Modern Families: Is TV Getting it Right?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Apr 29, 2010 @ 01:37 PM
Families take center stage on some of network TV's newest hit shows. But the make-up of these families is a bit different than in the past...No longer is the focus solely on the nuclear family and how it navigates day-to-day life in the home, in school, and at the office. Instead, the family is defined in much broader terms. Grandparents aren't just occasional or supporting players - they are critical to the soul of the family, but also have their own lives, needs and motivations. Kids and their parents still play a key role, but so do cousins and aunts and uncles. Today's modern family - at least on TV - is more complex than ever before.

Modern FamilyLike a "Who's Who," or a "What's What" of non-traditional families, the roster for the ABC show, Modern Family, includes a gay couple raising an adopted Korean child, a newly minted stepdad of a son from Columbia whose son is younger than many of the stepdad's grandchildren, and a more traditional family, consisting of two parents and three kids. The show depicts parents who are trying to do the right thing for their kids, while their kids are trying hard to learn the rules of the world around them, and parents are trying to do their best for their teenagers as they struggle with independence. (Photo from

But do these fictional families reflect reality? Like many of these families, the answer to that question is complicated.

Based purely on demographics, we would say, "no." The majority of U.S. families are still white, two-parent households, and are not likely to include an adopted child. But while these families might not replicate the majority, they more than mirror a growing minority of families who deviate from the "norm," or perhaps better said, are challenging the notion that a norm really exists. A few facts:

  • As of 2006, 28% of children were living in single-parent households (
  • In 2005, 22% of Americans had a family member who was part of an interracial marriage (
  • More than 4 in every 100 children is being raised by gay parents (,9171,1640411,00.html)

TV - even reality TV - aims to tap into our fantasies. It doesn't try to show us ourselves as we really are but, instead, it shows us who we aspire to be (or not be), where we wish we could go (or not go), and what we wish we could say or do. And we think the fantasy that these shows tap into tell us as much about the fantasies of the modern audience as they do about the reality of the modern family. Today's aspirational family (as always) isn't just like us, but better. They might look different than us, but struggle with the same things. And for many of us, they look exactly like us - and show us that these families count as much as the traditional families that are usually reaffirmed by the small screen.

So, what does this tell us about the lives of today's kids, tweens and teens? They're growing up during a time when you don't assume your friends' families are just like yours. It means that you're likely to know a family like the ones featured on these shows - and you might even be a part of one yourself. Finally, it means that today's youth are likely to expect the culture around them to reflect the way their families really are - or the kinds of families that they wouldn't mind being part of.

Tags: kids, parents, Modern Family, family, Youth, Teens, TV, tweens

A Different Sort of Beverage Battle

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Apr 22, 2010 @ 11:30 AM
"Beverage wars" used to involve taste tests - not taxes. But recently, traditional foes have turned friendly, with Pepsi, Coke, and Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group joining forces in ads that tout their voluntary departure from schools - just as the debate over a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is raging in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and other cities. 


Most opponents argue that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will rub salt in the wounds of families who are already feeling their pocketbooks pinched. And because there's no way to ensure that retailers will pass the tax along to consumers (and there's little preventing them from distributing the tax across all beverages versus penalizing customers who consume sugar-sweetened beverages), many argue that the tax's public health benefits are not guaranteed.

When it comes to this issue, many politicians find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Many concede that the over-consumption of sugary drinks is at least one contributing factor to many of the weight-related ills that plague today's youth. But many worry that this tax will hurt small business owners - particularly in low income neighborhoods.

Politics aside, it seems that the POV of real kids and families has been largely left on the sidelines...And while we haven't asked them directly about this issue, we do know a few facts that could provide clues to how they're feeling about this issue.

Our YouthBeat data confirms that kids, tweens and teens consume he tax-targeted beverages in significant quantities.

  • When asked what beverages they drank yesterday, 23% of kids, 37% of tweens, and 39% of teens drank soft drinks; 21% of kids, 18% of tweens, and 14% of teens drank fruit drink.
  • And 37% of kids, 40% of tweens and 41% of teens find out about new drinks while in store - which could mean that an increase in price (experienced most at point of purchase) could make them think twice.

We also know that many kids, tweens and teens are spending their own money, and thus, choosing their own drinks. But teens spend the most, and thus the tax could have the greatest impact on them:

  • A full third of teens spent their own money on beverages in the past week. While only 22% of tweens did the same, this represents a significant increase from kids (9%).
  • Almost 40% of tweens and teens (35% and 37% respectively) have shopped in convenience stores in the past month (where we know individual size beverages are frequent purchases).
  • But we also know that teens are not so price sensitive, with most getting money from their parents. Will a price increase of 25 cents or even slightly more really shift their purchase patterns?

And many parents are actively trying to limit the consumption of sugary beverages among their children - and it's reasonable to think that they might look favorably on a tax that purports to help.

  • 59% of parents try to limit their kids from drinking soda.
  • Controlling the sugar in their children's diets is definitely on moms' and dads' minds, with 27% of parents of kids, 25% of tweens and 11% of teens say they are concerned about sugar intake or products that contain too much sugar.
  • The beverages that their children ask them to buy most often would be affected by the tax, with Capri Sun, Gatorade, and Coca-Cola products topping the list.

Regardless of what happens, we expect that manufacturers will continue to push back on the tax - but push the limits of innovation at the same time. Look for more offerings and sub-category growth (among teas, for example) that appeal to kids, tweens and teens while keeping conscious of growing health concerns from parents and politicians. And parents are about to be pushed to put their money where their mouth - or their children's mouths - are!

Tags: research, food, kids, parents, Youth, Teens, beverage, tweens

Bieber Fever: What Tweens Want to Catch

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 @ 02:57 PM

Whether you're fourteen or forty, you've probably heard of Justin Bieber. The sweet 16 singer has been living a modern day fairy tale ever since being discovered on YouTube. Usher, who signed him to his first contract, recently bought him a Range Rover. The press has given him the kind of attention usually reserved for post-rehab pop stars. (Just last week, Bieber owned the cover of People magazine.) And the under twelve set has stormed every mall where he's appeared! (Want to see for yourself? Get a glimpse at the kind of reaction that Bieber gets from his fans in this footage from his recent tour:

What's made this bang-laden lyricist so contagious? And what can Bieber teach us about tweens, and importantly, what it takes to connect with them?

First, Bieber is 16 - and he knows what that's really like. He hasn't grown up in the limelight, unlike other tween/teen pop sensations, so his "normal" upbringing makes it believable when he sings about being 13 and in love for the first time: "She make my heart pound and skip a beat when I see her in the street and, at school, on the playground. But I really wanna see her on a weekend" (from Bieber's single, "Baby"). As a pre-teen fan recently wrote on Twitter, "Taylor Swift sings about what girls want to say. Justin Bieber sings about what girls want to hear. :)"

Does this stuff fly with teens? Not a chance. In fact, Miley Cyrus recently made it clear that she prefers Kurt Cobain to Bieber. Bieber's brand of simple romance lacks the angst that teens experience and want reflected in their music. But Bieber seems comfortable trading off teens for tweens. In fact, after spending time with Miley Cyrus and little sis Noah, Bieber Tweeted to the smaller Cyrus. Of course, Miley sent him a big-sisterly thanks in response.

With his loyal tween audience in mind, it makes sense that Bieber (and team) opt for access over elusiveness. While over-exposure can be the kiss of death for teens, ubiquity makes tweens - who value being one of the crowd versus standing out from it - comfortable. In line with the connected generation's expectations, Bieber doesn't just tweet, but actively responds to fans - even encouraging them to send him their own YouTube auditions. In this way, the Bieber epidemic feels more like an intimate affliction than an impersonal plague.

Perhaps Bieber's wisest move has been getting in good with the parents who are funding Bieber Fever! He's flirted with Chelsea Handler, Barbara Walters, and most recently, Tina Fey. He talks about wanting to make his mom proud - and somehow makes it sound more conscientious than cliché. And he speaks to that side of tweens who may not want to be seen being dropped off at school by their parents, but who might not mind curling up to watch American Idol with them.

Or maybe Bieber just happened to come of age at the exact moment when we want our pop stars a bit sweeter and our Romeos a bit more sincere? Could Bieber be bringing back the notion that nice boys finish first? We hope so.

Tags: parents, Youth, Teens, music, tweens, Justin Bieber

Welcome to YouthBeat Speaks!

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 @ 09:19 AM
YouthBeat, a subscription service from C&R Research, is on a mission...We want to bring the best information - and smartest POVs - regarding kids, tweens and teens to people who create products and services designed for them. We believe that an authentic understanding of youth can inspire products and services that actually meet youth needs for entertainment, education, and healthy living. And we think that asking kids, tweens and teens what they think not only provides the most true perspective on an issue, but also reminds us to respect them - not as adults in training, but as a distinct culture with its own values, rituals and mores that make them special and worth getting to know.

And we hope that we can make YouthBeat feel "human"! While many of our readers will be logging in to get insight to guide product innovation or program development, it's likely that our readers will also be moms and dads, aunts and uncles, cousins, volunteers or coaches who work with kids on a regular basis. We see these age groups as more than a target or a market; we see them as we see the kids in our own lives: playful, thoughtful, empowered, and innocent at the same time. We hope this information can enlighten our audience and inspire them to create great ideas to positively affect the lives of youth.

Our YouthBeat subscribers know that YouthBeat is grounded in a monthly survey of kids, tweens and teens - with over 80,000 interviews conducted annually! We supplement this quantitative data with qualitative conversations with members of our online panel. But our YouthBeat blog will pull from a wider range of sources - including academic articles and studies, timely news stories and the latest from the youth culture blogosphere. With YouthBeat fueled by researchers but also staffers with expertise in the fields of developmental psychology and education, we hope to weigh in on the happenings that are affecting more than what youth consume, but also how they live, learn and feel today.

Finally, we hope this space becomes a forum for a rich dialogue about the most important issues and events in youth culture. Please comment with your thoughts, questions and ideas.

And stay tuned!

Tags: research, introduction, kids, parents, Youth, Teens, tweens