70% of Teens and Young Adults Suffer from Fear of Being Offline (FOBO), Prefer to Stay Connected Online Over Hanging Out [STUDY]


A morbid fear of spiders (arachnophobia) can make life miserable for some. While there are others who dread closed places (claustrophobia). Some fear blood and injections (trypanophobia). Still others are petrified of darkness (nyctophobia). These phobias are now passé. The Fear of Being Offline (FOBO) is the main phobia gripping the growing up generation of today.

A research Coming of Age on Screenscarried out by Crowd DNA into the lives of 11,165 youngsters aged 13-24 across 13 countries and five continents has given us some deep insights into how these Millennials think and feel. For 70% of the youngsters, their mobile phones are their lifeline and they cannot leave their home without them. They prefer to hang out online today than chilling out in malls. The prospect of not being connected to the internet is unimaginable for them and they want the brands they follow on social sites to deliver them entertaining stuff.

Key Findings of the “Coming of Age on Screens”

The pervasiveness of the internet and the need to stay connected to it has changed the way the millennials think, feel and interact. The way these young people communicate with each other, their perception of people, things and the world around them is all shaped by technology today.

Crowd DNA wanted to understand the Generation Y (or ‘The Millennials’ as we call then today) better. How these youngsters spend their time, what brings them together and how they connect?

“So much of growing up is timeless. But what’s it like to come of age today, with a mobile phone in hand, a laptop at arm’s length, and the ability to stay constantly connected with family and friends- both near and far.”

The research is meant to help marketers understand the online and offline desires, preferences, sentiments and relationships of this generation. The underlying aim was to understand the consumers of tomorrow better so that it is easier to communicate with them and to reach out to them in the future.

“What we found was that the universal truths of growing up are the same, but the process of coming of age has changed. To come of age today is to be constantly connected, to move seamlessly across platforms and devices.”

Though most researchers often group 13-24 year olds into one broad group and refer to them as the millennials or the Gen Y collectively, the researchers in this case found that there are three distinct phases of growing up.

  1. Optimists- Age 13-15: The very young- they are extremely positive people, happy with their social lives.
  2. Explorers- Age 16-19: Forward-looking and globally curious.
  3. Realists- Age 20-24: More focused with their time, taking part in fewer activities and not seen at the happening hangout spots as often as before.

These phases of growing up were seen to vary from country to country too.

“Identity moves fast between the age of 13 and 24,” says Andy Crysell, Managing Director at Crowd DNA. “You are expected to change and you you want to change. But now the phases are more apparent, with social media creating a powerful opportunity for young people to display personal change: wishing to fit in, followed by a move towards exploration, culminating in starting to set out your own identity. This work has shone a vivid light on these distinct phases.”

The researchers made the following observations:

  • 81% of the young people own or use a smartphone and 93% of them own or use a computer.

Devices owned or used by 13 to 24 year olds Coming of Age on screens study

  • The mobile phone is the ‘lifeline’. 72% of the respondents said they could not think of leaving their home without their mobiles. Three out of every five (60%) were willing to give up on their TV if asked to choose between the mobile and ‘the idiot box’.

Smartphone usage by time of day Coming of Age on Screens Study

  • A majority of those questioned liked to hang out with friends. 70% liked being at friends’ houses, 54% preferred to hang online while malls came third with only 50%. Given a choice, the younger lot would prefer to hang out with the peer group online as compared to the malls, it means!

Places 13 to 24 year olds like to hang out Coming of Age on Screens Study

  • 70% suffer from the Fear of Being Offline (FOBO). It is absolutely essential for them to stay connected to the internet wherever they go. 46% feel lost if they cannot access their social sites.
  • The first place for these millennials to share their feelings and experiences is cross the social media (30%), followed by face-to-face (22%) and then text (11%).

Social Media is first place 13 to 24 year olds like to share Coming of Age on Screens Study

  • 53% of the youngsters like to hear from brands across the social sites, though they set rather high standards regarding what they want to hear. 72% expect the brands to share entertaining stuff. 56% expressed willingness to share interesting brand content received on their mobiles.

Growing up people expect brand content to be entertaining Coming of Age on Screens Study

What Marketers Can Take Home from the “Coming of Age on Screens” Study

First of all, the marketers need to understand that there are distinct phases of growing up. As the just-turned-teenagers inch towards adulthood, they go through highly nuanced phases in which their outlook, preferences and priorities will change over a very short duration.

Secondly since this generation admits to their mobile devices being their ‘lifeline’, reaching out to them should be through their mobiles. The marketing strategy for this lot has to be mobile-focused. Could be catchy videos, image-heavy content or other entertaining stuff as they say they expect the brands they follow to serve them.

As the buyers of tomorrow like to hang out and stay connected online (second only to their friends’ houses), marketers need to re-chalk their strategies. Focus on getting out to them in the online space rather than capturing their attention in malls. And to make the best of this, they need to personalize their messages and project their brands’ human side.

Considering that it is extremely important for the growing up generation of today to stay connected to the internet, they use an average of five devices to do so. By evenings especially, they become multi-screen users. They surf over the internet over their tablets or mobile phones as they watch TV. Brands which deliver strong content that resonates well with this age group and integrates it with a social media approach and does so across various devices and screens will have an edge over those who fail to understand the need to do so.

Emoticons and emojis, photos and videos are a part of the youngsters’ language. They LOL, ROFL and STFU. The content meant for them has to be in a language they like and speak. Images are a strong medium of expression, as is the growing importance of video content. In keeping with that, Facebook too allowed structured user updates to hep users share what they are feeling, doing, etc., to post images in comments and animated stickers to appeal to their younger audiences. Marketers, fully aware of the increasing importance of video content, have been working on creating videos which these teens and young adults would like to watch, share and get respond to. This image and video oriented generation can bet be reached through these mediums.

The growing up generation wants to be delivered entertaining stuff across social sites from the brands they follow. The content has to be in keeping with the values they relate to and their online persona.

The process of growing up has never been easy. we were restless and rebellious when we went through that stage, just like our kids are at present. Most of all, difficult to understand. This research is just a small step in the direction of knowing the younger lot better.

To appeal to this gen Y, brands have to develop campaigns and strategies which position them as a source of information, inspiration or validation.

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