For American Teens, Identity Is on a Spectrum
American teens have heard the mantra “be yourself” since birth, and they have their predecessors to thank for paving the way. Although previous generations explored their identities, they still dealt with culturally imposed limits and felt the need to put themselves in boxes—gay, straight, bisexual; male, female, trans; white, black, mixed.
Today’s teens have endless choices as they try to figure out who they are. How do they feel about the possibilities before them? Here are some results of a recent US survey carried out with our Awesomeness brand in mind:
They perceive identity on a spectrum. Perhaps in response to the confusion, teens seem not to want to delineate anymore. They see identity as a complex, evolving construction of self rather than a static set of demographic descriptors.
Fluidity can be stressful. With identities in flux and no way to categorize themselves, many teens feel overwhelmed by the number of choices to make about who they are every day. While these options might sound freeing, having too many possibilities can result in reduced happiness, lowered satisfaction, and even decision paralysis.
Social media makes it easy to have multiple personalities. Because of teens’ constant connectedness to social networks and internet life, their digital personalities have become just as important – if not more – than who they are IRL. In fact, 1 in 5 admit to having a Finstagram (an alternate private Instagram account where they can post without worrying about likes, comments, ratios, etc.)
They’re open-minded about sex. A majority feel that it’s acceptable to have sex (84%), and most have no problem with same-sex hookups (69%) and open relationships (58%). Marriage is optional, with 83% agreeing that it’s fine to live together before marriage and 68% believing it’s okay to have a baby without being married.
Many do not identify as straight and most have friends who are gay or lesbian. More than 1 in 4 American teens (26%) do not identify as heterosexual. Their peers have a variety of sexual orientations – 57% have friends who are gay or lesbian, 52% have friends who are bisexual, 32% have friends who are still figuring out their sexuality, 23% have friends who are pansexual, 18% have friends who are asexual, and 9% have friends who are polyamorous.
They seek out niche interests. Today’s parents work hard to cultivate and support niche interests in their teen children. Having an interest in becoming niche specialists, teens aim to differentiate themselves through their choice of style, quirks, hobbies, entertainment, career aspirations, and beyond. Hobbies that may have been considered “weird” in the past—embroidery, calligraphy, professional cooking, gaming, hacking, coding, etc.—are viewed as exciting points of differentiation. In fact, 1 in 3 American teens would rather be an eSports athlete than a regular athlete.
They know there is no “right” way to live life. Teens are coming of age in a world that rejects convention, authority, and tradition. They consider the old traditional paths to be outdated or unrealistic, and see that they can create new options for themselves.