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Youth Research 2019 Year in review

Mary McIlrath

The turning of one year into another is a good time to reflect—in a child’s world in the U.S., the advancing of the school year over the summer may be the more relevant measure of milestones, but we old fogies at YouthBeat® like to check in on the calendar as well.  2019 has been a dynamic year in youth culture, and one that portends importance for the coming year and years further in the future.  

Here are our takes on the most important youth events for 2019:

1)    Fewer kids are in foster care in the U.S. 

For the first time since 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services reports a downtick in the number of children placed in foster care. Foster care placements had surged in recent years, largely due to the opioid epidemic that rendered many parents neglectful.  But, better treatment options for parents and reunification efforts have scaffolded more families together this year.  Let’s hope that sticks.

2)    “They” is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

The term itself isn’t new in the English language.  Its application is what makes it newsworthy.  At YouthBeat® we’ve been reporting for several years on young people’s appreciation of gender on a spectrum.  “They” is now a widely accepted pronoun in place of binary “he” or “she” designations.  Several states now also allow parents to select a non-binary gender for a child upon birth.  We’re not saying this is fully mainstream yet in youth culture but is worth watching as an upcoming cultural movement.

3)    The Perfect Storm That Is Greta Thunberg

At age 16, she started boycotting school on Fridays to protest climate change outside Parliament in Sweden.  She sparked activist energy in youth around the world.  In the fall of 2019, youth shut down schools and local governments worldwide with their walkouts and protests designed to prolong the life of the planet on which they were born. She and her movement have gained international attention—and this is just the beginning.

4)    Musical Game Changers

Three notable youth musical forces swept the landscape in 2019.  Blue Ivy, daughter of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, won a Soul Train songwriting award for “Brown Skin Girl” with her mom. She’s 7, and her pedigree suggests a lot of creativity to come. BTS, the K-Pop boy band, redefined the concert tour experience by offering full-day “Cons” of booths, signings, and meet-and-greets, where the concert in the evening is the icing on top of the festival.  Boy bands will always be a thing, but BTS has changed concertgoer expectations in terms of events and accessibility. Billie Eilish, a teen sensation, was always talented, but sorta came up randomly through Soundcloud, then a song for a Netflix show, finally taking the Billboard Top 100 by storm.  She unseated Taylor Swift as the youngest AMA award winner, y’all.  Stay tuned.

5)    Streaming Services Explode

Are you on Disney+? Are you watching the Mandalorian and adoring Baby Yoda? Are you on Peacock, HBO Max, and/or CBS All Access?  Are your quaint little Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix accounts up to date?  Holy cow, what used to be the “cable” industry has completely turned on-demand TV on its ear.  It’s the Wild West for now; nobody quite knows what services are worth their subscription prices—and this is exactly the chaos that viewers demanded when protesting bundled cable channel services a decade ago.  Navigating getting what works best for a family will be a key quest in 2020.

6)    A Multicultural Footnote

At YouthBeat®, one of our favorite 2019 events was the birth of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, also known as the son of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Everybody in the U.S. watched the royal wedding in 2018 and anticipated the birth of this special little guy.  He’s got mixed cultural bloodlines, an American side of the family, and hopefully a very private and normal upbringing to come.  In the U.S., youngsters like Archie are among the most multicultural generation ever, and we hope his experience in life is one of acceptance and spreading joy.


The end of the calendar year is an artificial milestone in youth culture.  Their interests and efforts are charging ahead into 2020 without pause.  As adults, we can strap in, enable positive initiatives, and look for sparks of change to support.  Smart brands are the ones proactively fueling youth’s plans for the future.

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