Oct 8, 2001

From the Archives

New Barna Book Provides Insight Into Real Teens

If you think you understand the minds and behaviors of teenagers, consider this: from 2001 through 2019, a new generation of Americans will constitute the teen population. The Mosaics, the new generation entering the limelight, are noticeably different than the generation whose members have dominated the teen ranks for the nearly two decades – the Baby Busters.

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A new book by George Barna, president of the Barna Research Group, draws revelations from several national surveys among teenagers to provide a portrait of the evolving teen population. In Real Teens, Barna underscores the significance of the teen population in the development of our nation’s core values, economic stability and emphasis, leadership potential. “We have a classic love-hate relationship with teenagers,” Barna noted. “We love their energy, their creativity, their carefree pursuit of new possibilities, the sense of hope. But we hate their defiance, their unpredictability, their ease with change, and their propensity to challenge what everyone else holds dear.

“But whether the adult population likes it or not, teenagers are the future of the nation, so it is imperative not only to continue to shape the values, morals, beliefs and behaviors of young people, but also to understand where they’re coming from and where they’re going. As a group, teenagers are a force to be reckoned with; increasingly, they are not a group that is looking for moral and behavioral guidance, but are a segment seeking to influence the world based on the moral and spiritual foundations they have already adopted.”

Why They’re Called “Mosaics”

The youngest generation is already starting to makes waves in our culture in areas ranging from music and language to sexual patterns and educational commitment. This new segment of our population earned the label “Mosaics” in response to various attributes it posesses. Among those attributes are their eclectic lifestyle, their non-linear thinking style, the fluidity of their personal relationships, their cut-and-paste values profile, and the hybrid spiritual perspective most of them have developed. While the labels assigned to the previous pair of generations were based upon their size – i.e. Baby Boom, Baby Bust – this new group is more likely to be known for their character, even though they are likely to eventually surpass the Baby Boomers as the most numerous generation in the U.S. history.

The generation’s name also reflects some of the unique qualities of the group. For instance, recent research by the Barna Research Group indicates that Mosaics will baffle their elders by exhibiting comfort with contradictions related to spirituality, family, career development, morality, and politics. The youngest generation will also energetically pursue spiritual insights, although they are less likely than preceeding age cohorts to feel constrained by traditional theological parameters. Mosaics will continue the Buster tradition of prioritizing personal relationships, although they will not place as high a premium on those relationships as do their teen predecessors.

Sadly, Mosaics are also likely to gain the reputation for being the most information-overloaded group ever. The development and acceptance of new technologies over the course of the next decade will challenge the ability of these young adults to process the mountains of data and constant psychological stimuli.

The studies conducted by Barna Research found that one element common to almost all teenagers, whether they fall within the tail end of the Buster generation or the front end of the Mosaics, is both curiosity and concern regarding their future. Nine out of ten teenagers think about their future every week. However, only three out of ten feel they are very well prepared for that future.

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Different Personalities

Using his national research to evaluate the personality types of teenagers, Barna says that the emergence of the Mosaics has produced a divergent personality profile from that of past teens. His testing suggests that teens fall unevenly into four personality niches.

Interactives dominate among teenagers. These are young people who are highly personable and develop their lifestyle according to relational possibilities and parameters. Nearly half of the teenage population, this segment operates with a stream of consciousness approach to problem solving while remaining sensitive to the needs and feelings of those with whom they have contact.

Dynamos represent about one-quarter of the teen world. These are the aggressive, focused, driven individuals who are effective at problem-solving and are above-average producers. However, they also irritate some with their relentless energy, competitiveness and self-assurance.

Stabilizers provide continuity and consistency wherever they are found. Roughly one-fifth of the teen contingent, they are appreciated for their loyalty, thoroughness and predictability. They are also criticized for their rigidity and lack of creativity.

The remaining teens fall within the Evaluators segment. At fewer than one out of ten teens, these are the detail-oriented individuals who are continually assessing situations and people, and they insist on accuracy and completeness. They place lofty demands upon themselves – and others. Their perfectionist tendencies and aversion to taking risks can frustrate others.

Barna Research’s trend data shows that this profile reflects a significant increase in the Interactive style, and a sharp decline in the Evaluators mode. Company representatives noted that this will ultimately impact America’s marketplace, with declining quality as details fall through the cracks and more time is devoted to emotionally-pleasing but bottom-line depleting interaction. On the other had, this profile may also foretell a nation that is calmer, more hospitable and less stressed – and even more desirous of entertainment and leisure diversions.

Real Teens Released

The new book, entitled Real Teens, is published by Regal Books (Ventura, CA) and constitutes Barna’s thirtieth book. Like past entries by the researcher, this volume provides practical insights and applications based upon nationwide surveys among a target group (in this case, teenagers). The content of the book ranges from discussing lifestyle realities (entertainment preferences, technology use, time allocation, future goals), to family experiences (relationships with parents, trust of family members, future family goals), to behavioral characteristics (self-image, contradictory behavior, relationships, values).

Ample attention is given to the religious and spiritual lives of young people, too. Barna has chapters devoted to the religious beliefs and spiritual practices of teenagers, as well as to predictions regarding their likely involvement in the Church as they get older. Among the discoveries reported in the text is that the top-ranked faith-related goal of teens is to have peace with God – but that this goal ranked only seventh in relation to all of the primary life outcomes expressed by teens. The book also notes that despite the unusually high levels of spiritual involvement among teens today, these young people have the lowest likelihood of being involved in church life when they are older and living independently of any “class” of teenagers surveyed by Barna since 1981.

The final chapter of the book provides advice for parents and church youth workers who interact with teenagers, based upon the research shared in the prior pages.

Barna described the challenge of writing such a book. “In American society it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations about any group of people. Teenagers are a microcosm of the American population – more than 20 million young people, each of whom is unique and bristles at being stereotyped, categorized or labeled. Yet, the research produced many helpful insights into their thinking and behavioral patterns that allowed me to describe common tendencies, hopefully without being simplistic or judgmental. This book may help teens to see themselves more clearly and to determine if what they see is what they want to be, while at the same time allowing the adults who influence their world to gain a deeper understanding of what makes them tick and how to best enable teens to maximize their potential to do good and to be good.”

Copies of this 168 page paperback book retail for $13 and can be ordered from the Barna Research Group, either online (available 24 hours a day) or by calling a toll-free number (1-800-55-BARNA) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST. The book will also be available at bookstores throughout the nation as of mid-October.

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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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