While the Internet promises to become the major channel of communications in the future, many companies are leery of talking about targeting the youth market for fear of appearing exploitative. Concerns about manipulation by potential abusers and the possibility of straying onto adult-oriented sites also hamper engagement of this demographic group.
Among the organizations watching over the content available on childrens Web sites is the Childrens Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Last month, for example, CARU worked out changes to shore up weak spots in the sites offered by Louisville, Ky., Visionary Resources, whose Y-Generation.com site attracts both tweens and teens.
Another site cited for ineffective age screening was YOUtopia.com, which offers tweens and teens an online currency for taking part in activities on the site, such as interactive chat, contests, e-mail and games; the currency can be redeemed for free gifts. YOUtopia, with sponsors such as AŽropostale, American Greetings, Ericsson, Lucky Brand Jeans, Nintendo of America and Playtex Apparel, also provides targeted marketing research.
One factor that makes young people such ideal research subjects, according to Jupiter, is that most of them have discretionary time and the patience to learn about new technology. Some are actually using the technology in school.
"You cant call them early adapters; theyre just adapters," said George Anderson, president of the online market research exchange IdeaBeat Creative Services and the father of two tweens and a tween-to-be.
"My wife and I actually find ourselves having to limit the amount of computer time they have," Anderson said. "We have to tell them to stop sending instant messages and to get off the latest gaming thing."
Anderson believes some of the devices and features baby boomers shrug off as irritants and intrusions will be eagerly accepted by his childrens generation. Constant communications, multiple channels, interactive television and other Internet-enabled devices will likely mushroom in popularity.
But will tweens and teens, as they reach adulthood, still have the patience and the appetite for ubiquitous communications?
"Maybe instead of 100 messages coming at them, theyll want 50," Anderson said. "But theyll still want them. I think the habits we pick up as kids, we take with us lifelong, and I dont think the use of technology is any exception."
As tweens and teens grow up and enter the work force, many of their toys will become tools that will drastically improve productivity. The steady growth in wireless technology, videoconferencing and cheap computers will reduce the need for geographically clustered employment centers, though that will likely continue, experts say.
Meanwhile, the development of job source information sites like Monster.com will mean the alpha teens of today will probably see more opportunities coming their way.