Youth Specialties is a company dedicated to training, education and equipping youth workers to best minister to teens.  We love YS, we go to their conferences, use their products and follow the wisdom of its president, Mark Oestreicher or Marko (here’s his blog – he’s done with it for a while, but you can still get to the good stuff in his archives).  Annie, Sean and I have recently read Marko’s latest book, “Youth Ministry 3.0” and we are processing through some of the implications of his findings and arguments, which is essentially (this is probably a gross overstatement) that what we are doing in youth ministry is already not working (he supports that statement by acknowledging the research – most of us have heard these findings already) and that we need to dramatically change what we are doing to better minister to these teens.

Anyway, Marko talks through the phenomenon of adolescence and addresses what many have concluded are the “three tasks of adolescence” namely identity (who am I?), autonomy (what is my role in this world?) and affinity (where do I belong?).  The deal is that during adolescence teens are subconsciously working on these three tasks simutanouesly but also in a little bit of an order.  They are trying to figure out who they are, what their place is in this world and where or to whom they belong.  Part of what happens during this process is that the teens “try on” or “try out” different selves, roles, and affinity groups throughout these adolescent years (I say adolescent rather than teen because adolescence now continues into the mid-to-late twenties).

YS also hooks up youth workers by sending out weekly informational emails to us with different links to articles pertinent to teens and youth ministry.  This week’s email links to an article on Reuters examining Morgan Stanley’s paper by their 15-year-old summer intern.  He writes about teens use of and affinity towards all manner of technology including facebook and twitter. Here is a quote from the article:

The most memorable moment in the report is its discussion of the irrelevancy of Twitter to teenagers:

Facebook is popular as one can interact with friends on a wide scale.
On the other hand, teenagers do not use twitter. Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they release(sic) that they are not going to update it (mostly because texting twitter uses up credit, and they would rather text friends with that credit). In addition, they realise that no one is viewing their profile, so their ‘tweets’ are pointless.

Many of the issues higlighted(sic) in the 4-page report are obvious: Teenagers are consuming more media, but not prepared to pay for it. They resent intrusive advertising, while print media and radio are largely irrelevant to them. These observations may be nothing new to anyone who bothers to ask kids what they are up to.

What I find most interesting and disturbing about this article is that neither the people at Morgan Stanley, nor the article’s author understand the basics of adolescence.  This article takes the findings of this young man as the definitive word for marketing to younger generations when the report focuses inherently on teens (read: adolescents).  It is also disturbing that what the readers (atleast those who commented) took from the article was that twitter is a waning fad (apparently since teens signal what is cool or not, no thought or mention to the fact that teens were actually behind young adults in accepting facebook, many preferred [and many of our teens tell us they still do prefer] myspace).

So, where does the “three tasks” discussion come into this?  Simply that, when one examines the three tasks of adolescence one can clearly see that each of the three tasks are self-focused.  If you are a teen or a parent of a teen and are getting upset here, please don’t think I am calling your son or daughter selfish, because I am not.  The fact of the matter is that the whole purpose of adolescence’s “three tasks” is defining one’s self, and therefore much of the psychological, emotional and even physical work of adolescence is focused on the self.  Understand, now that teens can be very selfless, and that many are desperately looking for a venue to selflessly devote all of themselves to (see autonomy), but the very reason that much of their psyche is self-focused is why teens don’t care for twitter.  Twitter is, in it’s essence a pretty selfless application; it may seem selfish upon first glance (ie. what are you doing right now?), but the foundation of the community is that you follow others’ lives.  You can find all sorts of articles telling you to be focused on others in your tweeting (responding, quoting or linking to others) to build a following.  They talk about how self-centered tweeting will lose  followers quickly and how the beauty is in the actual simplicity of sharing what you are doing (not who you are).

Facebook, on the other hand (like myspace) is a self-focused app.  Facebook gives you the opportunity to create your profile and identity from the ground up; it allows you to identify yourself however you want to be seen.  Once you sign up for facebook, you can pimp your profile with all sorts of songs and apps and everything else under the sun.  You can spend a lifetime taking quizes to find out what “Friends” character you are, or what your smile says about you (then you can commment on the results whether you aggree or disaggree). You can explore deeper into your friends lives and interests than a microblog allows, and therefore adolescents would/should absolutely like Facebook more than twitter.  Twitter has the full strength of popularity in post-teens because twitter is about affinity (where/to whom to I belong?) and for anyone to really love twitter, they must have moved past the identity-formation task of adolescence and into the affinity task (or past that also).

The sad thing about this is that what is gleaned from the study is simply first-hand market research.  There seems to be no desire for the health or betterment  or better understanding of teens, but simply of what they like to get their money.  The sad reality is that the culture we live in both idolizes and preys upon youth.  Often teens are seen as little more than dollar signs to adults, when this report could be used to usher and encourage adolescents into adulthood, it seems to be little more than market research.

Also something to think about and note is whether or not twitter will become popular with teens.  If teens completely reject the app and notion of microblogging, what affinity tool will they cling to when they are finished forming their identity?  If not, will they come back to it recognizing it’s value in their lives?   Something to think about.  It seems fairly clear that older millenials and gen-xers have a pretty solid love for twitter, so it may not die off like many of the commentors are predicting.

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