How Young is Too Young? The Facebook Debate

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, May 23, 2011 @ 10:21 AM

In the past year, the most common question we've answered at YouthBeat is "at what age do kids start using Facebook?" Obviously, the answer has changed every few months, as Facebook has spread like good news or like a virus, depending on your perspective, among the connected cohort called Digital Natives. From where we sit, the game has played out differently among youth than one might expect. Certainly, more and more teens make the plunge all the time. The number of friends thatKids on Facebook 14-18 year olds have, on average has grown exponentially since we began tracking in 2008. 70% of teens report having visited a social networking site in the past week (among online teens). But what about the younger kids? What's the actual - versus the "legal" - age of entry into the online social sphere for today's youth?

An article in Ad Age from this week claims that over 7 million users of Facebook don't meet the age threshold of thirteen - the official age that users can join according to the site's rules. However, we know that rules are sometimes meant to be broken, and that, of course, applies to virtual rules too. 24% of 6 to 12 year olds in our YouthBeat survey say they visit social networking sites. Many tweens tell tales of sneaking onto the site, but more youth we've chatted with say their parents put them on the site. Some younger users only sign on to say hi to family, and many meet up with mom and dad on the sites while their working parents are on the road.

Critics of social networking worry that kids are getting into friending too fast...Are we on the verge of a time when 6 year olds will count their colleagues on the computer? Or when our 6 year olds will "like" their favorite brands with a virtual versus real thumbs up? Probably not. The need for speed that fuels the teen Facebook frenzy doesn't really exist for kids. Collecting is cool, but Silly Bandz might be more interesting to inventory than your classmates. And kids' networks tend to be much simpler and more manageable than adults'. They don't have college friends across the country, or friends who they can't keep track of. While families might be far aflung, a few Skype sessions might do the trick more than the maintenance of an account bearing your name. And most importantly, social networking can feel more work than not for this generation. They, moreso than their older brothers and sisters, recognize that this game is complicated. Given the choice, gaming sounds like a better use of time than getting into a conversation with friends from school.

But it may also be too soon to tell...Disney now owns Togetherville...Everywhere we turn, we see another "safe" social space set up with this younger age group in mind. And at the same time. The protests of parents seem to be losing steam (even if a few passionate parents continue to speak out against socializing for the kid set). No matter what happens, we'll keep watching.

Tags: advertisment, Youth, kids tweens teens, Facebook

Youth Methods: When is it okay to give kids, tweens and teens some homework?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 10, 2011 @ 12:06 PM

Books like "The Case Against Homework" (Crown, 2006) and "The Homework Myth" (Da Capo, 2007) have given a voice to a movement bubbling up in the homes and hallways of U.S. schools – parents are pushing back on teachers that assign too much homework. According to Duke University’s Harris Cooper, teachers should assign 10 minutes of homework a night per grade – i.e., a fifth grader should have 50 minutes of homework each night.  This "10-minute rule" has won the endorsement of the National PTA and the NEA, although parents all over the country continue to bemoan assignments that take their early elementary-schoolers in excess of one hour to research

So with kids already feeling the pinch and pressure of too much homework, and parents growing resentful about work that takes their children away from precious time with their families, why do many research designs include a “homework” or “pre-work” element?

Well, we think these assignments show up in proposals for many good reasons…

  • Pre-work can extend the life of your focus group or ethnography in a cost-effective way. While homework costs (facilities charge for distributing, mailing packets take postage and people power, and prepping a thoughtful assignment can take as much time as crafting a great guide), it’s also much more efficient than extending the time of your focus group or recruiting multiple cells of respondents to complete different tasks. Asking youth to write a story about an experience they have before they arrive will not only give them time to think and mentally prepare for participating, but will also preserve group time for getting to the “why” rather than watching them write.
  • For kids, tweens and teens, being “chosen” for a focus group can be a very big deal. We want them to know that their opinions really matter – and if we succeed in conveying this import to them, they might be a bit nervous. Not only do they have to answer questions “on the spot” but they often have to do so in front of a few strangers and their peers. Giving them an assignment can actually alleviate their fears and make them feel confident that they’ll have something to say right from the start.
  • Pre-placement is important to help you answer specific types of research questions.  Some types of “products” like TV shows, can’t be “authentically” researched without a little pre-placement. Seeing someone’s first reaction in a group might be useful, but will a preschooler love Dora as much the first time as she does on the fifth or sixth viewing? Sometimes replicating a real-life reaction means exposing kids to your product or concept more than once before you begin discussing it with them.
  • Kids, tweens and teens have great memories, but they might not have been paying attention to the minutiae that we would like them to be able to recall…Even a request as seemingly benign as “tell me what you ate for breakfast last week” can cause anxiety or at least a pause as kids, tweens and teens attempt to retrieve these mundane memories from among their more visceral ones (getting a hit in the big game, having a big laugh with their pals or getting a surprise pop quiz in social studies class). Homework that has youth keep track of a topic in the moment or rewind their weekly history in advance of meeting the moderator can make for a much more fruitful conversation and can avoid some of those “I don’t knows” or “I forgets” that are inevitably part of research with youth.

But before you pile on the prep work, consider the following:

  • Are you setting kids, tweens and teens up for success? Is the assignment doable in the time allotted? Is the assignment clear and concrete enough for them to complete it on their own? Despite great intentions, a homework assignment that rushes or confuses your respondent can do more damage than good…
  • Is pre-work feeling like homework? Are you setting a tone that’s right for your topic? If getting great feedback from youth means putting them in a playful mindset, make sure your assignment doesn’t feel – gasp – boring! The stakes are higher for homework in general, as it signals to youth what the conversation will be like and what they can expect from the research experience. Pre-work that feels too much like homework might inspire your respondents to find something else to do the evening of your groups or the day of your ethnography.
  • Finally, is your homework meaningful to your study? In the interest of adding value, or getting more bang for your research buck, it’s tempting to address a question in pre-work that only loosely relates to your overall study objectives. This approach might seem savvy, but it can raise roadblocks to getting to the heart of your real issue. Kids, tweens and teens (and adults!) want to help…Having them complete a media diary, for example, when your conversation is about all kinds of play might garner you responses that are more focused than authentic. When youth spend time on an assignment, only to find that there isn’t time to debrief on it in a group, they can feel slighted and unacknowledged. Payment doesn’t go as far as praise, and if you want kids to engage, show them that you want to see what they did in their pre-work assignments.

Tags: book, homework, research methods

Is your notion of childhood more real or ideal?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, May 04, 2011 @ 10:33 AM

Kids at Disneyland At the Kid, Youth and Parent Power conference marketers, researchers, programmers and non-profits presented data and diatribes on the state of play (our contribution), the importance of pro-social programs, the truth about Millenials, and the efforts of organizations ranging from Boy Scouts of America and Lego to Microsoft. In almost every presentation, a central dialogue emerges…Is our notion of the perfect childhood more real or ideal?

After two days of listening to youth and family experts discussing the issues and ideas that influence kids, tweens, teens and their parents, it seemed fitting to head over to nearby Disney World, with my 3-year-old son in tow. The Disney experience brings these two sides of the coin into relief. Is the Magic Kingdom’s magic about reminding us that every child has something to celebrate (the theme of the song that ushers in the park’s daily character parade) or is it about strategically placing bathrooms so it seems that there’s almost always one within the line of sight of a frazzled mom? Is it about the fantasy that one is riding over the rooftops of London in Peter Pan’s galleon, or is it about the Fast Pass system that – while imperfect – acknowledges that kids cannot tolerate lines longer than twenty minutes and that parents prefer the option of scheduling a return visit later in their day? Is the magic about meeting Buzz Lightyear or is it about the ease with which one can access the photos taken online and either purchase them or simply email them (within a Disney designed template) to friends and relatives?

And whose childhood are we talking about anyway? At Disney World, kids and their parents indulge in timeless childhood pleasures and elements of culture: pursuing pirates, taking trains, flying spaceships or navigating the caves of Tom Sawyer’s island. But along the way, we notice high tech toys, video game references and shows that let you audition to be on American Idol (at Disney Hollywood Studios). Still, Disney seems to be a place that’s more dedicated to transmitting ideals of childhoods past than about epitomizing the experiences and culture of today’s kids, tweens and teens.

And maybe that’s okay. In the land of fantasy (as opposed to social policy or education), the realities of contemporary children might not matter very much. Parents who come to Disney understand how to play there. They feel a sense of belonging that they might not in the online world. And kids seem to revel in the chance to connect with parents as much as the opportunity to escape into fantasy. So maybe the answer is that today’s ideal childhood is co-constructed by parents and kids. This collaborative creation of the ideal childhood might have something in it for both parents and kids.

Tags: kids, play, conference, Youth, kids tweens teens