Thinking like a marketing professional can help adults understa

October 01, 2004|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

Being a teenager can't seem to come fast enough for the average 12-year-old. High school's on the horizon, then there's driving, dating and, before you know it, college.

Likewise, being considered a preteen is among the top aspirations for the average 9-year-old.

(The fourth-grader in my house insists he's already a preteen. Since I choose my battles wisely, let's just say I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

Ah ... the upper elementary grades. As visions of ruling the school dance in their heads and the long division problems fill their notebooks, there are all kinds of messages trying to reach them.

You almost need a degree in marketing to understand where they're coming from, where they stand and where they're headed.

There are two mistakes adults make when relating with this age group, says Morris L. Reid, managing partner of Blue Fusion, a D.C.-based youth marketing firm.


We either talk down to them or we try to be hip by speaking their language. The former makes them angry. The latter makes us look silly, especially when we use "hip" and other outdated words.

Finding the middle ground is challenging.

Reid's firm helps companies crack the code of understanding what appeals to middle-schoolers - the most marketed age today.

These preteens have a world of information at their fingertips, but they crave guidance in muddling through it, Reid says.

By thinking like a marketing professional, adults can better understand what appeals to children and can apply those ideas to daily interactions.

Here are some of the basics Reid's firm shares with his clients:

· Kids are still aspirational.

They have goals and they want to follow others who have goals.

That's why the Lance Armstrong "LIVESTRONG" yellow wristbands are popular among today's youth. Children are seeking role models who have overcome difficulties on the way to success.

· Kids are motivated.

They have plans and will talk about them if someone listens. They want to do better than their parents. Didn't you?

· Kids want to be given opportunities to try new things.

They want reassurance that making mistakes is part of the learning process. If they're never given the opportunity to try, they won't be able to succeed.

· Kids want responsibility.

Sure, they complain about chores, homework or other tasks. They might not admit it, but they really do appreciate the satisfying feeling of a job done well. (I can hear cries of "Look what I did!" echoing from my walls, can't you?)

· Kids want to be understood for what they mean - not for what they say.

As adults, we need to decipher the message the child is sending, even if the words aren't the ones we would use. We can repeat the message, in our own words, to see if we interpreted it correctly.

· Kids need to be given the freedom to become who they were meant to be. Their successes or failures should not be viewed as a reflection of their parents. Parents sometimes need to be reminded to not relive their lives through their children.

Yet, at the same time ... .

· Kids want limits. They crave structure. If adults don't provide it, kids will come up with some sort of structure amongst themselves. (That's usually not a good thing.)

· Kids just want to have fun.

Adults often take the pleasure out of learning, working and even playing by making even the simplest activity a chore. Just because we have to be grown-up and serious most of the time doesn't mean that behavior should be required of them. There's plenty of time for that ... after college graduation.

For more information on the LIVESTRONG wristbands, go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation Web site at

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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