KAGOY

Michael Tchong Trends

Modern technology and a shape-shifting societal landscape are conspiring to accelerate the maturity process of children. This trend has received an unusual moniker — KAGOY — Kids Are Getting Older Younger. And its precocious exponents are sprouting up every day.

A perfect example is Matteo Manassero, who became the youngest person to enter the Masters Golf Tournament in 2010.

Unlike most teenagers, Manassero skipped school to focus on golf and won two major golf championships before making the Masters cut. This teen accomplished more by 16 than what many older golf pros will achieve in a lifetime.

Then there is the notorious case of the 11-year-old girl who was charged with drunken driving after leading police on a car chase at speeds of up to 100 mph. That misadventure ended when she flipped her car over in the town of Orange Beach, Alabama.

“By the time they reach 12, children already describe themselves as ‘flirtatious, sexy, trendy, athletic and cool.’”Yankelovich Youth Monitor Study
October 1998
A drunk 11-year-old? Young children and teenagers are being exposed to situations that are beyond their years.

Many factors contribute to KAGOY. According to a 2,000-respondent study commissioned by U.K. firm Bullguard, children start showing signs of independence at age eight. No wonder that a recurring theme of parents, mentioned by 80% of those surveyed, is that today’s youth is “growing up too fast.”

The leading cause of this early development was technology, including access to digital devices, Facebook and Google. The proliferation of these tools has allowed children to more quickly absorb a wealth of knowledge that was unavailable to previous generations.

Armed with information gleaned from the internet, 15-year-old Laura Dekker set sail from the port of St. Maarten on January 20, 2011, for a solo journey around the world. Dekker completed the year-long circumnavigation despite attempts by the Dutch government to prevent her from doing so for safety reasons.

Eight out of 10 parents surveyed said peer pressure also plays a role in the accelerated maturity of children. Once kids gain access to the internet, they share what they have learned with their peers. That process widens technology’s influence sphere while shrinking that of parents.

The mass availability of information has undoubtedly had many positive results. A 16-year-old girl, Kavya Kopparapu, developed a 3D-printed lens that, when used with a smartphone and app, can provide a preliminary diagnosis for people with diabetic retinopathy, the most common cause of vision loss for diabetes patients. Kopparapu used her computer science training to create this diagnostic system after her grandfather in India experienced symptoms of the disease.

Environmental factors still play a significant role in shaping a young person’s worldview. Cecilia Cassini received her first sewing machine for her sixth birthday. By age 10, Cecilia was “the youngest fashion designer in the U.S.” Her inspiration came at age four in the form of a dress her grandmother gave her sister. Cecilia ended up cutting up the dress and pinning it together to make it fit her.

Marketers have capitalized on the KAGOY trend and are accelerating it. The label they have applied to children between the ages of eight and 12, the transitioning period between childhood and adolescence, is “tween.” In an article penned by the Manhattan Institute think tank, then Nickelodeon Vice President Bruce Friend proclaimed that “The 12-14-year-olds of yesterday are the 10-12s of today.”

A Yankelovich Youth Monitor study sponsored by Nickelodeon found that by the time they reach 12, children already describe themselves as “flirtatious, sexy, trendy, athletic and cool.” That was in 1998, some 20 years ago.

Today’s young minds enjoy a multitude of benefits conducive to their growth unheard of in the past. They are also provided with an early ability to redefine the world we live in. It’s a children’s tale that will be retold to countless generations of progeny to come.

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Michael Tchong
Michael Tchong
Michael Tchong is a professional people watcher and founder of four ahead-of-the-wave startups. He’s also a top-rated innovation and trends speaker, and an adjunct professor of innovation and social media at the University of San Francisco and UC Berkeley.