expected part of their offline world.

The teen market has substantial buying power. Teenage Research Unlimited, a Chicago based research firm, estimates that today’s 31 million teenagers spent $141 billion in 1998, up almost $20 billion from 1997. Jupiter estimates that teens will start spending more of that cash online, forecasting that teen net shopping will grow 19 fold and reach $1.2 billion by 2002, with music being the most popular purchase choice.

Jupiter’s research, unveiled a few weeks ago at Digital Kids ’99, showed that marketers are actively targeting teens and kids for digital transactions. Teens and kids are spending more time and money online. According to a recent Jupiter/NFO Consumer Survey, of the 600 teens and kids interviewed, 67 percent of teens and 37 percent of kids that use the Internet indicate that they have researched or purchased products online. Jupiter forecasts that by 2002, U.S. teens will account for $1.2 billion, and U.S. kids will account for $100 million of the e-commerce dollars.

This trend of kids’ growing sophistication and direct involvement in e-commerce will open doors for marketers, but it is troublesome for parents. Over the past year, parental concern regarding child targeted advertising has more than doubled, from 17 percent in 1998 to 45 percent in 1999. Despite the lucrative revenue opportunity that child targeted advertising presents, engaging kids in online spending is a challenging proposition. Online players that are looking to target these younger consumers risk alienating parents, creating a negative brand image, and fostering greedy customers.

Fortunately, kids are still sceptical about what to believe and what not to believe on the Internet. A recent study conducted by Time/CNN on teenagers between 13 to 17 years of age shows that only 13 percent of all kids trust the Internet a “great deal;” 24 percent don’t trust the Internet at all.

The teen/kid market is a lucrative growth sector for online spending. As the Internet becomes more and more integrated into the family home, parents will need to closely monitor how their children use the Internet.

To ensure children will be fully prepared for changing working environments, the Internet needs to become an important part of educational curricula. This will prepare children for the new skills they’ll need in the workplace and teach them guidelines for using the Internet as a tool rather than a replacement for communication and human interaction.

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