At a time like this when everyone is helping everyone out, we thought it would be appropriate to do the same by sharing some things we learned about how teenagers are feeling about the world right now.

The team at GLJ Research spoke with 16 teens from Chicago, Ohio, and Boston, guys and girls, sophomores through seniors, a combination of friendship groups and individual interviews, to get a pulse on their desires, hopes, fears, and emotional well-being at this time of global health crisis and political turmoil. We hope this will help you understand this unique audience during this (very) unique time, and we hope you can use these insights to communicate with this audience in the most powerful way moving forward and post-COVID.

Teens are speaking up and want to be heard; they are feeling insecure and resentful; and they want to know if life will ever be the same.

Here’s what we discovered:

1.   Family appreciation

Teens feel a stronger appreciation for family, and value the deepening bond of parents as parents to friends as well, as together they navigate this new reality. With on-the-go school and work schedules brought to a standstill, family games, movie nights, cooking, and just hanging out took over. These teens also expressed feeling enhanced empathy and concern for their grandparents and appreciate time spent with them more than ever.

2.  Close friends becoming even closer

During this pandemic, these teens have created lifelong bonds with close friends, particularly with those who are in the same ‘bubble’ or with whom they are online schooling. These closer friendships have come with deeper relationships and a deeper sharing of feelings. Still, they miss the diversity and exposure of friendships and connections outside of their inner circles and have discovered that technology and social media are not a viable long-term replacement for in-person interactions.

3.   A sense of loss and despair

These teens are experiencing a sense of loss and fear that life will never return to normal. They feel they have been cheated out of their teen years and resent that they have been forced to ‘grow up’ overnight. Adulthood burdens came so fast. They also have a newfound (and deep) appreciation of how carefree, happy, and fun life was before the pandemic. They’ve missed out on things like clubs, sports, proms, and graduation ceremonies. They no longer ‘take life for granted’ and are grateful for what they have.

4.    The need to ‘get out’

Teenagers have a deep desire to ‘get out’. Limited in-person schooling and quick trips to the coffee shop or mall have provided a much-needed sense of autonomy and relief from feelings of loneliness and boredom. With limited adventure possibilities, they appreciate these small excursions more than ever. While mask wearing and social distancing are still a frustration and reminder that life right now is not normal, these smaller outings bring them back, however briefly, to the way things were and provide at least a semblance of normalcy.

5.   Anxiety about the world

These teens feel the strain of broader social and economic issues, as spending so much time at home and therefore increased exposure to news, politics/the election, and social media is jading them. Their increased awareness of racial tensions, climate change, and socioeconomic disparities are real concerns that many never thought about before the pandemic. As one said, ‘COVID adds another layer to the problems we already have and not only are the problems exposed, but they are made worse.’ Given all the strife and polarization, many feel ‘We are all in this at the same time’ more so than ‘We are all in this together’.

So what does all of this mean for you, the marketer?  For now, the answers lie in the questions:

  • Will this new appreciation and slower, family-oriented lifestyle last and what does that mean?
  • Will there be a brick-and-mortar and in-person resurgence when in-person shopping and restaurants return?
  • What will be the impact on social media and how teens communicate with each other?
  • How will teens want to be talked to and how will this collective experience impact their future behavior? What will their new priorities be?
  • What will be the emotional values teens are seeking in the brands they choose?

We plan to keep talking to teens in 2021 to hear what they have to say. Their lives have changed forever, as have ours, but not necessarily for the worse. A light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. When we come out, things will be different, but we’ll still need to understand our audience’s feelings and communicate with them at emotional level to provide what they want and need.

If you have any questions you want us to ask, or any teens you want to volunteer for the next round of qualitative research, please reach out by clicking here!