Catching Up With the Kids Choice Awards

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 @ 10:00 AM

2011 Kids Choice Awards

For 2010, kids and tweens in our YouthBeat survey put Disney at the top of their list of both “most watched” and “favorite” TV channels. But ask any 6-12 year old you know and you’ll find that Nickelodeon continues to wield significant influence on the tastes and preferences of today’s youth. In both 2009 and 2010, iCarly (whose Miranda Cosgrove was featured in a piece on young stars in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine) supplanted Hannah Montana as the show that kids and tweens want to see. And SpongeBob is their go-to-guy when it comes to cartoons that tickle their funny bones.

This weekend, for the 24th time, Nickelodeon will air the Kids Choice Awards. The Grammys, Oscars and Emmys might bring artists more cache, but no other awards show puts you on the radar of the future generation of listeners and viewers than this one. Nickelodeon puts the power in its audience’s hands, quite literally, by allowing youth to vote on the show’s web and mobile sites.

But while awards shows tend to be a litmus test of the “new,” this year’s list of nominees and presenters will probably appeal to parents as much as kids, and will likely look just as familiar to older siblings as they do to kids and tweens themselves. Jack Black will host and KCA veterans Justin Timberlake and Brittany Spears will both appear (remember her 1999 performance of Hit Me Baby One More Time?).  Timberlake might be playing the elder statesman, receiving an award for his commitment to Green issues and other charity work, but the ghosts of boy bands past will be adequately represented by Nick’s own Big Time Rush. And Will Smith (1997 Kids Choice Hall of Fame Award Winner and most KCA decorated celeb of all time) might not be nominated, but son Jaden (Karate Kid) is and his hair flipping daughter, Willow, will perform.

But this year’s ceremony is not just about passing the kid culture baton from one generation to the next. It’s also about kids and tweens asserting their own taste and choosing their own heroes. For every old school (and let’s face it, older) potential winner (Jay-Z, Donkey Kong and America’s Funniest Home Videos to name a few) there are those who belong to this group of youth alone. We don’t know if Justin Bieber or Joe Jonas will be on the scene 10 or even 5 years from now…Before you decide, take a lesson from Nickelodeon: count on kids to pick the winners.

Tags: kids, Nickelodeon, Youth, music, TV

How Free is Kids’ Free Time?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 18, 2011 @ 09:40 AM

Ask an adult what’s changed most about kids today, and you’re likely to hear a number of ageist (yep, we said it) rants:

  • They’re glued to their screens
  • They don’t have manners
  • They’re growing up way too fast
  • They don’t have enough time to “just be kids”

We hear this last one pretty often and thought it might be worth exploring…First, in full disclosure, my child is three and has already taken a Jazz class at Lincoln Center in New York, French lessons at L’Alliance Francaise and he frequents the “Tours for Tots” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He’s also taking ski lessons as we speak. So I do not speak as a parent who has resisted the temptation to put my child in organized activities; my husband and I relish these opportunities as much (and at times, much more) than our son does. At the same time, we’re conscious of his need to play by himself, and are at our happiest when he’s telling us a story about the characters he’s created (oftentimes “a mommy, a daddy and their little boy” and the adventures they take on his train set, on his toy airplane or just in his backyard).

But this issue isn’t just about individual parenting styles, but rather, is at the heart of a bigger conversation about how we raise our children today. In 2010, Waiting for Superman garnered attention for how schools were limiting children’s educational opportunities. Road to Nowhere, another excellent documentary in the same year, was less buzzed about – perhaps because it challenged the notion that wiring kids for achievement works (or is healthy for them). As much as we care about overstressing and overscheduling, it’s not hard to find classes for tots, organized programs for tweens and resume enhancing activities and clubs for teens. Most parents fear that they won’t expose their child to every possible interest or passion more than they worry about the side-effects of a life arranged and organized by adults.

In her 2003 book, Unequal Childhoods, Class, Race and Family Life, sociologist Annette Lareau defines this style of parenting, which she observes in a species she calls “the American middle class” as concerted cultivation. She discusses a parenting strategy (which is deliberate to differing degrees) that seeks to empower kids, make them feel comfortable around authority figures (able to ask questions and assert themselves at a doctor’s appointment, for example), expose them to skills that will benefit them later in life, instill them with a sense of competitiveness, and even give them access to cultural capital that will help them in countless ways in their lives (I, for one, am hoping that knowing a little bit about Charlie Parker helps my son make friends in kindergarten. I joke.) She notes that the institutions that children inevitably find themselves in, and that, in many ways, determine the choices they have for their future education and possible employment, favor this strategy as well. But while she claims that children who are not raised this way (i.e., who are from working class or impoverished families) start school with some disadvantages, she also highlights the benefits of their approach to parenting – one that tends to involve more free play, more involvement of extended families and more autonomy in structuring their time.   

So what’s a parent today to do? Bypass the many opportunities presented to today’s youth because taking yoga at age 6 simply wasn’t the way it was when we were kids? Or letting the opportunity to play on the select soccer team slip away because it means crowding weekends with one more obligation? Maybe. And for each kid and family, the excited to stressed equation probably calculates a bit differently. But one thing we do advocate is thinking through the why and the how we engage kids in multiple activities versus assuming that one way trumps another. And for organizations creating experiences for children, we encourage them to consider the right balance between rules and freedom, between serving kids and letting kids serve themselves. And finally, can organizations and companies with a take in children’s success help bridge the gap between the valuable ideas fostered in working class and impoverished homes with the expectations of the institutions that influence their outcomes?

Tags: kids, parents, Youth, free time

Kids and Healthy Eating: What Are We Really Worried About?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 @ 09:54 AM

In the past few months, kids and healthy eating once again entered the public discourse…First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move, her effort to fight childhood obesity, and more accurately, to “raise a healthier generation of American kids.” Sarah Palin responded by asserting that parents have the right to give their kids desserts…Republicans, Chris Christie (New Jersey’s controversial governor), and possible presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, surprised many with public statements supporting Mrs. Obama, citing their own childhood struggles with weight as the reasons. In 2010, food companies continued to shy away from advertising their products to children, with many adopting higher internal standards than external standards would require. California banned toys in children’s fast food meals, while an Arizona House committee recently passed a bill banning cities or counties from restricting toys in similar meals.

Debates over how to feed children – and who has permission to police what children eat – are nothing new. For parents, the meals and snacks that their children eat have always been seen as symbolic of their style of nurturing. Experts of all kind have fed parents sometimes conflicting information about the right approach to not only nourishing kids’ bodies, but crafting their habits. How one’s child dines is seen as being about more than what kids put in their mouths. It’s also understood to be a reflection of what the adults in their lives have put in their heads.

Children’s eating rests at the uncomfortable juxtaposition between the right to raise one’s family with freedom and the constant conversation on family values that has entered the political sphere. It raises questions about whether parenting belongs in the public or the private sphere. And it makes all of us wonder what role parents are required to and even permitted to play in the decisions about raising their children.

But perhaps in this debate, one important voice has been lost: kids’. Most kids we speak to understand that eating healthy matters, even if their definitions of “health” and their understanding of the food that qualify as healthy differ. Many acknowledge that it’s hard to eat healthy, at least some of the time. But most kids also recognize that they have some control in how they eat.  The content of kids’ cupboards might differ significantly across socio-economic lines, and school lunches (despite minimum standards in public schools) made available to them differ significantly in terms of food quality and appeal (even within the same geographic area). So while adults continue to focus on the politics of healthy eating, kids are increasingly seeking to reconcile what they learn in school, from parents and even on TV with the everyday choices they make about their meals, but mostly, about their snacks.

So what does this mean for marketers? Look for ways to make healthy eating easier for kids – more choices, better taste profiles and more convenient offerings. Speak TO them, not just ABOUT them, and let them decide. And finally, beware of being one more voice talking only to parents about this issue. At some point, parents will tune out…But kids are increasingly tuned in to health, and might even give healthier options a try all on their own.        

Tags: advertisment, food, Youth, kids tweens teens

What Social Movement Will Youth Get Behind Next?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Mar 02, 2011 @ 10:00 AM

In 2009, with one jobless summer under the belts of many teens, and increasing kid awareness of belt-tightening in their homes, it’s no surprise that kids, tweens and teens cited the economy as the issue that worried them most. In 2010, youth showed they were paying attention to the nuances, with “the economy” being bested by concerns about “joblessness” (while still keeping the economy in their top five). Starting with the tragic suicide of a Rutgers University student who was harassed because he was gay last September, bullying has been on the minds of anyone interested in the well-being of children (which is most of us). Youth certainly spoke out against bullying, but YouthBeat data showed that this issue was more on the minds of adults than an every day concern of kids, tweens and teens.

And before that, we thRoots and Shootsought of the environment as a movement that this cohort of youth had adopted as their own…Disney, Nick and MTV responded with on and off-air efforts that aligned themselves with this movement, but that also encouraged kids, tweens and teens to take action. And many youth continue to keep this movement moving…Organizations like Roots and Shoots inspire and support kids who are putting their entrepreneurial spirit to the test by coming up with new ways to help the earth.

But even this last issue has fizzled for kids, as economic realities have made conscious consuming more challenging for families, and have shifted the focus of altruism from helping the planet to propping up people in need.

So what will be the next youth movement that U.S. kids, tweens and teens undertake?

It’s hard to predict what will come next…But we can imagine that these causes will share some common characteristics:

  1. They will involve problems that kids, tweens and teens can see in their every day lives. Adults often gravitate towards causes that surprise them – issues that rely on epiphanies…Or on unexpected exposure. A trip to a new place surfaces problems in other parts of the country or the world that they never knew existed. A new study or finding uncovers an injustice that hadn’t previously been part of their consciousness. But kids, in particular, and tweens and teens also tend to be focused on their own worlds – their local spaces and places, and the accompanying challenges that they experience or recognize within them. The next cause they cling to might unify youth across the country, but it’s sure to have a local manifestation.
  2. These causes will put youth at the center of the solution – not necessarily at the heart of the issue. When we look at the issue of bullying, it’s clear that youth understand this issue. Even the youngest of kids know that teasing is wrong and that being picked on or ostracized can hurt more than sticks and stones (despite the old saying). But this issue positions children primarily as victims. Despite valiant efforts to empower youth by encouraging them to move from bystander to resister or defender, this issue places youth less in the power position and more on the perimeter of an adult issue.
  3. These causes will lend themselves to easy, but meaningful ways for youth to get involved. Although we know today’s youth have strong altruistic tendencies, and many have been raised with an understanding that service matters (at least to college applications, if not to their moral fabric), we also know that they are inherently limited in their ability to get involved. They have school, homework, activities and family obligations. They have little (if any) income and they don’t often have the means to contribute or donate to causes even if they have extra cash (remember, no credit cards!). They can’t drive – or at least most of them can’t. So they need to be able to do something, on terms that make sense to them, and in a way that feels central to what needs to be done – in other words, not telling youth how they can participate but shaping the message about what needs to be done as something that youth can easily see themselves doing.
  4. They’ll lend themselves to participating in a way that’s fun! Of course, regardless of the cause, it’s up to organizations or the marketers who are supporting these causes to develop ways of participating that aren’t just practical, but that also let them play! Serious causes and issues can be aligned with this strategy, although the next organizations or promotions behind these causes will be the ones that find ways to help youth do the work that needs to be done in ways that make getting involved as rewarding as getting results.

Tags: Social Issues, Youth, tweens