Why online behaviour of Irish teens is extremely worrying

When I want to message my 16-year-old daughter, I have to think strategically for a minute or two. There’s an 80pc chance that she will not respond to a traditional SMS text, as she has notifications turned off. None of her friends use SMS, so what’s the point in cluttering up an already busy home screen, she argues with all the skill of a senior counsel. Besides, texting, in her view, is what old fossils like me do.

The odds of her replying within two hours if I send her a message via WhatsApp increase slightly. But if I want to hunt her down, there are two online platforms that she is rarely disconnected from – Snapchat and Instagram, both of which I am barred from following her on because, as every teen will tell you, it’s not cool to be connected to the ones who love them the most, and are the keepers of the magic money tree that pays for the out-of-bundle data charges each month.

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Bad parenting accusations aside, the communications and media consumption habits of this generation and the impact they are having on their lives are both fascinating and scary in equal measures.

As part of its 20th anniversary in Ireland, the GroupM agency Mindshare has just published a report which sheds some light on the media and communications habits of the so-called ‘Generation Z’. Called Kids These Days, the findings probably confirm what most parents are too afraid to admit: their kids are addicted to their mobile phones and their social media platforms of choice.

According to the Mindshare research, some of the more interesting nuggets show that Irish teens – 91pc of whom own a smartphone – spend on average 1,024 minutes a day consuming media in all its different guises. That’s 44pc more than the average adult, who spends around 724 minutes a day.

The majority of this activity is between the hours of 5pm-10pm, when they’re likely to be dual-screening while watching TV or doing more important things like homework and study.

But they are always connected and communicate via their smartphones throughout the day, and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.

The Mindshare research also shows that Snapchat is unquestionably the platform of choice when it comes to teenagers.

Around 63pc of the 300 teens surveyed use Snapchat, spending on average 69 minutes a day on it. This compares with 39 minutes on Instagram and just 35 minutes on Facebook.

While platforms like YouTube are also popular among this cohort, the research shows that rumours of linear TV’s demise might be a tad exaggerated, as it’s still watched by 74pc of teenagers. But there are some important caveats to note here, as there is a fair chance that they will also be watching something else at the same time on their phones or laptops, with only 14pc admitting that they solely watch TV, compared with 35pc of all adults.

Irish teens, however, are not as dumb as their parents are when it comes to being digitally savvy, and many are aware that online platforms track them all the time. That’s perhaps one of the reasons why ad blockers are used by many within this cohort. Around 48pc of them are concerned about the amount of information companies such as Google and Facebook have on them.

All of these online behaviours are important for many reasons. While they can be used to inform marketing and advertising decisions – the online world is predominantly advertising funded after all – should we be worried about the negative impacts they can have on the mental and physical health of our teens? Damned right we should.

Two of the best books on cyber-psychology that every parent and marketer should read are Dr Mary Aiken’s The Cyber Effect and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows.

Between them, they will gain several useful but shocking insights into how the online world is effectively rewiring the way we think, read, remember and interact with people in the virtual and real worlds, while at the same time nurturing addictive and often destructive behaviours that can lead to all manner of problems in later life.

Because advertisers effectively underwrite the internet, they also have an enormous responsibility to play when it comes to dealing with these issues. Somehow, however, I don’t detect a willingness by the marketing community to step up to the plate.

We – parents, teachers, marketers, governments, the health services – need to tread very carefully in these uncharted waters and start a serious debate about what all of this means. Otherwise, I fear we may be heading to hell in a handcart, and there will be no turning back.

– It’s that time of the year when GAA sponsors get togged out for their latest activations, as the countdown to the All Ireland finals in September gets under way.

One of the bigger ones this year comes from SuperValu, which has just launched a new campaign called ‘Where You’re From, You’re From’ to support its 10-year sponsorship deal with the All Ireland Football series. The campaign was created by TBWADublin and is rooted in the retailer’s brand position ‘Real Food, Real People’.

– Although the summer tourism period is already in full flow, Tourism Ireland has kicked off one of its biggest TV campaigns in the important US market. The four-week TV campaign will be seen by millions of potential holidaymakers. The TV ad, called ‘Fill Your Heart With Ireland’, will air on major networks, including NBC, CBS, Fox and ABC. The ads will be complemented by an extensive digital campaign.

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