BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 13:12 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 14:12 UK

The wisdom of teenagers

Computer games can offer moral guidance

A report by a 15-year-old work experience student at an investment banking firm, about teenagers and the media, says young people don't listen to the radio, go to the cinema or use Twitter. But are there other teenage habits that might come as a surprise?

When Matthew Robson, on work experience from his London school at US bank Morgan Stanley, was asked to describe his friends' media habits, he had little idea the impact his answers would have.

His report has been the talk of web bosses and media analysts, and even caused a ripple at a conference in Idaho, US, attended by some of the world's leading figures in new media.

Although some of his findings were predictable - it was already well known that teenagers don't like to pay for music - he also said that teenagers find it hard to make time for television, don't like Twitter or traditional radio, and rarely go to the cinema.

But beyond the world of new media, what else do teenagers do? Thirteen-year-old Scott Campbell, who lives in Aberdeenshire, gives his view.


Contrary to popular belief, the majority of teens are not particularly worried about the environment. There is a small minority of youngsters who are active in attempting to help the environment, but with homework, school, friendships and often a job, teens often do not have time to help the environment. Teens may also see that the gradually-worsening environment can have benefits (global warming brings warmer weather) at this current time, but often do not consider the future risks of not attempting to save it.


Scott Campbell
Why pay a 1 for news, asks Scott

Teenagers have never been avid newspaper buyers. Today's young teens think the act of parting with up to £1 for the very same words that can been read absolutely free on a newspaper website, borders on the perverse. Why pay for something that's free? And the "old media" is not as interesting to teens as it used to be, as it is often late with coverage of important events. For example, the death of Michael Jackson was on the web within minutes, whereas it was only in the newspapers the next morning. This does not mean there is a lack of teen intellect, it instead means that the majority of teenagers are utilising the new forms of media. Teens will often read free papers such as the Metro, which also include celebrity gossip and shocking stories and are more interesting than stories about the economy or swine flu.


A large percentage of teens prefer to get their news from popular YouTube stars, such as Philip DeFranco (general, odd news) and Michael Buckley (entertainment news), as it is presented in a more human, conversational format. YouTube is incredibly interactive; comments can be left and the presenter can be messaged; teens do not like a one-way conduit of information. It also takes out the inconvenience of having to trawl through news sources to try and find interesting stories, as news sources are often "polluted" with uninteresting news, for example, about the credit crunch or the expenses scandal. Human interest stories which either humiliate the subject or are particularly unusual are mostly preferred.


While adults may think that computer games turn teens into gangsters, murderers and thugs (in a werewolf-like transformation), they do not. Teens play games to take on the role of the character that they are playing, and to try out the situations virtually. While games may provide the player to carry out acts which would be considered to be crimes, most games still provide the player with consequences to their actions, such as being arrested, and having weapons confiscated (in game, of course). The gamer will often begin to think morally about the situations when they take on the mantle of a particular character. Furthermore, many games present teens with a positive influence, such as Guitar Hero, which I don't doubt has encouraged many teenagers to take up the guitar.


The wide belief that teenagers are "lazy" and like to sleep in is not true. A large number of teens play sport, which regularly requires very early mornings. As well as this, most teenagers have to wake up earlier than the average adult worker to get to school on time. Also, a large amount of homework is set by multiple subject teachers, meaning that teens will have to stay up extra late to accommodate the extra tasks. Over the week (and at weekends if sport is involved) a large lack of sleep will make most people want to have a long lie.

Scott Campbell co-edits his own news website, Net News Daily and wrote Giving up my iPod for a Walkman for the Magazine.

Here is a selection of your comments.

The concept of trying to state "what young people are up to" is a bit flawed. No one tries to generalise what people between 50 and 60 are interested in. People in that age span are treated as individuals, not as one homogeneous group.
Frederick, Falun, Sweden

As a university student who has recently left my teen years, I find much of the information presented in this article hard to believe. I am curious whether this information is statistically accurate and whether there are significant changes depending on geographical location, class or any other important personal characteristic.
Jeremy, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

For a long time I've thought that teens are brighter and more with it than I was at that age. I remain firm in that belief - especially considering most dismiss Twitter as nonessential - yet I am a bit disappointed that many aren't more considerate of the environment. I think a basic understanding of cause and effect should be part and parcel to common sense and common respect.
J, North Mankato, Minnesota, USA

I'm 16 and I tend to frequent the cinema mostly because I like to review movies. It's not a bad thing to be one who goes out to see movies. I like to look deeper into things and see meaning. I see many kids in school who only care about looking good and what people think about them, but it is a small percentage compared to the throngs of teens who want to help others, be active and build the environment.
Jeremy Haliw, Pasadena, United States

People are different, and someone in London is going to be different from someone in other parts of the country. Also talking about "uninteresting news" perpetuates the idea that young people are not interested in current events. While I'm sure the majority of young people do fit this stereotype, not all do.
Martin B, Crieff, Scotland

I'm surprised that this is a shock to anyone in any country. The media often makes teens seem like lazy slobs, however most of the time they have the most active schedules. I'm only 20 and I've been a full time college student and full time employee since I graduated high school. My friends are, for the majority, the exact same way.
Elizabeth, The Woodlands, United States

Matthew and Scott are absolutely right. There is simply no time for traditional media, activism, or sleep. After school, extracurricular activities, and homework, I only have enough time for some quick internet browsing about the things that mean the most to me, and some video gaming. Gaming is an escape-oriented activity, much like reading was to my parent's generation. I like to read, but when faced with a choice between reading a story and living a story through a game, I choose the latter.
Daniel, Portland, Oregon, United States

At 17, this description should fit me perfectly. However, most of it is wrong. I buy the newspaper daily (and find economics and politics much more interesting than celebrity news), have never watched news on YouTube and don't play computer games. Some may dismiss this as a minority case, but most of my friends feel the same way. The fact is, all teenagers, like all children and adults, are different.
Maria, London

I'm 16 and the "Lazy" section explains it perfectly well! We may sleep for longer stretches on the weekends, but during the week we get barely any sleep!
Matthew, Pennsylvania, USA

I don't know about other places around the world but teenagers here like going to the movies. The lines at the movies are always full of kids from 13 to 25.
Jon, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

It's amazing that what Matthew Robson said came as a shock to so many people. Ask any teenager these questions, and they'll give you the same answers. Instead of having groups of adults decide how to approach teenage marketing and networking, why don't they just include more kids? We know ourselves much better than anyone else, and we're smart enough to realize that.
Jesse, Boston, United States

As a teenager and a regular BBC reader who cares about the environment, doesn't play computer games, buys a newspaper once in a while and doesn't play sports, I just wanted to remind people that not all teenagers would fit the profile described here. Just as not all adults are "stuffy and boring," there's no way that even most teenagers are like this.
Katie F, Durham, NH, USA

As a 17 year old, I would agree with a lot of what is being said above. I rarely watch TV and only listen to the radio in the car - and I know pretty much every single person in my 1000 member college has a Facebook. Teens really only use computers now.
Rosie L, Cambs

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