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Shatter the Six Un-truths of Today's Youth 

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"6 Un-truths of Today's Youth"

 

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Kid and Teen Trends: Back-to-School Edition

  
  
  

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.

Summer Flick Break for Youth

  
  
  

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.

Youth Are Running Circles Around Adults, Literally

  
  
  

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.

A Second Generation of Youth Empowerment

  
  
  

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

Music Concert Time Warp

  
  
  

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.  

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Curating Creativity Among Youth

  
  
  

The Art of the Brick ExhibitNathan Sawaya, the artist behind The Art of the Brick exhibit that recently opened at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, takes creative fun seriously. While the exhibit includes innovative displays, and big bold print on the signs, it’s not interactive in the traditional “please touch” mode of museum play. In fact, kids can’t touch the displays, but they can bring their own building experience to bear on the very act of observing. More than most other materials and tools that traditional artists use, kids can relate to the art of making these playful masterpieces. At a moment in culture when The LEGO Movie continues to captivate and STEAM dominates curriculum discourse, this exhibit is situated for success.

But we took away another important insight from Sawaya – one that he champions in a short video at the start of the museum-goers’ journey – creating will make you happy. In the companion book to the exhibit, he writes, “The creation of art should never be opposed. Not just because the world could do with more beautiful things, but because there’s a mountain of evidence that shows that making art will improve your life in surprising ways…” And he continues, “Creative ideas are gifts, like windows that open up for just a short time.” Sawaya suggests LEGOs as therapy, and play as purifying. He elevates an important idea in kid culture to one that makes sense to even the most jaded adult.

Our favorite lessons for brands and organizations, content creators and innovators?

  • Don’t assume creative play ends early. Continue to see both creativity and play as viable platforms for even the oldest youth.
  • Don’t just romance kids with products – entice them with process. If you have the chance to walk through this exhibit, take note of the wheels turning among kid art aficionados. The sheer number of LEGOs used can make a kids’ head spin. And parents praised the careful way Sawaya organized his many, many bricks (any parent of a LEGO fanatic can only dream!).
  • Finally, consider creativity as career, not just a means to one. Sawaya spoke eloquently of losing his love of “lawyer-ly” things, and taking the bold, brave leap to full-time employment as an artist. So often, we suggest that creativity will lead to success in academic or professional endeavors, rather than recognizing that creating can be a valuable end in itself.

5 Insights Inspired by Boyhood

  
  
  

BoyhoodOf course, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood appealed to our YouthBeat team long before it garnered awards and attention – it’s a longitudinal “study” that covers the kind of day-to-day truth of a single child that serves as a model for the kind of research we wish we always got to do! In this case, the objective is simply to reveal the reality of a kid as he journeys through tweendom and teendom, into young adulthood. We couldn’t help but watch in awe as all the characters (mom and dad included) confronted the ups and downs of family life. We were compelled to keep our eyes on the boy at the movie’s center as he sought agency within the confines of the limited and limiting life in which he found himself. It’s tricky to use a fictional character as a font for real-life insights, but we’ll be so bold. Here are our five of our favorite insights inspired by Boyhood:

  • Growth happens. Of course, many of us know that kids go through stages as they go through ages. But so often, we think about growth through the lens of development. What we can easily miss is the way that relationships shift and morph, how their sense of their place in the world evolves, but also realigns. Children don’t grow in neat patterns, but rather in fits and spurts, through stagnation as much as stimulation. The tale of this boy suggests that kids are constantly growing, but not always upward and onward.
  • Kids are resilient. So much has been said about Boyhood as of late, but we haven’t heard enough about the resilience that the kid characters display. Resilience is one of the most valuable characteristics today’s kids could have, and it’s often earned despite, not because of, the adults in a child’s life. Still, Mason managed to have it. Our insight: it’s easy to bemoan all the ways in which youth culture and family life threaten resilience – it’s harder to notice it when it’s right under your nose.
  • Families are systems. We often debate the role of kids and parents: is one more influential than the other, who “nags” whom, and what moment do the scales tip in one direction or another (especially when it comes to purchase decisions). But Boyhood reminds us of the complex interconnectivity apparent in the everyday life of kids and families. There is no such thing as a “decision-maker” that applies to every situation. And even when parents assert authority, kids (and particularly teens) often override. It’s not that the effort to understand the shopping or decision-making process isn’t worthwhile. It just requires closer observation and more flexibility than we often give it.
  • Observe the silence. When it comes to research, particularly with boys, it’s important to listen to (and respect) the silence. We often assume that every insight and every idea can be articulated and expressed if just the moderator would ask the magic question. We sometimes believe that we can see and hear what young respondents believe and know if we just go to the right space. But many of the most important moments in children’s lives are bathed in silence – not expression. They happen in spaces that are intentionally invisible, in places that are hard to access by design. Our job is not always to reveal something not meant to be revealed but rather to notice and acknowledge that what happens quietly and what is said softly is as important as any statistic or proclamation. 
  • Life is in the everyday. It’s easy to consider children’s lives as a series of milestones and achievements, capabilities mastered and skills gained. But in understanding children, and in finding ways to connect with them, it’s often more important to note the everyday matters that make up their lives and make them who they are. This can be the fodder for great content and products as much as the disruptions and events that are easy to talk about and to include in PowerPoint presentations. But truly understanding youth requires the patience to tell a story in which nothing “happens” as much as everything unfolds. 
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Why Character(s) Matter to Kids, Tweens and Teens

  
  
  
522397525 webFor many marketers, the importance of properties and characters in kids’, tweens’ and teens’ lives comes to the forefront only when they’re considering promotional partners. For others, who have committed to understanding youth culture apart from their own category, knowing the characters that matter to youth can serve as a fun intro to what are often perceived to be deeper, more strategic and more influential trends. Tracking the top characters in kids’, tweens’ and teens’ lives is often seen as a nice to have, but not a necessary part of a marketers’ research plan.

But we would argue that the characters that populate the ever-changing landscape of youth culture provide invaluable and incomparable clues to the mindset of a cohort. A new book with one of the most intriguing titles we’ve read in a while, makes a similar argument. In Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation, authors Anthony Gierzynski with Kathryn Eddy ask, “Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your life more than most real people?” They suggest that many soci-political factors can shape the views of a specific cohort, but that to ignore the tremendous power of entertainment, and of specific narratives and characters in particular, would be an act of denial. As the title suggests, they hypothesized that Harry Potter had a profound effect on the attitudes of members of the Millennial cohort, in general, and that Harry Potter fans displayed beliefs aligned with those that prevail in Hogwarts and that are embodied in the “boy who lived,” even when other factors (like being an avid reader in general) are considered. They suggest that the impact these characters have on the psyche of youth who were born between 1982 and 2002 (the definition they select for Millennials), is far from superficial. They attribute attitudes towards diversity, social justice and even torture to the narratives that took hold of them during their formative years.

For marketers, we encourage taking characters seriously, regardless of your category. Gierzynski with Eddy’s work suggests that making the most of this kind of market intelligence requires deep analysis of the themes and memes associated with any given character or property, but it also necessitates knowledge about the characters that are truly connecting with this audience right now.

At YouthBeat, we’ve always believed in using these character inventories as critical indicators of youth culture. Starting in 2015, we’re adding a Preschool Character Tracker to our existing suite of products. To find out more, please contact Amy Henry at amyh@crresearch.com or at 312.828.9200.

Happy 2015!

5 New School Lunch Truths

  
  
  

Kids across the country are officially back to school, and we thought we would kick off the119417656 school year with a few new “truths” related to one of the most important parts of kids’ and parents’ days: school lunch. Whether you’re concerned about the cafeteria consumer or the meal maker, there are a few new (or at least novel) truths that might change the way you think about fitting into this occasion:

  1. Time is of the essence. According to a study conducted by the Partnership to Promote Healthy Eating in Schools, 20 minutes should be allowed for lunch after children have sat down at their tables. In middle school, this means providing an adequate timeframe for kids to move from their class to the cafeteria, via their locker if necessary. It means having the right number of lines/cash registers to minimize the waiting time. And it means taking into account the load they’re carrying (can a tray fit on top of the pile of books they’re carrying, or do they need to factor in finding a spot at a table before they return to the lunch line). Of course, if you’re in food service, the implications are considerable. But even if you’re humbly hoping that your containers or snack foods make it to their bags or boxes, you have to keep in mind that convenience matters.
  2. Sharing isn’t the same as it used to be. Trading snacks, leering at the lunches of others – these are rituals that have almost completely disappeared. And where snack sharing is permitted, it’s certainly more limited than it used to be, given sensitivity to food allergies and eating restrictions imposed by parents. For today’s kids who are raised in a less critical and less judgmental culture regarding others (every family is different, every mom and dad have different rules about eating, etc.), they’re less likely to brag about their own lunch or look to others for food ideas. You know who does ask about school lunches? Moms and dads! Kids might be less inclined to share intel on their friend’s brown bag brings, but parents do ask.
  3. Speaking of parents…Parents might be privy to more information and opinions than ever when it comes to their kids’ food – especially in a setting like school. So, while it bucks the conventional wisdom, perhaps it’s not surprising that kids report that parents are more likely to introduce them to new school lunch foods than their friends (60% versus 37% for kids ages 6 to 10). Parents are all about healthy options and alternatives to old stand-bys, but they also want to pack lunches that are inspired and creative. Kids report that their favorite lunch foods are sandwiches, and their favorite beverage is water, but moms and dads sometimes want to send their little students to school with more exciting fare.
  4. Sustainable containers. As much as kids and parents might prefer coming home without extra dishes, today’s parents and kids often opt for containers that are more sustainable and reusable. It makes parents feel thrifty and kids feel like they’re heeding the many mentions of “earth-friendliness” that pervade their days.
  5. Brain food is better. Today’s kids often have a very different definition of lunchbox “treat” than kids from the past. This cohort can’t always have cupcakes at school on their birthdays, or bring candy in their lunch bags. They’re less exposed to sugary and salty vending machine snacks, and even juice boxes are often considered a once-in-a-while drink versus the refillable water bottle that kids often bring right into their classroom. Kids get constant communication about feeding their bodies – and their brains – with the right kind of food. Don’t put them in a bind – health isn’t a benefit that kids seek out, but it is one that they might respond to in surprisingly open ways.

When it comes to understanding school lunch, make sure your brand isn’t relying on outdated ideas or conventional wisdom that no longer tracks. Brands that stay current with today’s cafeteria are sure to get an “A” among parents, kids and even teachers.

A Post-Millennial Pitcher and What She Says About Gender Right Now

  
  
  

As a Philly girl, a (long since retired) softball player, a lifelong baseball fan, and, of course, aSI Mo'neDavis professional observer of youth culture, I couldn’t help but tune into the Little League World Series match between the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia and a team of tween rivals from Nevada. While this event always piques my interest, this year’s pull was decidedly more powerful: the team’s pitcher, Mo’ne Davis.

At a time in the sports calendar when preseason football typically dominates, 13-year-old Davis claimed the cover of Sports Illustrated, making her the first Little Leaguer to do so while still in their formative years. Davis isn’t the first girl to take the field in the crown event of the Little League season, but she is the first to pitch for a win, and the first African-American girl to get in the game at this level.

While many girls have gotten attention for playing boys’ games, many have credited Davis with being the first product of Title IX and the right to a fair playing field it provides for female athletes. Davis is clearly not a publicity stunt, and she’s presented as more than a symbol – she’s someone that her coaches and teammates expect to deliver in the highest pressure athletic situation that many athletes her age will ever face.

Davis arrives on our radar at a time when we’re talking about gender norms, expectations, and realities more than ever before. The very definitions of masculinity and femininity may be in constant flux, but today’s post-Millennials often appear to be growing up at a time when gender is more fluid than ever. We think Mo’Ne Davis – the phenomenon as much as the girl herself – serves as a symbol of what we believe are the evolving ideas and ideals about gender for today’s youth.

  1. Post-Millennial doesn’t mean “post-gender.” With much talk about this being a post-gender cohort, we think it’s critical to acknowledge that Davis’ dramatic victory over a team from Texas, and her mere presence on the mound has garnered a lot of attention. Philly Magazine recently described her as a “reluctant cover girl” who would prefer to catch some of the other games at the South Williamsport, PA tournament in peace. Kids interviewed about the young star for various publications echo the same sentiment that many adults do: this is/she is a big deal. She is on the cover of SI at the end of August, afterall.
  2. To Post-Millennials, everyone who can play should play. Davis is different – it’s not debatable among youth or adults. At the same time, this bucking of sports norms feels very different than it has in previous times, and in some locales still, where we see girls attempting to play being met with accusations of spotlight-seeking. We’ve often heard cries of inequity from boys, not girls, forced to compete against a perceived softer, more fragile set of competitors. But the post-Millennial response to Mo’Ne seems in line with their overall perspective on gender: gender shouldn’t stop you from doing something you’re good at or love.
  3. Boys will be boys, but they’ll also be buddies. While Davis’ pitching is worth watching, I found myself more engrossed in the off-the-field interactions between Mo’Ne and her teammates. To be clear, Mo’Ne doesn’t seem to play the role of mother, cheerleader or even “cool chick” when she’s in the dugout. With serious eyes, she watches the game. Her teammates stand alongside her naturally, without awareness that she’s symbolic of something bigger than the next batter at the plate. When she was pulled from the game, the coach and her infielders seem to have a kind of conversation that felt anything but gendered. It’s possible that, knowing all eyes are on them, these boys are on their best behavior. But in the heat of a game like this one, it seems unlikely that they could fake the kind of friendship, built on mutual respect, which their gestures and body language convey.
  4. Who says girls don’t like baseball? Post-Millennials are more likely than earlier cohorts to have gone to school in co-ed settings from the time they were toddlers. They are more likely to invite boys and girls to their birthday parties. They are even okay watching Frozen (even if Olaf is sometimes the convenient snowy excuse for listening to 1.5 hours worth of show tunes in a princess flick). Boys are happy to don rainbow loom bracelets, and they’re more likely to have been raised by a dad who changed diapers. And guess what? They know that sometimes that stuff that they’re not supposed to like, or their supposed to see as strange for someone of their gender to do, is actually fun. Mo’Ne seems pretty determined to make her mark, but not because of gender politics or a pro-social mission. She seems to like to pitch. 
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