Screen Time, Obsession & Focus

YouthQuake! Marketers, brace yourselves.

by GenZ Expert Dean McCoubrey.

If you’ve ever watched a rally (no, not political), you’ll probably remember the wide-eyed unpredictability of every turn, the careful observation of the navigator to manage the terrain, and the damaging cost of reading the road incorrectly.

As someone who owns a marketing agency, and also an education company that focuses on social media and gaming education, that’s what I think marketers are having to deal with at the moment. Moreover, the road ahead will only experience more wind, rain, gravel, mud and snow, in the forms of ChatGPT 5 and 6, AR, VR, XR, and fierce social competition and innovation. Buckle up.

GenZ Expert Dean McCoubrey

Personally, teaching teens and pre-teens in schools on this very subject of platforms, apps, games and emerging technology, feels like being invited into an enclosure, sitting quietly, and watching a diversity of behaviours, in order to approach the pride and their cubs, having built knowledge and trust. It’s about asking and listening first; approaching second.

I’m not sure many brands quite get this.

In the explosive, dynamic landscape of modern marketing, the ground is shifting at breakneck speed. For marketers, keeping up with Generation Z (Gen Z) requires map reading where the contours and roads change in front of your eyes. The rules that have governed branding for decades are being challenged and rewritten on a weekly basis.

From Z to A

In true internet form, Google offers a wonderful lack of clarity on the date range of Gen Z. Mckinsey has it that it’s those born between 1996 and 2010. Gen Alpha, those born after 2010, are moving faster, especially when not monitored by their parents. What I see and hear is eye-opening, often sad, but still a privilege, as it provides me with a platform to mentor on media literacy, online safety, digital exploration and excellence. With each passing week, students redefine the norms of consumption, creativity, and self-expression. To truly grasp their essence, one must understand the seismic shifts catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s hideous to still use the pandemic in an article, it feels so long ago, and the most exhausting thread in journalism. But in the world I work in, that very weird phase in our lives acted as a catalyst for digital acceleration extended far beyond the surge in e-commerce. It blew up a new era of short-form video and redefined the meaning of authenticity and self-expression. It lowered the age of access and boosted screen time exposure. It widened the gap between most adults and kids, a gap that many aren’t even aware of, because parents wouldn’t know what to look for. Just like some brands and their marketing partners. We experienced a YouthQauke that split the road in two: Those who are willing to accept the change and listen and learn, and those who think things are still largely the same.

Brands are faced with a generation that knows few boundaries when it comes to creativity and innovation. They’ll try things, daily, while brands are planning slowly, meticulously, and with caution.

With so much at stake for these companies, I understand that completely, but it creates a lag between them and their Gen Z audience. Mike Sharman stands out as someone who has a good feel for reactive and responsive creative work, innovating with concepts and campaigns fast.

Intuitive, not fearless

Gen Z is characterized by its fearlessness of technology – personally, I think it’s more about an intuitive use of devices and platforms – a somewhat stubborn or confident sense of adolescent self, and a voracious appetite for content. Unlike previous generations, they were born into a world of social media and self-publishing. They have never known a time when their lives were not on display on timelines and newsfeeds; they’re the most tracked in history, enjoying the least privacy of any teens that came before them. They’re the children of the algorithm.

In their quest for self-expression, Gen Z has become a powerful creative force. But that algorithm has shaped that creative expression. Channels such as TikTok, Shein, and Instagram Reels have become their canvases, enabling them to showcase their creativity and individuality.

The Marketer’s Dilemma: Bridging the Gap

For marketers, understanding Gen Z is a daunting challenge. Traditional approaches to brand promotion, especially those typically pitching hooks to old Gen Xers, can feel forced and inauthentic to this new cohort. Often parents and marketers shrug their shoulders, insisting “kids are immature and don’t know what they’re doing online.” Yes, kids lack emotional maturity, their pre-frontal cortex is not developed, education hasn’t prepared them for critical thinking, cybersecurity and mental health online, but the reality is that they remain online, consuming, and shaping a narrative – irrespective of whether they should be. It won’t be changing, I can assure you.

If their current consumption will only get deeper and wider, guesswork will be the enemy of any marketer. The solution will lie in dynamic tracking and social listening. Brands will need to demonstrate humility and assume nothing. They must also seek out partners who have their ears to the ground and understand the Gen Z landscape intimately. And, in my view, they will need to be way, way more responsible in their marketing. That’s another article altogether.

Staying Ahead in the Gen Z Era

To succeed in the Gen Z era, brands must be agile and adaptable. Here are the key takeaways for staying at the forefront of brand marketing to youth:

1. Authenticity Over Assumption: Gen Z values authenticity above all else. Brands must tell genuine stories and craft real experiences.

2. Embrace Creativity: Encourage Gen Z to co-create content and contribute to brand narratives. Their creativity knows no bounds.

3. Stay Informed and Adaptive: The digital landscape evolves rapidly. Brands should invest in staying informed about the latest trends and shifts within Gen Z culture.

4. Engage in Meaningful Conversations: Create spaces for authentic conversations with Gen Z. Understand their concerns and interests, and respond accordingly if you dare.

5. Champion Causes: Brands should actively support causes and initiatives that resonate with their values.

6. Rewriting the Language: The lexicon of youth culture is ever-evolving. Brands must reimagine their language and messaging to stay relevant.

Navigating the road ahead

Gen Z’s impact on brand marketing is undeniable, unstoppable and rising faster with every click and download; every purchase, every game, and every chat. Most importantly, they’re shaping brand success with every rand they spend and persuade their parents to spend. The Gen Z wallet will make or break brands as each year passes. According to YDx Youth Dynamics research, it’s R303 billion that SA’s youth currently spend and influence. What will it be next year, and in 20230?

Tune in.

And good luck.

Article by Dean McCoubrey published on Business Live: Original here.
Dean is owner of storytelling agency MediaWeb Group, youth marketing consultancy, GenZA, and teen digital education company, MySociaLife.

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Information Overload in the “Information Age”

Too much information? Can there be such a thing? Well, the answer happens to be: Yes and No. In fact, information overload is starting to become a huge issue, and it affects our children.

In essence, information overload happens when your child perceives more information than they can process. Our minds are not bottomless and there’s always a risk that too much information can hurt your child’s brain.

The thing is that our cognitive processing capacity has its limits. In other words, when we get overloaded with information, our decision-making ability is compromised. If your child is overstimulated with info, they may end up making poor choices in their daily lives.

The whole concept of information overload has been around for ages. There were complaints about the issue, especially during the renaissance and the period of the industrial revolution.

In this generation, parents have an increased responsibility toward their children to define what information actually is and teach them how to defend themselves against things like false information and information overload.

Teaching your Child “Online Self-Defence” for Information Overload
As parents and teachers, it’s essential to teach your child the right values to help them circumvent the danger of information overload online.

Here are some tips for helping your youngster ditch info overload:

Clear the Mind
It’s important that we teach our children (and ourselves) to clear their minds from time to time. Getting stuck in a cycle of information can be extremely draining. Things that can help with this conscious action include meditating and deep breathing exercises for letting go of unnecessary mind clutter. [2]

Stay Focussed and Limit Distractions
The younger generation tends to become a little distracted. That’s why we, as parents and teachers, need to step in and teach them to keep their focus on one thing at a time. A good idea is to teach a child to finish a project or, for instance, a specific online search before tackling a new task. To-do lists can also help your child keep their priorities organized. [3]

If we are completely honest, multi-tasking has become somewhat of a go-to approach in our busy world. It also affects our kids as they learn from the ways in which we do things. One of the best things you can do for your child is to show them how to get things done by remaining completely focused on one task at a time.

Take Breaks and Keep Nourished
Children can easily get stuck behind their laptops, tablets, or even smartphones for hours on end. They could end up getting so distracted that they forget to eat. When our bodies run low on fuel, we get drained and if your child navigates the online space on an empty tummy it can lead to trouble. [4]

Scheduled Time Online
As a parent or teacher, you might be familiar with the concept of teaching good values from an early age. The best possible scenario is teaching your child to schedule their online time. If they can manage to stick to only going online at planned times, they are much less likely to be draw into practicing unhealthy online behaviour.

Allow Your Youngster to Daydream
How many of our children still daydream? Sadly enough, daydreaming is something that seems to have been forgotten by so many. It’s a good idea to encourage daydreaming as even scientific studies show that interacting with your own thoughts can improve the working of the brain. [5]

Simpler Times may Hold the Answers to Modern Problems
Don’t you think it’s time to let our kids balance digital fun with some play-in-the-mud, run-around-on-the-playground fun? Remember when we were young? Though it may seem a little boring to them at first, your child will grow to love it.

You might be surprised at how your children respond to more conventional ways of having fun and gaining knowledge. The foundation they tend to lack from jumping over way too many hurdles to reach an ultimate goal might get better grounded. The result? A happier child who has a new-found appreciation for life with a new-found appreciation for different forms of playtime.

(This article is written by Mariska Ten Dam, content manager and writer specialising in health and wellness)

1. Akin, L. (1998). Information Overload and Children: A Survey of Texas Elementary School Students. SLMQ Online: School Library Media Quarterly Online, 1, 11.
2. López Gamarra, M. E. (2018). Teaching mindfulness in the EFL classroom. The benefits of meditation and mindful breathing for adolescents.
3. Schrager, S., & Sadowski, E. (2016). Getting more done: strategies to increase scholarly productivity. Journal of graduate medical education, 8(1), 10-13.Ghk
4. Cryer, P. E., Fisher, J. N., & Shamoon, H. (1994). Hypoglycemia. Diabetes care, 17(7),734-755.
5. Naidu, I., Priya, A. J., & Devi, G. (2018). The hidden benefits of daydreaming. Drug Invention Today, 10(11).

How to limit kids’ screen time during lockdown

With lockdown potentially being extended beyond 21 days, parents are faced with a longer period of time indoors. Some have loved their time together, and others desperate for their old routine. Devices, social media, apps and games provide escape for both parents and kids, a much-needed “breather” in a long day of incarceration. And connecting to friends and chatting is important for humans.

But life online often comes with many by-products – bullying, exposure beyond what is age-appropriate, contact from strangers, sexting. More time online naturally means more risk. Parenting will be different over this unparalleled situation, to adjust to socialising and schoolwork, but our attitude to online safety should improve in relation to the amount of screen time.

As Western Cape kids are set to “return to school” (while they stay at home), millions of parents have suddenly been transformed into ‘home-schoolers’?

Dean McCoubrey, Founder of MySociaLife, the leading digital life skills and online safety program in schools in South Africa, answers some key questions:

Q: What are fair screen limits during lockdown when kids must learn and socialise online?

Screen time limits depend on many factors and therefore it’s a sliding scale based upon considerations such as:

  • What type of family are you (conservative or liberal)?
  • What type of child do you have (obsessive user, or more self-regulated?)
  • What type of screen time are we talking about: educational screen time (wildlife shows), sport (on You Tube) or are they focused on gaming and social (like Instagram, TikTok, HouseParty, Fortnite)?

For pre-teens on social media and games it should be 1 to 2 hours a day.
But ideally social media shouldn’t even feature for kids under 12. There is too much unwanted contact and content for their age.

For teens it’s higher, 3 hours plus, with some kids online for 5 to hours and more. But every child and family are different.

If the child is using the device for online learning or coding, this is very much the same as the positive TV that you would allow. Mindless social media does require a limit because it eats time away and disconnects us from physical connection, conversation and support.

Balance is key – and social media is not designed for balance – so parents need to watch this and judge where they sit on this sliding scale. Some kids need firm screen time boundaries, while others are less interested in social media and games.

Q: How can parents enforce screen limits without creating ongoing conflict?

  1. A) Sit down together and ask your child how long they should have on their devices or social/gaming platforms. An example agreement is on this link here
  • Ask them why they feel that time is appropriate?
  • Then negotiate an agreement, here
  • You can barter chores, creativity or schoolwork in exchange for time online. In life, most things have to be earned through effort or respect
  • The best way in is to talk, and take an interest in what they see online (without judging openly) and share what you, as a parent, see online
  • Ask lots of questions – they open the door of communication and in turn may widen the door of trust around your child’s online life.

Q: How can screens encourage our children to be active in a confined space?

Look at Joe Wicks on YouTube to see what is available to get active on a screen. This is the same for creative time together, or hobbies or chores. Bring a bit of the technology in (even better if it’s trending) to get them to start moving to do something offline.

Q: What apps are children socialising on and what are the risks?

Kids are using WhatsApp, TikTok, Instagram, and HouseParty, YouTube, Netflix Party – these have boomed during Lockdown.

But each has their risks to different children (self-esteem issues, an impact on mental health, bullying, trolling, flaming, exposure to unwanted images, sexting, and approaches from strangers) so set up the privacy settings carefully. Parents can use an app like ScreenTime for this.

Q: How do parents make sure their children stay safe online during lockdown?

A routine of connecting through the day, having meals together and asking them what they are seeing and doing, is a good foundation.

Take an interest in the apps they use (do you know which these are?) and Google them.

Create clear boundaries of how public or private they are (how much they share and with whom), and what you expect of them to earn the device/WiFi/data.

Make accounts private, not public. Simple as that. Ideally no phones in the bedroom until after 16 years old, and not late at night.

Look out for a change in behaviour in case there has been bullying or sexting or privacy violations that have happened online. They may withdraw out of fear or anxiety.

The more you talk, the more you can see any changes in behaviour, and the more you can share your views and values.

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