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Girls Just Want to Be Plugged In -- to Everything

Multi-tasking youths are constantly linked to entertainment and friends by technology.

August 11, 2006|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

Like a lot of 14-year-olds these days, Julia Schwartz's cellphone is more reflective of her personality than her bedroom. It's decorated with Asian good-luck charms and carries snippets of her favorite Sugarcult song and video clips of the She Wants Revenge concert she saw with her older sister.

She uses the phone to text-message friends more than call them. When she's not texting, she's surfing iTunes or watching TV or exchanging rapid-fire AOL instant messages on her wireless laptop. Or she's doing all three while fending off her mother's steady stream of inquiries about what exactly she's doing.

Julia and her peers have vastly more access to a broader and more global spectrum of pop culture than any generation beforethem. Her favorite movies, music and TV shows are less a reflection of her age or status than they are of the infinite array of content available now. She's a fan of "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Dana Carvey -- whose career peaked in her infancy -- and an avid devotee of the Finnish rock band H.I.M. She switches between the science-fiction stories on and an old Anne Rice novel, the cartoon "The Fairly OddParents" on Nickelodeon and a video clip of comic Dat Phan posted on his page. She rents a DVD every week (most recent fave was the 2004 film "Bring It On Again") but only occasionally sees a movie in the theater; her home is her entertainment center.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 15, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Entertainment poll: An Aug. 11 front-page story on the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll on how teenagers consume entertainment incorrectly stated that 14-year-old Julia Schwartz aspired to be a dance studio owner. She aspires to be a dance company owner.

Despite all this, Julia is often left wanting more.

"I find there's always something to occupy me," she said, "just not always something new."

Julia's voracious appetite for all types of entertainment -- and the tech-savvy ways she consumes it -- is typical of girls her age, according to a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll that surveyed the habits of 12- to 24-year-olds. Girls ages 12 to 14 are the most deeply motivated by TV: 65% say they are influenced by a TV show or network, are more likely to multi-task than boys of their age group and are easily bored -- 41% say there are too few choices of entertainment.

They are the most sensitive to degrading depictions of women -- 78% find this type of content most offensive -- and the most enthusiastic about viewing content on iPods, laptops and cellphones. They're also the most carefully monitored by parents: 68% say their parents know how they spend their time online.

To Hollywood, these kids are among the most coveted demographic because of their insatiable appetite for entertainment. And yet they're the most difficult to corral, with elusive, often unexpected tastes and a penchant for ever-evolving technology. They're sophisticated, demand authenticity and bristle at even the slightest hint of condescension.

"They are smarter than we think," said Jenny Wall, who heads integrated marketing for Crew Creative, a Los Angeles agency that develops teen-targeted campaigns for TV networks and movie studios. "What's going to be hard for us is that every day it changes.... I would be lying if I said I knew exactly how to reach them. They are hard to reach. You have to make sure you're very targeted and very direct with your message."

Often called Generation Y, the Millennials or Echo Boomers, these kids are known by economists, sociologists and marketing experts as optimistic team players and rule-followers, born into "child-centered" families and raised as part of the most celebrated, protected and overscheduled generation in memory. Technology has been so much a part of their lives that, to them, life before e-mail and the Internet was "the Stone Age."

The girls of Julia's age were influenced by the late-1990s "girl power" phenomenon and now are often more accomplished, higher achievers than their male counterparts, economist and historian Neil Howe said. They're also more likely to use technology to socialize, according to the survey findings. More than half of teenage girls reported regular instant-messaging, about two-thirds report writing and reading e-mail regularly and just under half report visiting social networking sites.

"Today it's the girls at the front of generational change," Howe said.

Julia, like a lot of girls her age, is constantly linked to her friends by technology. In fact, the two weeks she spent this summer at sleep-away camp was one of the rare occasions she didn't have access to a cellphone or a computer. Campers who wanted to keep in touch exchanged addresses and AOL Instant Messenger screen names -- not snail-mail addresses and phone numbers.

During class time at school, she said, it's common to see kids texting or talking to each other on their cellphones from across the room.

"I know people who are really, really fast," she said. "They can write, like, an entire sentence in five seconds."

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