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  Nic Jones Rascals Rudiments: Kids Getting Bolder Younger!
by Nic Jones
July 2, 2007

For many years we, as marketers to young people, have been hounded by the doctrine (or is it the enigma!) that our kids are getting older younger (KGOY). I first came across this supposition in the early 1990s and I must admit that it made sense to me at the time. However, it's 15 years later and the expression is still with us. By now, surely, our children should be going to university at 12, driving cars at 10, and learning to read while in the womb! What I'm saying is that the true developmental facts don't bear out the myth.

If we take a good look at the literal meaning of KGOY then it doesn't stack up that our youth can be considered "older" than those of a decade ago. Young people are the same now as when we were kids; they have the same concerns, growing pains, learning problems, playground politics, homework issues, and parental pressures. They aspire to be older and more mature than their particular age group—but again, I point out, so did we. It is fair to say that in the respect of growth and development, children are most definitely not any more "older" than we were.

In another context, however, KGOY could make perfect sense. From a manufacturer's (and therefore sales and marketing's) point of view, it is correct to say that market forces have absolutely been affected by the changing of the age group who purchase so-called "kids' " products. So, if you are talking about purchasing patterns then you will probably be right to say that certain children's brands now appeal to 6-year-olds, whereas previously they were sold to 8-year-olds. In the sense of positioning and selling brands, the target market has got younger—and therefore the universe of potential customers has become smaller.


What I suggest is that while development may not have changed, it can certainly be said that attitudes have; children today have a deeper perception and understanding, a greater knowledge, of the world than those of a generation ago. Why? Maybe it is an issue of aspiration. Yet as we have already mentioned, children will always look to the older groups in school to get their influences, and of course, while these attitudes vary by decade, they are not the key to their awareness.

The answer comes not in asking why, but how. How have children come to be more street- and worldly wise?

The solution lies in the media: the media they consume and its infiltration into their daily lives. The electronic media age has provided instant information to a generation willing to listen and understand. Each new generation is more media-savvy than the previous one. There is no fear of the unknown or of possibilities; this generation isn't getting older but bolder!

Our youth are grabbing the possibilities far quicker than we are and they are doing it increasingly early in their lives. I may only be adding the letter "B" to the previous adage, but within that is a heap of significance!

Let's look at facts that are evident every day. The media is leading the way; media for young people has, in the last decade, provided children with instant information. It is true that since the desktop computer arrived in the 1980s, each generation has subsequently become far more media-literate than its predecessor, resulting in young people getting savvy younger and younger; they are leading the Internet generation and can be considered pioneers—they are bold!

During some recent research I asked 7- to 15-year-olds about their computing habits. At first I was astonished to discover that 100 percent of my groups had access to a computer at home, but then I noticed they talked in a manner that suggested they also had control over the computer; the parents had little influence. I was expecting the children to be enthusiastic in their usage of the computer but didn't expect them to assume ownership, with the parents taking such a back seat.

Now, I don't want to fuel the more zealous child protectionists by saying that children are running amok online without any control, because this wasn't the context of the research. What I learned was that children are using the computer to communicate, play, learn, and explore; I hope and actually expect that most online enquiries are perfectly innocent—the vast majority of children really are not interested in adult content. Youngsters are the pioneers; they are watching and listening and then passing on what they find out. How else could AOL Instant Messenger, YouTube, or MySpace have become as big as they are? Certainly adults wouldn't have recommended them.

Of course, the effects cannot just be seen online. All mobile communication innovations are driven by the teen generation and are passed down to tweens, juniors, and infants. The mobile generation is demanding and getting better-quality and quicker downloads, they are accessing information where and when they like, and they are sharing this with similar thinking individuals…

…which highlights another point. Social networking allows you to find like-minded people, those with whom you share common interests—and for children this is a marvelous way to "fit in." Such a mindset is of uppermost importance in a child's world and social networking helps all kids to realize that there are many people just like themselves. So what's more fun than to communicate these attitudes to others?

Having established that kids are now bolder than we were, I also contend that this behavior is starting at a much younger age than most would dare believe!

It is now a well-established fact that mobile phones are owned by younger and younger people; it is not uncommon to see primary-school children with phones. What hasn't been accepted is that the same age groups are now accessing their friends via the computer when they get home and that the home computer is actually their tool—one that they teach their parents how to use!

Crucially, I also suggest that parents of the very young are using the Internet to improve their child's media access and entertainment. Infants tend to be extremely possessive of the (licensed) characters they like and want exposure to them as often as they can, so the family home has the satellite or cable TV, the CDs, and probably numerous toys and gadgets assigned to the license. What the same home also has is the Internet and access to even more exposure; Mom and child can simply sit in front of a computer and reach their favorite characters on screen (just like a TV to a young child!), and even better, they find that they can now interact with the character, play with him, write a letter to him and get a reply. They can now touch their brands in a way simply not possible a few years ago.

The results of such behavior? Simple: children become media-savvy quickly, first alongside their parents and—not long afterward—on their own, prompted by their own schoolmates. As with all behavioral patterns in this market, the take-up of mobile media is set to get younger and younger, and with that the brands struggling to reach them should be looking very closely at how brave they are being in encompassing the new universe; tradition has no place in a child's mind!

Young people, from teens down to the very young, have no fear of technology and are leading the way into the digital frontier; we need to be as bold in our understanding and communications.

Ok, so KGBY doesn't trip off the tongue as easily as KGOY, but it is apparent that KGBY is now a far more relevant barometer in gauging the behavior and attitudes of today's children.

Kids are getting bolder younger. How bold are you?

   Nic Jones is managing director of Jammy Rascals, a specialist children and family agency.

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