It’s been two weeks since my last blog post. I’ve spent a lot of that time with kids. My own, who have invaded my home office since it is summer vacation, and a great group of teenagers who are sharing their thoughts with me about youth obesity. While I love to talk about my kiddos, today’s post is about what a group of teenagers recently taught me.
Earlier this year, my client, FitCity Indianapolis, asked me for advice about how to use social media to reach teenagers with healthy messages about food and exercise. While this blog post isn’t about the tools, there is a wide range of data on how teens use social media:
- Texting is by far the most popular way for teens to communicate. 57% of wireless users age 13 and older are regular text message users. According to a recent poll, teens are using text and IMs to get homework help, upload photos, even to ask someone out on a date.
- While the number of Facebook users continues to grow, InsideFacebook.com estimates that only 11 percent of Facebook users in 2009 were under age 17.
- Nielsen released a report last year that only 3.6% of unique visitors to Twitter.com are age 17 and under. (This doesn’t count the visitors via smart phone or texting applications.)
Understanding usage is the easy part. What we realized we didn’t have a handle on is how local teens really feel about the rise in youth obesity, what healthy messages resonate with them and how they are talking amongst themselves about the issue. So we decided to get a group of 12 – 15 teens together and ask them to speak candidly about the issues and to share their ideas on how FitCity and health initiatives like it can talk to teens, get them to talk to one another about healthy weight, and encourage them to change their eating and activity habits.
The wonderful Youth as Resources program helped us identify the participants. Nine of the kids, ages 13 to 18, from five central Indiana schools, were able to attend the first meeting. As an ice breaker, we asked the group to share a few of the issues they face every day. (We did not stack the deck and talk about weight or health first; we just asked them to write down the issues in their high school.)
Here is what they listed:
- Bullying (mentioned by 5 of the group)
- Hard classes
- Gross school lunch
- Lack of diversity
- Racial profiling
- Peer pressure
- Identity crisis
- Family issues
- Overweight kids
- Low self-esteem
- Money issues
- Just graduating
- Disruption in class/hard to learn
My client’s eyes were immediately opened. In a 15-minute icebreaker, this group of teens really put things in perspective. Teenagers, like all of us, are facing and dealing with major issues every day. Eating healthy is just not as important as dealing with a bully in school or coping with peer pressure, family or money issues.
Now Indiana is the top states for unhealthy behavior and overweight. Weight issues contribute to health care costs, loss of productivity and quality of life. There are a wide range of campaigns – from Indianapolis Get Fit Indy and INShape Indiana to Jump Rope for Heart and Action for Healthier Kids – aimed to reverse the trend. Because my client (and I) deal with ways to combat youth obesity every day, it seems like everyone is talking about how to be healthy and stay healthy.
So why, when asked what healthy products or campaigns are out there aimed at them, they couldn’t think of one? This is an important issue that even First Lady Michelle Obama is addressing. Interestingly though, NONE of the kids in the room had even heard of the Let’s Move campaign.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t good work being done around the issue. But this discussion was a good reminder for me of two things:
1. While you or your client may live and breathe an issue – in this case, youth obesity – that doesn’t mean your audience does too.
2. Your message, no matter how well crafted, will not be effective if it does not resonate with your target audience in a way that is memorable and lasting.
The teen group all could identify the latest quick-weight-loss gimmick. (Who wants to try the Sketcher Shape Up shoes or the Shake Weights?) And they could talk for HOURS about how gross their school lunches really are. But they aren’t getting the messages that are being crafted for them about healthy eating and activity – sometimes with a high price tag.
With this perspective in mind, I am excited for the next meeting when we will really dive in to the issue and how they would talk about it to each other and what they want to hear about it. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with. I am prepared to be surprised. I suspect they may shock me. I’m hopeful to be inspired. I’m certain it will continue to alter my perception about how to talk to and with teens in a way that creates real response and action.
I’ll keep you posted.
Side note to schools: Kids are eating your lunches under protest. They aren’t finishing them. And if they have to eat at first lunch period (10:30 a.m.), that means they are really, really hungry by the time the school day is over.