All we want for Christmas is a happy family (and a new iPhone)

Most of us have a romantic dream of the perfect family christmas, gathering with everyone smilingly in front of the fireplace and feeling united. But this idyllic image is not going to happen – especially not in households with teenagers. Or is it? Teens are always checking their phones – physically present but not really there at all. Family seems far gone compared to the latest updates from friends and followers on social media. But is family not important to teens? Do they even care?

Understanding digital natives on their own terms instead of using adult predisposed assumptions to understand them is a huge challenge to parents today. Apple’s Christmas TV ad “Misunderstood” is a great example of how misunderstandings and parental frustrations occur, if you try to understand teens’ behavior in the context of your own grown up understanding of socially acceptable behavior.  In the ad, we see a teenage boy strongly attached to his iPhone. He appears to be dislocated from the rest of the family who is celebrating the holidays together. From the viewers’ point of view he confirms the stereotypical look on teens: Always online, staring at their devices, not interested, absorbed with connections and friends in cyberspace.

The ad, however, reveals that the young teen boy was in fact documenting the love and togetherness of his family with his iPhone, creating a short film, bringing laughter and tears and unity at the end. He is not uninterested in his family – quite the contrary – he does care and he unites with them on his own terms, in his own ways and in the end he is perhaps the one who captures the essence of the holiday – by acknowledging their activities and emotions and showing the impact they have on each other.

Millward Brown’s recent study on teens and social media concludes along these lines, too – teens are not emotionally disconnected and detached from personal togetherness. They are not socially limited – they simply have different ways of navigating in the social world, they work by diffent social codes. Different is not worse, different is … different. So, do not judge your teen from your own understanding but love him or her for adding a new dimension to your life life and acknowledge your teen for his/her strong uniqueness and ability to see things in a new perspective. Teenagers are wonderful people, exploring themselves and each other in a wonderful (digital) world.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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