A generation born into a well established 8 bit world, GenY, has a very different prospective on the digital reality than older generations like the Gen X and Baby Boomers. The Gen Y moto could be: “always connected” with Internet user penetration reaching 93% for 12-17 year-olds and 90% for 18-29 year-olds. It is estimated that by the end of this year, 96% of US teens, ages 12 to 17 will use the internet at least monthly, a much higher percentage than the 74% penetration for the total US population.

Teens Online

Even within GenY, the online behavioral patterns differ between the adults and the teens of this generation, with today’s teens showing much greater familiarity with Internet and technology use. Apart from the language barrier (texting seems to have driven vowels out of fashion) teens online seem to also have a very different attitude and solutions towards hot issues like privacy online, comments etiquette, etc. 78% of 12- to 17-year-olds have a social networking account, with Facebook topping their preferences, in fact more than 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds active on social networks have a Facebook account, and Twitter ranking 3rd in their preferences with about 15% of this age group using it.

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Girls are about as avid social media users as boys at this age, but they seem to adopt different behavioral patterns, for example among the teen Twitter users, 13% of teen girls are on Twitter in contrast to 7% of boys the same age. Another report of the Girl Scout Research Institute highlights the importance of online and offline friendship for girls of 14-17 with 92% of girls stating that they would give up all their social networking friends to keep their best friend and 56% of them using social networks to feel closer and more connected to their friends. 52%  of teen girls also seem to leverage their social networks for causes they care deeply about, indicating that non-profit organizations that reach out through social media have a finger on the pulse of next generations.  Teen girls are willing to try a variety of digital tools to fuel their shopping adventures, according to this report, more than 4 million teen girls purchased items online in 2010, up from 3.4 million in 2009.

The dark side of social media for teens

Anyone that has gone through high school knows that being a teenager is not all fun, rainbows and Hello Kitty. Teens are a tough crowd to be with and socializing during high school can feel like an episode of Survivor. Online social networks reflect that reality, sometimes magnifying cases of abuse. The most vulnerable to digital abuse seem to be teen girls with low self-esteem; 68% of girls state they’ve had a negative experience on a social networking site. Girls seem very self -conscious to promote a “cool” profile online (74% of girls agree that “most girls my age use social networking sites to make themselves look cooler than they are”), that translates into downplaying several positive characteristics like their intelligence and efforts to be a good influence. With cyber-bullying becoming more of an issue among young people of both genders, MTV launched A Thin Line campaign to empower them to put a stop to digital abuse. Digital abuse among young people has many ugly faces: 29% of young people have had rumours spread about them online or via text, 14% or young people have been the victim of impersonation while 17% of young people have been threatened or manipulated online or via text. If you know a teen having issues, let them know it’s not cool.

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GenY Adults

The GenY adults (ages 18-29) seem eager to adapt new habits online, even things that, up to today, were considered as standard online behavior, like googling to find a website, seem that they should not be taken for granted anymore. GenY adults increasingly rely on social media for many of their online actions, from shopping to discovering websites, for instance nearly 30% of them find websites via social networking sites and they are more than 3 times as likely as young boomers ages 45-64 to say they prefer interacting with companies on a social network rather than on a company website.

The different online habits of GenY are highlighted through a recent L2 Think Tank research among affluent influencers revealing the modes of media consumption for affluent GenY adults. Facebook, just like for teens, is deeply integrated into their daily routine, with 81% of the millenials accessing it every day, while Twitter also gains in popularity in this group, with 2/3 of affluent GenY’s using Twitter, and 1 in 4 checking their account in the past 24 hours. GenY affluents don’t shy away from sharing location information either, with about 1 in 5 of them report using Foursquare in the past 24 hours. This generation stays on top of social media via their mobile phone (25%) and rely on them for their purchases decisions, researching products, connecting with brands on a social level (more than 50%) and getting and sharing their shopping advice with their online network of friends.

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The rapid developments in the technology arena and the deep impact of social media are reflected in the abrupt behavioral change even between persons of the same generation. Wondering how GenZ will perceive digital reality?