How should we talk to teens?

12.18 is The Nursery’s research arm dedicated to teenagers. We’ve spoken to teens and young people from various walks of life, across a range of different topics from education and goals to fun and games to society and world views.

We love talking to teens because they provide us with so much inspiration and fresh ideas. They are at the forefront of trends and inspire not only us as researchers but the generations that come before and after them. In fact, we were first drawn to teens after hearing the influential role they played in the lives of their parents. Gen Xers were constantly telling us how their teenage children informed them about what’s new and evolving in fashion, music, film, culture and even knew about big news stories before they had even entered their own radar.

Teens are an important audience for brands to start thinking about. They’re soon to become purchase decision makers and hold huge influence within their families, peers and friendship circles. They also currently make up half of Gen Z so their views and outlooks will form a substantial part of this cohort as they age up.

So how should we talk to teens?

Creating the right environment

When talking to teens, it’s important that they feel comfortable enough to open up and share what’s truly on and in their minds. We want to push beyond the mumbles, the whatevers and the don’t cares, the apparent insouciance. As well as needing to break through their tendency to feel that they must reply to questions with ‘the right answer’, as they do at school. So creating an open environment where they not only feel relaxed but also happy to be critical of ideas and elaborate on their thoughts is key in conversations and groups. In a survey, it is harder to create this comfortable atmosphere, but we find using simple and clear language, adding extra explanations or context where relevant and making sure the survey looks clean and attractive help with this.

A judgement free voice

It's also clear that teens are wholly aware of, and sensitive to, stereotypes that society put on them. They often feel judged, sometimes misunderstood - how they connect with their peers, how they choose to express themselves and in the choices they make. In a world where every action they do is open to judgement - thanks, social media! - it’s important that we create a space where they feel comfortable and at ease. There should be a palpable sense of mutual respect, of a more ‘level playing field’ in how we conduct discursive sessions. We are also especially mindful of how we phrase questions to in a survey to avoid any language that could seem judgemental, as well as working with our EDI team to ensure questions are as inclusive as possible.

Their meaningful role

If one common theme prevailed above all across this age group, it was this: if you patronise me, don’t expect to see the best of me. Teens are happy to acknowledge that they are not yet adults and, in fact, they have high expectations of the adults in their lives. Nevertheless, they have enough “life stuff” in the bank already to hold their own in conversation, to make decisions for themselves and offer opinions. They want their voice heard by organisations, but not if they are babied or judged.


The researchers at 12.18 have moved overtly to a place of acknowledgement, not judgement. We respond to teen preferences to create open, welcoming, inclusive spaces. We let them know why they’re there and we tell them what we need from them. We create a sense of expectation and energy behind every conversation. This is genuine collaboration and it brings out the inspiring thinking from teens that creates and improves ideas and unlocks potential that groups of adults can never get to. It’s a world away from mumbles and grumbles.

If you want to find out more about research with teenagers and our approach, get in touch us with the 12.18 team at

See our Youth Page for more information.