Here’s a recipe for today’s teen: Take a generous serving of cynical, somewhat misanthropic Gen Xers, and sift together well. Add a heavy dollop of economic instability, and slowly add in a mistrust of institutions. Bring to a rolling boil. Once mixture is well combined, add a heaping cup of idealistic youth and let simmer. Then, add a tablespoon each of the Internet and mobile phones, and sprinkle in a large handful of social media platforms. Serve immediately.

As our recipe shows, today’s teenagers are as much a product of the fast-moving online information age as they are descendants of a generation inherently skeptical of “the man.” Gone are the days of the stereotypical lackadaisical teen, granted time to be awkward and indecisive; that luxury is no longer theirs to have. These are not the entitled, trophy-craving Millennials, but a new type of teenager, breaking down long-held conventions of youth in every respect to become Pragmatic Idealists.

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#selfie from a teen participant

In our last conversation with teens, we discussed Privacy and Sharing – and found that today’s teens possess a thoughtfulness that firmly rebukes the going perception amongst adults that they’re a reckless lot. Instead, we found a wholly responsible and deliberate set of behaviors from our teens, expressed in a way that can only be described as upbeat and positive. (see also: How to be cool on Instagram according to a 16 year old).

Having come of age in a time of economic instability and powerful social connectivity, today’s teens have built a considerable amount of self-reliance. This has empowered them to be flexible as they forge a path into the future. While the traditional route involving higher education is certainly a popular choice, there is a collective knowledge among teens that it’s not the only way to achieve their goals. Teens today also explore alternative options, such as apprenticeships, entrepreneurial endeavors, and the armed services.

However, the potentially rocky road ahead has not dampened the strong idealism that is inherent in today’s teen. That idealism was never more apparent than in discussing life goals. In the age of Mark Zuckerbergs and overnight millionaire entrepreneurs, we wanted to understand what teens held as their fundamental goal in life. Most agreed that living a “wealthy” life is ultimately what they strive for. However, the teens’ definition of wealth transcended money. To them, “wealth” means doing meaningful work, enjoying a family and staying true to one’s roots. They want to come home at night feeling that they contributed something meaningful to the world.

Our teens were tasked to create memes that symbolized their views on school and career. Their cheerful brand of cynicism was certainly not lost on us…

Meme about #career from a teen participant

Meme about #career from a teen participant

The stereotype of teens obsessed with social media, fame and reality television, and thus and unable to connect with people in a face-to-face situation, is certainly true in some cases. However, in our group discussion, a few of the most interesting teens were conscious of contradicting that notion. In order for these teens to reach their goals, they can’t have distractions. In fact, teens are opting to create a stronger self of self by rising above the chatter on social media. One teen we spoke to had even deleted all of her social media accounts to she could better focus on her goals.
In every generation, it is too easy to make generalizations regarding youth. But if we want to tell the true story of teens, we mustn’t let these hopeful and exciting realities get lost.

Check back with truthcentral.mccann.com every month for the latest installment of our on-going “Truth About Teens” research, as we discuss a different topic shaping the world today (for both consumers and brands) as seen through the lens of a teenager