Watch Out! Thanks to Digital Media, Kids Are Growing Up Faster Than Ever

Access to adult-oriented information has never been easier, and that’s cause for concern. There was a time when parents had more control over how fast their kids reached maturation—or, at the very least, how much they were exposed to its traits. In a pre-internet world, moms could simply not accompany kids to certain films and allow them to watch the nightly news because it was reported without unfiltered amateur footage. Today, parents’ role as gatekeeper is exponentially more difficult, and there’s little reason to believe that trend will reverse course.If not for all-news networks, newspapers, magazines, social-media, blogs, YouTube, search engines and good, old-fashioned word of mouth, kids may not have a clue, but that’s not the world anyone’s living in. Gone, or going, are kid questions like “why is the sky blue?” and replaced with “what does ‘black lives matter’ mean?” By comparison, their life stage contemporaries seem downright clueless.

Perhaps the biggest “see” change is the amount of kids watching videos on an app or website each week. Though data on kids under 13 years old is scarce—at least until Insights in Marketing ramps up its (coming soon!) consumer digital landscape syndicated program—a recent Defy Media study reveals that consumers aged 13-24 watch 12.1 hours of video per week on YouTube, social media and other free online sources. Compare that to just over eight hours they spend watching TV. In other words, if Doritos went away, they’d eat Cheetos or Goldfish; if YouTube went away, they’d go hungry.

It takes only a simple game of connect the dots to assume kids under 13, too, have similar digital consumption habits. For one, a 2016 Digital Trends Survey reports that the average child owns their first smartphone is 10.3. For another, an Influence Central study reveals that about half of kids created their first social-media account before they turned 12. That’s particularly startling considering the minimum age to open an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Kik and Snapchat is 13. This means that parents are either allowing their kids to circumvent the poorly policed subscriber policies or simply aren’t aware they’re doing so. Either way, parents are at least somewhat complicit in allowing their kids exposure to content that, in previous generations, would be off limits.

On the plus side, It’s now easier for kids to understand messaging that once only seemed suitable for their parents. This means when marketers are making their pitch, they’re more able to do so with a one-size-fits-all sensibility. Sprint, for example, played dad as the fool and kids are the voices of reason in their recent “Extreme Measures” Super Bowl spot. Frito-Lay’s “Trade You” twist was making mom and their kids’ snack-food routines seem remarkably similar.

There are advantages to early adultification, so now it’s time for marketers to take advantage.