There are only two major differences I can see between Peter Pan and most kidults. The first is that Peter Pan looks as young as he acts and the second is that Peter Pan can fly. However, once those differences are out of the way I can easily see most adultescents crowing gleefully with Pan, “I want to always be a little boy and have fun!”
To put it bluntly, nearly 20% of Americans ages 18-28 are no more than Peter Pans that shave. The sad truth is that American adolescences are preoccupied with fun and consequently grow into adults who—you guessed it—are still preoccupied with fun.
A culture’s priorities can be measured by looking at two things: how it spends its time and how it spends its money. The fact that our culture throws time and money after fun is proved in many areas, but for the sake of brevity I’ll focus on just one: gaming.
In America last year over seven billion dollars were spent on video and computer games, more than double what it was in 1996. 239 million games made it into the computers and gaming consoles of American households in 2003 and a recent study by Purdue University and Boston College showed that American eighth-graders spend an average of 17.5 hours per week playing video games; boys average 23 hours a week and girls 12 hours. Furthermore, the girl’s average should be expected rise as game developers continue their recent strategy to create games that specifically appeal to female gamers.
If our obsession with video games is indicative of our culture’s priorities we can conclude that American adolescents will grow into adults that spend large amounts of time and money on “fun” activities and products. That being the case, we can also expect that there are myriads corporations and advertisers who prefer that adolescents stay the way they are: tractable, exploitable, pre-adultish—living at home, spending their money on toys.
David Morrison, President of Twentysomething Inc. admits, “[Kidults] are the optimum market to be going after for consumer electronics, Game Boys, flat-screen TVs, iPods, couture fashion, exotic vacations and so forth. Most of their needs are taken care of by Mom and Dad, so their income is largely discretionary. Many [kidults] are living at home, but if you look, you’ll see flat-screen TVs in their bedrooms and brand-new cars in the driveway.”
Here’s the hard fact: The entertainment industry doesn’t want us to grow up. Their affluence depends on our immaturity.
Unfortunately, millions of American teenagers have gone along with the program. Where are they today? They’re adultescents. They’re Peter Pans that shave. And they’re still playing video games.
Peter Vorderer, a professor of communications at the University of Southern California, shares, “The thought for a long time was that the kids who played games would grow out of it. But that seems not to have happened. Instead we have seen a continuous increase in the average age of the gamer.”
According to industry estimates, that average age is now 29.
Mr. Vorderer continues, “[The fact that gaming] is a primary tool of youth and adolescents means it will have tremendous impact on how the next generation or two plays itself out.”
That’s exactly what we’re doing Mr. Vorderer: playing ourselves out.
Note: Before I realized that gaming made a point in-and-of-itself I was planning on including two steps we can take to avoid the trap our “culture of fun” has laid for us. Those steps will be shared in my next post: Peter Pans That Shave (Part 2). For now, please discuss the following questions:
1) Do you think the level of fun most teenagers are accustomed to is maintainable once they have shouldered adult responsibilities (i.e. full-time job, marriage, family, etc.)? Why or why not?
2) Have you noticed any of the subtle and/or obvious ways that our culture pushes us to stay young and have fun? Explain.
3) How much is too much when it comes to video games and other similar activities? What are your standards?