The Blog

Today's Teenagers Are the Real Education

Exam season is upon us again, and as the nation's teenagers and young adults look forward to a sweaty summer of swotting up and settling down to a gruelling round of tests, we will be stealing ourselves for the inevitable end of days coverage of the state of our young people.

We will doubtless see sobering pictures of drunken, de-mob happy teens staggering through the streets, slumped outside nightclubs and standing in the roads trying to flag down cars, in the hope that they hit upon a taxi. There will be the usual debates over whether exams are getting easier, kids are getting lazier and the petrified certainty that the next generation is going to hell in a handcart.

Celebrating the end of exams though is a rite of passage and our British notion of celebrating anything is inextricably linked with the consumption of alcohol. Only two years ago Drinkaware reported that a quarter of British parents were planning to give their underage teenagers alcohol to celebrate their GCSE results. NHS figures show in the two years to April 2013, more than 15,000 under 18s were admitted to hospital with alcohol-related injuries or were so drunk they needed their stomachs pumped.

Frightening statistics for sure, but is this the complete picture? Our research has shown that, arguably, the most easily influenced group, those teenagers aged thirteen and up, are beginning to reject the received wisdom that young people are feckless, unambitious drunkards and stoners.

In fact, this Gen Viz group is the most health conscious consumer demographic of all. A 2014 NatCen survey found that 38% of 11-15 year olds have tried alcohol or cigarettes at least once - the lowest figure since the survey began in 1982.

In the US, teenagers are buying more activewear that denim, globally, they are increasingly abstinent and the alcohol-free festival is on the rise.

There is also much evidence to suggest that this group has seen up close the effects of the recession on their older, millennial siblings. They are worried about cuts to education and 40% of them are concerned about the prospect of robotisation in their future workplace. What could easily sound like inward-looking teenage angst, is in fact the catalyst for action. Youngsters are tackling these worries head on with increasing numbers starting their own businesses, learning to code and creating videos.

The democratisation of the online world has given this generation new, free tools such as YouTube, PayPal and Tumblr and they are seizing these opportunities to create content, work with brands and connect with consumers.

Furthermore, today's teens aren't just more self-aware and health conscious, this hyper-connected group has a global perspective and a social conscience. Large numbers are using their social platforms to address environmental and societal issues. One London teenager uses Instagram to promote eco-friendly ideas and solutions and Art Hoe, a collective with 30,000 young followers, promotes dialogue around race, gender and identity.

Maybe we are seeing a move away from the traditional incarnation of the rebellious teen and encountering something much more positive and authentic. Young people now are shaping their own destinies, making healthy decisions and getting their ideas and knowledge in front of large, often global, audiences.

Youth is wasted on the young, the old saying goes, well, not any more.