True or false: today’s teens are prolific multitaskers and you’re more likely to find them texting away and social networking than you are to find them watching television or listening to the radio.

Chances are that if you’ve been paying attention to the media and analysts, you’re answering ‘true‘. Unfortunately you’d be wrong according to a new report issued by Nielsen called ‘How Teens Use Media‘.

In the report (PDF), Nielsen takes a broad look at media consumption amongst teens and dispels some popular myths. Some facts you may be surprised to learn:

  • In one study, teens were consuming one form of media 77% of the time while observed, making them less prolific multitaskers than adults when it comes to media.
  • Television is still the dominant medium of choice for teenagers” and they’re watching more of it than ever before.
  • Teens prefer live television to DVR time-shifted programming.
  • When it comes to going to the movies, teens lead the pack and prefer the big screen to DVDs, online rentals and on-demand offerings.
  • Teens consume less online video than adults.
  • With 11 hours and 32 minutes a month of web browsing, teens are surfing the net half as much as the average US internet user.
  • Teens generally visit the same categories of sites as adults do.
  • Despite the popularity of online music and portable music devices like the iPod, “Radio is the top source of music consumption for 16% of teens globally and the secondary source for another 21%“.
  • 29% of teens aged 18-20 claim to read the newspaper daily; 34% claim to read the newspaper on Sunday.
  • Teens are more receptive to advertising than adults once ads get their attention.

Surprised? Shocked? Nielsen concludes:

There is a thread the runs across the myths dispelled by our teen research: when it comes to media, teens are not as radically different as some think.

Not only are teens a measurable and reachable segment, but they can be reached and engaged in ways very similar to their parents.

This report is a must-read, especially for marketers who have an interest in the teen demo. It highlights something that happens all too often: we’re lied to. By the media, by analysts, by armchair observers and by the most visible of the bunch: self-proclaimed ‘experts‘.

From being told that teens shun traditional media to being told that teens are impervious to ads, Nielsen’s report makes it pretty clear that many of the commonly-held beliefs about teens and media are probably dead wrong. There are many reasons for this, including the following:

  • There’s always ephebiphobia (fear of teens). Nielsen notes that “ephebiphobia shows up in the constant and frenetic quest to understand how teens use media, made murky by assumptions that teens somehow behave radically differently than their parents and other consumers“.
  • The story of an entirely ‘alien‘ generation that behaves differently from any before it makes for a great story, even if it’s not entirely true.
  • As Nielsen points out, “the overall media experience is rapidly evolving“. It’s natural to believe that those who grow up with this dynamic will be more enthusiastic about embracing it.
  • Many want to believe that traditional media is dying and the myth that young consumers have abandoned traditional media altogether gives credence to the notion that there’s no way traditional media will survive in a decade.
  • There are a lot of people who are cashing in on teenagers. After all, if your traditional marketing strategies don’t apply to today’s teenagers, there’s plenty of room for analysts, consultants and shops who can sell you the secret recipe.

Unless you completely dismiss the validity of Nielsen’s research, we’ve all been taken for a ride. It isn’t the first time. If you remember all the wonderful things we were promised in the late 1990s, for instance, it won’t surprise you. This is just another reminder of why you shouldn’t believe the hype.

Photo credit: nicolasnova via Flickr.