Honoring National Reading Month

Posted by Manda Pawelczyk on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 @ 04:06 PM

reading_month_image.jpg

Here at YouthBeat®, we value the importance of reading, and like those famous words from Dr. Seuss in Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, we believe reading is the gateway to a better future. But as March comes and goes, reading really takes center stage as we help celebrate National Reading Month.  Even as we step into 2016, too many children across this country are struggling with literacy. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 65% of fourth graders scored below proficiency on the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress reading test, indicating that they are not reading at grade level. Among eighth graders, only 36% are reading at or above grade level.

The question is, what can be done to help our youth build the literacy skills they need to live a successful and prosperous life?  There are a variety of organizations, both local and national, that are trying to address this question. 

  • Readaloud.org has started a 10 year campaign encouraging parents to spend 15 minutes every day reading to their children.
  • A study conducted by John Hutton of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, reveals that preschoolers whose parents read to them regularly show more activity in key areas of their brains.
  • Another study by Dominic Massaro, from the University of California, shows that reading to children helps expand their vocabulary and grammatical understanding more than simply talking to them. He found that picture books are two to three times more likely to include a word outside the 5,000 most commonly used English words than a parent to child conversation. According to Massaro, “Reading picture books to babies and toddlers is important because the earlier children acquire language, the more likely they are to master it.  You are stretching them in vocabulary and grammar at an early age.  You are preparing them to be expert language users, and indirectly you are going to facilitate their learning to read.”

Unfortunately, not all children and families, especially those from low-income households, have access to books and reading material. That is why the White House has announced a new program called Open eBooks.  It is an app that gives children living in low-income households access to eBooks valued at more than $250 million. Students, educators and administrators from more than 66,000 Title 1 schools will have access to the app and its content.  The program is also paired with an initiative to get every child a library card, giving them maximum access to books – both on paper and digitally.

But there are also many smaller and local organizations that are doing their part to make a difference. 

  • Over the past school year, I have had the chance to volunteer with Y Reads!, an after school reading program that is in partnership with the YMCA and the Department of Education. The program is grant-funded by the DOE and focuses on helping Title 1 schools that have high rates of students reading below grade level.
  • Each year, the lowest core readers in first to third grade are invited to participate in the program. The program is led by one site-coordinator who accesses students’ reading levels and builds an appropriate lesson plan for each student. The rest of the program relies solely on volunteers to mentor the children through their lessons.  Each session focuses on the student practicing their phonics, sight words, spelling, reading and comprehension. 

As a volunteer, it has been an incredible experience getting to see some of today’s youth grow and expand and have a better chance at a brighter future. I cheer for them as they figure out that difficult word, and smile when they light up because they got an answer right. Because really when it comes down to it, they want a chance at chasing their dreams and want to know that they are worthy of an education.  Now the question is, how can your organization lend a hand, not just during National Reading month but all year long?

Tags: kids, reading, kids tweens teens, market research, books, literacy

Kid Snacking Trends for 2016

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Wed, Jan 20, 2016 @ 02:29 PM
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One of the questions we at YouthBeat® routinely get asked is, “What trends are impacting kids’ snacking?”  Over the last few years, we’ve seen a few things going on that food producers need to know to be relevant with the snacking habits of Gen Z youth.  Three things we’ve observed that are key for 2016:

1. Parents avoiding “big food”

From avoiding products with GMOs (56% of kids’ parents avoid) to joining the organic (42% of parents seek) and local food movements, younger Millennial parents, in particular, are turning away from some of the bigger brands they grew up with in favor of what we’re calling a “small food” movement towards more versatile brands (think anything from Trader Joe’s, or a brand like Annie’s or Clif Bar Kid).  Though kids have a great deal of influence over what they eat, parents still make the purchase decisions for the pantry, and in most categories there are multiple brand options from which to select.

What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids?  Emotionally, this trend benefits parents (who want to make good choices for their kids) more than children.  Kids are still rather hedonistic in what they eat (only 48% say they try to eat healthy).  That said, there are benefits to making choices their parents agree with, and saving their “asks” for things they care about more (like the newest video game system).  And smaller food brands can be more nimble than some “big food” brands, churning out new flavors and forms more frequently, which ups the probability of kids finding something new that they like.

2. Bolder and ethnic flavors entering the mix

With the ubiquity of Internet time, youth now have the ability to go on social media (e.g., Pinterest or YouTube) to encounter not just people of other cultures, but recipes and hacks for creating those flavors themselves.  If they watch MasterChef Junior, they see young people like themselves empowered to think outside the lunchbox and create new flavors of their own.  More spice-forward flavors like jalapeno cheddar (17% of kids like) and wasabi (7% like) are entering the youth lexicon—and even if they don’t love the flavors, they will try them.  Some even catch on virally, such as the hot flavors of Takis (for an entertaining view search YouTube for a Takis vs. hot Cheetos challenge).

What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids?  By the age of about 8 or 9, most kids develop a bit of edge to their senses of humor and adventure.  Eating, or watching someone else eat something that could be good or could be hideous is thrilling.  If they made it in the kitchen themselves, they feel a powerful sense of control over their environment—and, of course, are more likely to “like” it.  And if they can tolerate, or even like, something spicy, they have earned a badge of honor among their peers

3. Flavor mash-ups coming on scene

From Taco Bell’s Cap’n Crunch flavored dessert “Delights” to cookie flavored Oreo drinks at Dunkin’ Donuts, kids embrace combinations of their favorite flavors into new meta-flavors.  Despite not having a kids’ menu, Taco Bell routinely appears in our Top 5 list of kids’ favorite restaurants (unaided).  Their Starburst-flavored slushies might have something to do with that too.

What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids?  This one is simple and twofold, the pleasure of the senses being most important.  If one flavor they love is great, two must be better, right?  Plus, if they’re ordering at an “adult” restaurant or coffee shop, they get to feel like they have grown-up palates.

 

Source: YouthBeat® 2015 Wave 1, Kids

Tags: food, kids, flavors, kids tweens teens, trends, snacking, Gen Z

Kids, Tweens, and Teens at the Holidays 2015: Toy and Gift Wish List Results

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Mon, Dec 07, 2015 @ 10:32 AM

Coolest wish list toys!  Holiday wish list alert!  Tech toys kids want! Headlines are hollering this year, whipping parents and gift-givers into a frenzy with the goal of pleasing children during the holiday gift-giving season.  The National Retail Federation predicts that overall holiday spending will top $630 billion this year, up nearly 4% over last year.  This makes sense in households with children, given:

  • Lower gas prices according to AA, thus higher household disposable income

  • The multitude of digital and high-tech-meets tactile toys (think Skylanders, Disney Infinity, or Star Wars/Sphero BB-8 robot) available this year, at higher price points than traditional toys

The holiday gift guides for childern have two consistent themes: 1. Go with anything Star Wars, and/or 2) buy something high-tech (virtual reality, cameras, or tablets).  The browsing and list-making process itself has become tech-saturated.  The Toys ‘R Us catalog includes codes that unlock virtual games and 3D augmented reality views of the products. Kids can create wish lists using Amazon or Target’s Wish List app

All of this sounds very exciting.  Is it, however, what kids are asking for, or what we as adults are projecting onto their desires?  Our 2015 Holiday Wish List survey is in, showing that kids’ desires might be simpler than we think.  Click here to download the Holiday Wish List infographic.

Sure, kids are asking for Star Wars—as long as they’re Lego sets.  Robots and talking dolls?  Not so much.  That’s not to say that they won’t love the more sophisticated toys that they receive this year.  The key to pleasing the recipient is to fit with their favorite play patterns, be it role playing with dolls or action figures, building, or game play. Most of all, they’d really like to pick out their own presents, so consider a gift card.  This commercial for IKEA underscores kids’ desires for simple pleasures at the holidays (spoiler alert: Grab a tissue). 

We also asked kids about their charitable giving over the holiday season.  Most are participating in some way, primarily by donating toys/gifts, food, or clothing.  Just for fun, we asked them whether they’d rather give all of their holiday gifts this year to charity, or forego their electronics and media for a month.  Kids in 1st-4th grades overwhelmingly want to keep the gifts and give up the media, as do the better part of tweens in 5th-8th grades. Teens disagree; the majority would gladly give up the holiday haul in order to hang on to their sources of connectedness, information, and entertainment.

So make those lists and check them twice. But do it knowing that youth pleasures are simple and eternal, even as the toys we build and buy for them grow more complex.

Happy Holidays from YouthBeat!

Tags: youth research, toys, target, wish list, kids tweens teens market research, star wars, holiday, trends, infographic

Participation Trophies According to Kids, Tweens, and Parents

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Nov 12, 2015 @ 12:02 PM

cartoon kid trophyThis year, we at YouthBeat have been talking about a new kind of parenting style we call “Om” Parenting.  The “Om” is a guttural exhale, a release of stress and negative energy.  As a parenting style, it’s characterized by common sense, reality checks, and raising children with healthy senses of responsibility and dignity.  Some of the ways “Om” parents encourage independence and resilience are through letting their children fail and solve their own problems, and through letting their children go without luxuries or extras in order to appreciate what they do have.

An “Om” parent might act similarly to James Harrison from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who this summer famously declined sports participation trophies for his sons.  His gesture encouraged his children to work hard to earn an emblem of success, rather than receive a shiny object merely for showing up to a game. 

But how do youth feel about their participation trophies?  This was one of the questions our friends at Highlights explored in their 2015 State of the Kid research report.  In the spirit of full disclosure, C+R conducted the fieldwork for the research this year and in 2014.  Though the majority of 6-8 year-olds and 9-10 year-olds say they want the trophy just for playing, some of them acknowledge that when a statue is a sure thing, everyone might not bring their A game.  The bulk of oldest kids 11-12 prefer to only receive a trophy when winning, as a more meaningful token of success.

All told, participation trophies are probably here to stay in the near term, at least for younger athletes.  Proponents say they foster a love of the game and a healthy sense of “doing one’s best,” rather than a thirst to outdo others.  Each family must decide for themselves what works best.

This year’s State of the Kid Report also explores youth attitudes around parental discipline and indulgence.  Highlights’ 2015 report is available for download, along with prior editions of the report.

Tags: kids, parents, Trophies, Youth, tweens

Towards Teen Girls’ Self-Acceptance of Appearance

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Fri, Oct 09, 2015 @ 02:20 PM

The way teen girls feel about their appearance can change on a dime.  A kind word, a cruel one, even how many “likes” their latest selfie receives, can impact the way they feel in the moment.  At YouthBeat, we track the way youth are feeling about their looks every year. 

Over the past few years, teen girls’ feelings about their looks have fluctuated, and in the first half of 2015 they’re not feeling as great as they could. Top 2 box agreement that “I am happy with the way I look” is down from a high of 55% in 2013 to just 47% this year.  Compare that to 61% of teen boys who are currently happy with their appearance, and the percentage seems even starker. 

Plus-size models NYFashionWeekIn this climate of acceptance of others—even as last month’s New York Fashion Week was inclusive of various sizes, shapes, combinations of features, and gender identities—our teen girls aren’t feeling as good about their looks as the adults who love them might hope. 

One marketer, Dove, has launched a new “Change One Thing” campaign that aims to move teen girls’ self-esteem needle in the right direction.  The spot features a series of teen girls, each speaking a wish for a different physical feature, followed by another teen girl with that desired feature, speaking her own wish.  The point is that, well, the grass is always greener the other side…in the looks department (reminding teen viewers that someone desperately wishes they could look like YOU).  The campaign is part of Dove’s overarching Campaign for Real Beauty, and consistent with its spots targeting adults, features layperson consumers, rather than professional models.  The new campaign also coincides with a Dove + Pinterest partnership in which 80 self-esteem boosting pins are available for teens. 

BitmojiAnother approach is to take real-life images out of the mix altogether.  Bitstrips, the online comic creation tool, allows teens (and adults) to create virtual avatars, usually with enough identifying features to look roughly like the creator.  The projection into cartoon style makes features less detailed, glossing over the one little thing that one might nitpick, and focusing on all of the things the creator loves about himself or herself.  Here, the author’s Bitmoji (a similar cartoon avatar, suitable for using in messages) delivers a positive self-affirmation. 

How can your brand help?  Closely examine every facet of your messaging to teens, especially girls.  What kind of standards of beauty are you promoting?  What kind of self-talk are you encouraging?  The village needs to pay more attention to these teen girls, who are still children.  Be a positive voice for them.

Tags: girls, Appearance, kids tweens teens market research, Dove, Teens, fashion, gender

Kid and Teen Trends: Back-to-School Edition

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Tue, Sep 01, 2015 @ 11:40 PM

Welcome Back, Bulldogs, Tigers, and Warriors (Oh My)!

Across the country, some schools are already in session, while others still have a week left to prepare.  Social media is brimming with “1st day of school” photos, and high school seniors’ throwback photos to the first day of Kindergarten.

Meanwhile, here at YouthBeat, we’ve been investigating lifestyle and attitude trends over time.  Click here to download our hot-off-the-presses Back-to-School infographics for 2015-2016.  We’ve looked at seniors, entering their final year of high school, and 1st graders, just beginning their journey through primary education.YouthBeat Back to School

The short story?  The kids are all right!  There have been some downright heavy events in the culture and news over the last few years that hit close to home for youth of all ages (a tumultuous economy, public violence, bullying, and concerns over sports safety, to name a few).  These types of events can lead to angst, isolation, and depression.  But what we’re seeing instead are youth who are clinging more tightly to their families.  They’re into healthy habits.  They are bullish on the future.

For more information on YouthBeat and the data available through our subscriptions, please contact Mary McIlrath at marym@crresearch.com.

Tags: kids, Teens, Back to School, trends

Summer Flick Break for Youth

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Tue, Jun 30, 2015 @ 01:00 PM

School is finally out for most kids across the U.S., many of whose vacations were delayed to make up for extra snow days racked up during another tough winter.  Families can now take a short breather for a few weeks before Back to School shopping starts in earnest—the National Retail Federation reported that last year, the highest proportion of shoppers (44.5%) started buying for kids ages 6-17 between 3 weeks to a month prior to the new school year.

Why not use that time to take in a summer blockbuster movie?  Our YouthBeat data shows that nearly half (48%) of 1st-4th grade kids go out to see a movie monthly.  The kids, then, will be ready and excited to go.  But which of this summer’s offerings will delight them the most?

 Let’s look at 3 options:  1) Jurassic World, 2) Inside Out, and 3) Minions. 

Jurassic WorldJurassic World is already the summer’s juggernaut movie.  Rated PG-13, it may be a bit scary for the youngest kids.  The theme of dinosaurs, however, is a perennial favorite even among preschoolers—10% of kids 2-5, including 14% of boys 2-5, want a dinosaur-themed birthday party.  Plus, kids are likely to have seen earlier films on DVD at home, familiarizing them with the content.  We predict that many families, especially those school-age kids, will make this their summer movie choice.  It will delight kids who love dinosaurs, who have lots of energy to burn while pretending to be them, and who get a lift in confidence from having seen the most talked-about movie of the summer.

Inside OutInside Out (rated PG) is a movie about feelings (gasp!).  Feelings don’t appear on the top 10 list of favorite birthday party themes anywhere.  The movie is surprisingly accurate about memory creation and storage, and for half of the narrative the main character is guided only by her fear, disgust, and anger.  What, then, is in it for kids?  A couple of important things—first, as of press time, it’s grossing the second-highest of any movie this summer.  That will make kids feel “in the know” for seeing it.  Plus, its honest look at the positive and negative forces driving all humans will give kids permission to live within their own skins, even if they don’t always feel like being on their best behavior.  That makes this a “feel-good” movie that, whether or not it is seen in the theater, is likely to go into many, many families’ regular home viewing rotations once it is released on DVD.


MinionsAnd then there are the
Minions (rated PG).  Not yet released, we predict this to be the most beloved 
movie of the summer for the preschool and grade school crowds for a few big reasons.  First, it is arguably a superhero movie—the main characters support super villains—and superheroes are the #4 favorite birthday party theme among preschoolers ages 2-5 (18%).  Second, the Minions are already familiar from the Despicable Me movies and attractions at Universal Studios. This makes them feel “popular” to kids, who will get a boost of self-esteem by affiliation when they go see it.  Third and most important, the main characters are innocent and well-meaning, but they make lots of mistakes and blunders on their journeys. Sounds a lot like…children.  Celebrating minions, then, is tantamount to making the children in the theaters the stars of the movie.  What could be more thrilling than that?

For your brand, consider how you can give kids a brush with popularity, a feeling of acceptance, and leave them happy.  See how you can incorporate some blockbuster magic into your brand experience.

Tags: kids, movies, Minions, Teens, preschoolers, Inside Out, tweens, Jurassic World

Youth Are Running Circles Around Adults, Literally

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 @ 01:58 PM

PACRecently the Physical Activity Council published its annual report on American adults’ participation in physical activity. The results were rather alarming: In this age of fitness wristbands and personal trainers, more than a quarter of all adults reported no physical activity at all in the prior year.  Let’s pause and let that sink in. Not stretching…not playing slow-pitch softball…not walking for exercise...IN A YEAR!

What does this lack of physically active role models at home mean for our country’s youth?  It’s not a simple issue.

Thinkstock P.E.Child advocates call for daily required physical activity among school-aged children, through a curriculum of Physical Education as well as the opportunity for physical activity throughout the day.  However, given the village needed to raise a child, the P.E. teacher is only one of the special experts she gets to see sometimes—in many schools, P.E. is rotated with other specialty topics including Art, Media, and Music.

To address this, some schools are increasing the amount of P.E. children receive to up to 60 times a year, and encouraging teachers in all areas of education to get the children up and active, collaborating, during their lessons across all topics. 

How does this translate into exercise among school-aged children? That news is more encouraging.

Our YouthBeat data show that while only 44% of Kids (grades 1-4) participate in sports either in or out of school, 79% get some kind of exercise at least “a few times a week*.”  That level of exercise peaks at 91% among Tweens (grades 5-8) then starts to dip for time-strapped Teens at 76% (grades 9-12).

What can your brand do to encourage healthy and frequent physical activity among youth? Model physical activity in your communication to them. Some suggestions:

  1. Depict their favorite activities—swimming, walking, and bowling are all among the Top 5 physical activities Kids, Tweens, and Teens do for fun*.
  2. Show other types of play as being active—for example, dress-up can be walking down a makeshift runway, not just standing in front of a mirror.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, model adults of all ages being physically active. Our data show high proportions of co-viewing of media among parents and children. By inspiring adults to get up and move, you’ll inspire their children to follow suit. 

*YouthBeat total year 2014.

Tags: Physical Activity, kids, Youth, Teens, tweens, Adults, Physical Education

A Second Generation of Youth Empowerment

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Apr 02, 2015 @ 03:10 PM

Kids' Choice Awards logoYour weekend TV viewing quiz question:

Q: Which award winner or winners on Saturday evening’s broadcast of the Kids’ Choice Awards on Nickelodeon said that they had “grown up” watching the awards?

A) Nick Jonas
B) Emma Stone
C) Angelina Jolie
D) Both A) and B)
E) None of the above

Kudos to you if you watched, and correctly guessed answer D

The winners have spoken, and the culture of kid empowerment has reached a second generation. The Kids Choice Awards were created in the mid-1980s, when Jonas and Stone were in the voter target.  Now they’re both in their early to mid-20s, of an age to have children themselves.

Parents of kids, tweens, and even teens in our latest YouthBeat data tell us that they’re a different breed now.  Ironically, one might argue, they report that they have more in common with their children than did parents of previous generations.  Case in point: SpongeBob SquarePants took home his ninth Kids’ Choice trophy this weekend as Favorite Cartoon.  He’s still got something for everyone, whether the viewer is the parent who knew him back when, or the young child who has just discovered him.

Elsewhere in the audience Saturday night, the star-studded crowd rivaled the Golden Globes in its variety of talent across platforms.  Present was everyone from Disney Channel actress Debby Ryan, to Little League World Series celebrity athlete Mo’ne Davis, to movie star Angelina Jolie, to recording artists Jennifer Lopez and Meghan Trainor. 

Modern Family at Kids' Choice AwardsOne winner stood out as appealing to kids, though targeted above kids’ maturity level.  Modern Family took home the Kids Choice Award on Saturday night for Favorite Family TV Show.  It is not surprising that a program that won the last five Emmy awards for Outstanding Comedy Series would attract a broad audience, especially when 86% of parents report co-viewing television programs with their child.*  Moreover, while Modern Family’s absurd situations are clearly fictional, it reflects authentic emotions and funnybone-ticklers that children of all ages appreciate. 

Now for extra credit, an essay question:

Q:  What can your brand do to recognize the empowered nature of this generation of youth in a way that is inclusive of their parents?

 *Top 2 box; YouthBeat data for total year 2014

Tags: kids, Nickelodeon, Youth, Teens, TV, tweens

Music Concert Time Warp

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 @ 02:52 PM

author, circa 1985I wasn’t necessarily aiming for the Auntie of the Year award.  In December, 2014, when tickets to the Maroon 5 “Maps” tour went on sale, I snagged two great seats, one for me and one for my 17-year-old niece.  Living in rural Iowa, it would be a trip to Chicago and her first concert.  The experience of attending the concert made me reflect on my own first concert in the mid-1980s.  Back then, I was an awkward 13-year-old, and fist pumping to the beat was the epitome of cool.

Thirty years later, some parts of the concert experience remained the same:

  1. The audience consisted mostly of groups of girlfriends—from tweens to adult 40-somethings, all defining themselves for the evening by their affiliation with the band and with each other.
  2. Girls of all ages had saved up their allowance, babysitting money, or spare cash to buy concert t-shirts, which they quickly changed into in the ladies’ room, for photos before and during the show.
  3. The people who appeared to take the greatest joy from the experience were those busting a move like no one was looking—dancing and singing along at their seats, in the aisles, and in the concourse.

One big thing was different—the phones in everyone’s hands and pockets. During the band’s break, the house lights went down and Cellphone LightsAdam Levine asked the audience members to shine their lights in unison. As the United Center lit up like the Fourth of July and a collective gasp was heard, we were suddenly all roadies, all a part of each other’s experience, all sitting at the Cool Kids Table.

So since it happened, thanks, Maroon 5, for making me Auntie of the Year.  

Tags: Youth, Teens, music, culture