What I learned at ALA: Part 4 – The Digital Lives of Tweens and Teens

This year’s President’s program was a joint effort between YALSA and ALSC focused on youth, ages 10-14 years.  The program had two presenters: Drs. Michelle Poris and Stephen Abram, VP of Gale Cengage Learning.  Dr. Poris is the owner/director of Smarty Pants, a marketing research firm specializing in youth and families.  Dr. Abrams is a futurist – one of those guys that reads like crazy and thinks about what the future will look like.

Ms. Poris started with the program with a look at the developmental processes of this age group.  And for this presentation she conducted a representational study of 415 10-14 year olds.  Some stats presented later in this post.

The key things I learned were:

  • Hey! Guess what!  Puberty drives many of the interests and behaviors of tweens!
  • All the messages about obesity being bad may be creating more body image issues.
  • The growth towards abstract thinking not only lets them think big thoughts, but they develop a more sophisticated sense of humor…as in irony, sarcasm, and puns.
  • These kids are MORE connected to parents than previous generations – cell phones make it easier to stay in contact and more kids consider their parents to be their friends.  However, all the extra curricular activities get in the way of spending time together.
  • At the same time, parents are often OVER-involved in their child’s life.  They may need “permission” to develop social connections outside of the family.  Luckily, new technology makes that easier than ever.
  • School performance has become a big issue with increasingly higher rates of anxiety, depression and etc.

Now, about technology…

  • TV is still on top, followed by music, online, video games, movies, outdoor activities, and reading for the 1o year olds.  By age 13-14 TV is still the most used technology, but texting is #4 and books have moved to the bottom of the list.
  • Tweens are multi-tasking to the max.
  • Top 50 brands for tweens include 15 digital brands with Wii and IPod touch in the lead.
  • Reality TV is the favorite type of show.
  • Games, Facebook, and being outdoors are favorite activities.
  • With all the gadgets, this age group has never had to wait to look things up.  It’s right at their fingertips.
  • Only 63% of the surveyed tweens counted books as an important way to keep up to date.  76% would rather watch a movie  BUT 75% say “I learn things from books that are just as important as the things I learn in school.”

And finally, if you want to keep up with trends, two free newsletters are YPulse and kidscreen.

On to the future…Dr. Abram says we’re in a Renaissance!

  • Children’s brains have changed – IQ’s are up 10-15 points.
  • TV and video games have changed the mapping of the brain.
  • Text-based learning is now in the minority.  Digital media contribute more; Google for text, YouTube for video, and itunes for auditory learning.
  • Video games lay the scaffold for learning and teachers should follow this method of building on success.  Fun fact: surgeons who play videogames have 30% higher success rates.

The world in 2020…

  • By 2014 many devices will be gone (CDs, DVDs, etc.) and the world will rely on wireless data streams;
  • Gesture computing will be on the rise (think Kennect);
  • More teens rely on Jon Stewart and Steven Cobert for their news than newspapers or other news programs.
  • The urban/rural divide continues but the digital divide is disappearing due to smartphones.
  • People will engage with and play primarily in the virtual world.
  • We’ll have multiple careers, many of which haven’t been identified yet.

Bottom-line…

It behooves us to get comfortable with Google+, Skype, video games, etc., and think about connecting with our patrons in the virtual world as well as in the bricks and mortar.  And that is especially true for connecting with tweens.

That’s it from ALA.

Susan