02/07/2014 07:30 BST | Updated 29/08/2014 06:59 BST

Will 'Saffy' Teens be Absolutely Fabulous for Society?

In my last article, I identified a new young generation, the SAFFYs: Serious, Active, Forward-Facing Youth. They're very different to the "typical teen" parodied by Kevin the Teenager. Less frivolous, hedonistic, lazy and 'devil may care'. More anxious and responsible about the future, and more respectful of the past.

But what's created them, and what effect might they have?


One factor driving the trend is a growth in youth anxiety. According to the Nuffield Foundation, the proportion of mid-teens 'frequently feeling anxious' has doubled in the last 30 years. Young people are being tested earlier and more often at school. More than ever are working in demanding part-time jobs. They are increasingly concerned about their future. They have worries over student debt. They are, understandably, anxious about the economy. Research I've done over the last two years with MTV, Nickelodeon and researchers OnePoll shows this is actually their biggest worry. Meanwhile, the social freedom and 'anything goes' approach their parents fought for, though it does of course offer many opportunities, can be disorientating. All of this is driving a lot of young people to avoid things - like drink or drugs - that might threaten or disrupt their chance of a stable future. Many are actively seeking the stability of rules, tradition and even, in contrast to the sense of entitlement their older siblings exhibited in the 2000s, hard work.

Another possible factor is biological. Scientists view rebellion against one's parents as a natural and important part of adolescent development: in animals as well as humans. One reason 1960s and 1970s teenagers were hedonistic and iconoclastic, for instance, was as a reaction to their conservative parents. But the parents of today's young people are typically very different. They were often rebellious teenagers themselves. Many continue to live an - albeit watered down - version of the hedonistic 'sex drugs and rock and roll' life of their youth.

And their teenage children have seen the effects. Watching your father suffer a hangover can't be an appealing experience. Nor can the sight of a stranger sneaking out of your divorced mother's bedroom in the morning. Like their sitcom namesake, many SAFFYs often have to be the 'adult' in the family. And like Saffy, their conservatism might partly be a reaction against their parents' lifestyles. How better to antagonise your cool, hedonistic parents than by becoming, say, a Christian accountant?

The Importance of Being Earnest

So what might this change mean for families, business - and society?

SAFFYs look set to have a positive impact on society. They're certainly more likely to add something than those "entitled" older siblings who might have just said "whatever" and left it up to parents or politicians.

A growing willingness to face up to, and take greater responsibility for, the reality of their future should drive positive action. Unlike their older siblings, I don't believe this generation will expect others to work on their behalf, much as they might like them to. We are already seeing mass evidence of this in South America and the Middle East, where many are actively participating in positive local ?s.

The trend will also likely impact the home. More and more young people are already staying longer with their parents, after or even during university: something my generation did all we could to avoid! In fact, according to the ONS, over a quarter of 20-34 year olds in the UK today live with one or more parents. Of course this has a lot to do with the economy. But study after study shows that youth attitudes to parents and the parental home today are much more positive than before. They are happier to go on family holidays, take more responsibility for family finances, and so on.

Thinkers Not Drinkers

From a business point of view, drinks brands, mobile phone companies and car manufacturers who previously appealed to young people's hedonistic tendencies will have to change their marketing approach. As Teens get straighter, campaigns that target their earnest or practical side are more likely do well. So will brands that offer assistance, or at least sympathy, to those SAFFYs feeling poor, overworked or overstressed.

As I said last time this is perhaps the biggest change in Youth attitudes in 50 years, so such far reaching consequences are unsurprising.

But what is surprising right now is how slow many in authority and commerce are yet to acknowledge the trend. That needs to change.SAFFYs could be absolutely fabulous for our future.