What Wishlists Tell Us About Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 @ 11:55 AM

In our final installment of holiday wishlist reviews we tackle the trickiest target of all – teens and just in the nick of time!  When we think about teens, we can’t think of them as a cohesive collective in the same way that we do younger groups of youth. By the teen years, youth are seeking out their own style, their own identity and their own stuff. The brands and products they choose not only say something about who they are, but also who they want to be. And as teens begin to find (ideally) the thing that they’re passionate about – be it music, sports, school, volunteering or something else, they become more and more interested in total immersion. This doesn’t mean that all teens are totally independent, or that peer pressure doesn’t matter; it means being your authentic self across multiple contexts becomes both a personal priority and a brand attribute they value. So the top gift for a teen you know is likely to be something so specific to their interests that it wouldn’t make our list…Teens’ needs are likely to be for something so niche that it wouldn’t make sense for another teen that goes to the same school or is on the same team. Over the past few years, we’ve talked to teens about everything from their love of Cricket to their passion for Chuck Palahniuk novels! But a few items appeal to the masses for the holidays and we discuss a few below…

  1. The first is no surprise – iPads. Teens aren’t the only youth who are asking for tablets this holiday season, but they’re more likely to get them! Check back in with YouthBeat to see how this item fares, or how the teens who request them do, in terms of getting this desired device. Most parents will be grappling with the dilemma of getting their older teens a laptop or a tablet, something that they might justify as a college application or attendance tool versus just a play thing. But still, we bet that a few lucky teens will count the iPad or another tablet as one of their newest treasures.
  2. Have the teen who has it all? Or maybe just enough? Consider empowering teens with one of the many cards available for donating to charity…Check out the options at JustGive.org. While teens might be a bit disappointed if this giving gift is the only one under their tree, they might just appreciate the chance to be taken seriously, and to take their desire to help to the next level.
  3. Speaking of exchanging stuff for something else…Today’s teens, more than any generation before them, crave time with mom and dad. Consider gifting an experience over a thing – like tickets, a night out at a special restaurant, or here’s the twist – give the gift of your own time! It might be a day at the batting cages, or a morning at the spa, but either way, moms and dads can make the most of the holidays by promising some quality time with these older youth.  For the particularly sophisticated teen, we love High 5, which gives your student access to cultural events (that they might just learn to love).

Happy holidays from YouthBeat!

Tags: wish list, Youth, Teens, holiday

What Wishlists Tell Us About Tweens

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Dec 21, 2011 @ 11:47 AM

In our last few blogs, we have been looking at our YouthBeat age groups through the lens of their top wishlists items for this year.  If you’re shopping for a tween, you know that being “in the middle” – navigating the treacherous territory between the safe haven of childhood and the risky waters of the teen years – makes for a complex and sometimes confused wishlist for the holidays. Right around 11 years old, we often hear parents of boys and girls complain that their children no longer have a go-to store, and there “asks” have become alarmingly few and far between…Sounds like a nice problem to have? Perhaps, but parents of tweens know that their children still have high expectations for their holiday hauls, and they also know that tweens’ lack of locution doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions about what they want. So, below is our best attempt to help these moms and dads out!

  1. If you need a tween shopping heuristic for the holidays, think child-like Taylor Swiftfun with a sophisticated twist. This lead us to a whole category that has served as a timeless turn-to for the tween set…Back in the late 80s, I remember, fondly, wishing for a bottle of Coty’s “Exclamation” under my Christmas tree. For tween girls, dressing up and putting on a look still feels playful, more than purposeful, and perfume serves as the perfect entry point to the beauty business. This category, which plays to the senses without putting forth an overly adult look, lets tweens fantasize and day-dream without being too daring. Every holiday season, a number of new brands emerge, but this holiday, we’re betting on wonderfully girly “Wonderstruck,” by Taylor Swift, the romantically optimistic “Someday,” from Justin Bieber, and for the hello kittyironic older tween, Hello Kitty and Crayola (yep, Crayola!) sprays from quirky scent house, Demeter.
  2. This year, reading gets a rad makeover with EBooks making it on to tweens’ radar. Barnes and Noble’s Nook Color and the Kindle Fire may make for a new kind of scene – instead of tweens listening to their iPods together, we may see them side-by-side with their stylishly accessorized eReaders, downloading the latest installment of the Hunger Games or “Pretty Little Liars.” Although YouthBeat data suggests that tweens continue to prefer paper (with some industry experts hypothesizing that the buy-it-on-release-day mentality created by the Harry Potter Series has led this generation to take on a collectors’ level love of the hard cover version of their favorite reads), this year, we expect to see tweens take hold of this new technology to a greater degree than ever before. If eBooks are slightly too sophisticated (or pricey!) for your tween, take a chance on another kids/tween trend – making you the star of your own book or comic! U Star Novels puts your name into a novel, combining younger tweens’ love of customization with their desire to see their name in lights (or print).
  3. Nike might not seem like news to us, but for tweens, this brand continues to top their list for footwear, and for boys and fashion. NikeiD gives the traditional brand a tween test, allowing tweens to get an authentic and socially endorsed product, but one of their own making. Customizable fashion can tend to feel kiddish, but mostly because the big brands tend to lead versus follow tween style…And too much play makes for a product that tweens don’t feel comfortable displaying. But NikeiD, which allows tweens to take a gift card to a website and create their own bags, kicks, and sport watches which look more like a find than a fun arts and crafts project.

Next up, our final group – teens!

Tags: parents, movies, Taylor Swift, beauty, fashion, reading, holiday, tweens, Justin Bieber

What Wishlists Tell Us About Kids

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 @ 11:16 AM

As part of our pre-holiday blog series, we’re taking a look at some of the most commonly recommended items from among the “top pick” lists of some of our favorite toy and gift sites. Last week, we looked at some of the most telling take-aways about preschooler products; this week, we look at some gifts that are sure to catch the attention and capture the imagination of kids.

Parents of 6-10 year olds (how YouthBeat defines “kids”), may be experiencing holiday hecticness for the first time. Christmas morning might be measured more by what’s not there than what is…This isn’t to say that kids can’t delight in a surprise or two, but it gets harder and harder to impress these elementary schoolers, and more difficult to satisfy the many demands on their wishlists. In the past few years, we’ve heard more and more parents of this age group bemoan the high ticket price of the items that children expect. Even if a few high-priced gifts fit into Santa’s budget, most parents and kids fantasize about frolicking in wrapping paper, or at least, spending a long morning mulling through mounds of gifts! And kids this age ask for specific brands and models more than in the past, so relatives and reindeer alike are forced to embark on more strategic searches than ever before… 

The following products seem to embody the holiday hopes of kids in 2011:

  1. LEGO Star Wars makes the evergreen kid brand a must-have (once again) for kids. LEGO has infiltrated almost every category that touches kids’ lives – video games, board games, and even LEGO TV. And according to YouthBeat data, even reading about LEGO is fun! LEGO Magazine ranks at the top of kids’ list of favorite magazines for the first half of 2011. But it’s the simple sophistication of these “loose parts” that continue to catalyze the imagination of youth. With STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) serving as the new buzz in education, parents are more willing than ever before to buy toys that inspire their future architect or astronaut. And they can feel good about the plug-free, signal-free and battery-free form that these classic toy sets take! But this is only half of the story…Star Wars is the set seducing kids this year. This movie still ranks as kids’ top of all time, according to our most recent wave of YouthBeat data. The story of good over evil, brought to the latest generation via Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars, not only makes for a great narrative, but also lends itself to techy gadgets – even in a low tech form.
  2. Classic toys have been all the rage the last few years, with parents being inundated with catalogs from companies that specialize in re-makes of toys that they recognize from their youth, brands re-issuing modernized versions of the old standards, and old games and toys getting a makeover. One of the toy that will surely hit parents’ radar, even if it might be a bit young for kids, is Connect 4 Launch from Hasbro. This latest edition of the game (that was once seen as an innovative answer to the boring way we used to play checkers and tic tac toe), gets kids up and moving while they play, and adds a few gadgets in for good measure. Hasbro has sought to bring back family game night for many years now, and this old-school game with a new-school twist might represent the right way to do it for headphonestoday’s family. Or it might just be more fun for kids to play together – afterall, chucking your checkers at the game board gives them permission to play a little subversively under the guise of good old-fashioned fun.
  3. Kids might not connect with music the same way tweens are beginning to and teens always have. But this year, one of the most unexpected categories to make a comeback is headphones! And bucking other technology trends, these headphones haven’t gotten smaller, more portable – they’ve gotten bigger! The ones shown here, from Skull Candy, conceal the whole ear. They let kids (and tweens, and teens) cocoon while they tune in (and for kids, that’s as likely to be tuning in to a TV show on their portable DVD player or their parents’ laptop as it is to music). These statement sound-surrounders show that just when you thought kid products were moving in one direction, youth take a turn for the bigger.Ugly Dolls
  4. And finally, Ugly Dolls demonstrate one of our tenets of great youth brands: they live in the middle. Or more appropriately, they negotiate two seemingly contrary ideas to create a product or experience that intrigues and inspires as much as it invites. And what two concepts could make for a less likely mash-up than “ugly” and “doll”? These characters that only a kid-playing-a-mother could love give girls permission to cuddle and care in a way that doesn’t make them feel babyish themselves.  Many models of these dolls make them ready-made for the always ready-to-collect kid.  Aesthetically, these dolls not only trade in cute for quirk, but they also demonstrate the almost-homemade look that seems to characterize many of kids’ latest loves (even thought the brand has been recognized by industry insiders since 2006, when it was named the 2006 Specialty Toy of the Year by the Toy Industry of America).

Next up: top items for tweens!

Tags: kids, shopping, holiday, parenting, money

What Wishlists Tell Us About Youth

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Dec 05, 2011 @ 01:15 PM

It would be more than safe to say that the turkey and cranberry sauce had barely passed our lips when the 2011 holiday season began. But in truth, this year, the winter holidays seemed to step on the heels of Halloween! As it has for the past few years, the sport that is Black Friday continued to dominate the headlines, with workers protesting Thanksgiving evening openings, retailers desperately trying to control  crowds bursting through their doors in a 5 am deluge by staying open all night. But like the many Americans who made Cyber Monday – the armchair quarterback version of the previous Friday’s shopping sprint – the biggest in its short history, we prefer to shop online.

TV advertising of youth-targeted trinkets seems to be surging in this period (although it’s still too soon to tell how this year will compare to last), but when shopping for youth, many parents and gift-givers will rely on the implied expertise of websites to provide them with age-appropriate recommendations for every child or teen on their list. In some ways, these search engines serve as virtual concierges, curators and, in the least, filters – helping gift-givers get it right, and more importantly, avoid getting it horribly wrong this holiday season. Whether it’s gifts.com, yoyo.com (the newest addition to the family born of diapers.com) or the online shops of bricks and mortar stores like Toys R’ Us, the items they recommend are sure to synch up with the biggest buys of the season. So we’ve taken some of the most commonly recommended items for each of the four age groups (preschoolers, kids, tweens and teens) and took a look at what they say about them, and why they stand out from the crowd…

In this post, we’ll focus on a few of the products that pop for preschoolers, with our take on the most recommended kid, tween and teen products to follow in the next few posts.


For parents of preschoolers, the holidays might still feel more magical than manic. Preschoolers are just coming into their own asks, but can clearly imagine and fantasize what gifts they might get on Christmas morning or on the nights of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. But they’re also easily surprised and parents can still delight them with items of their own choosing…Of course, many parents put educational products under the tree, but they’re also paying attention to their children’s budding passions (be it of the princess, pirate, or super hero variety) and looking to give them the goods that will get the biggest reaction when the bows come of the packaging.

In 2011, three products serve as symbols of the preschool market right now:Let’s Rock Elmo

  1. Let’s Rock Elmo follows in the distinguished tradition of Elmo automatons, which have managed to entertain many parents and kids in equal measure. Tickle Me Elmo may have caused a craze many holiday seasons ago (and could be seen as one of the products that, unexpectedly, started the habit of parents behaving badly in the face of toy scarcity on Black Friday), but this latest rendition seems to capture both the sweet essence of the lovable Sesame Street monster, and the precocious attitude that is increasingly ascribed to the preschool set. Preschool fashion has gone edgier (and even mainstream brands like Carter’s feature a line of products that shout “Mom Rocks” or “Dad’s a Rockstar” from 3T- and 4T- sized shirts).  This year, Let’s Rock Elmo will face-off with Rockstar Mickey, bound to be another top pick among parents of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. May the best icon win!
  2. Today’s parents of preschoolers are as likely to blog about their little boys and girls as they are about their own passions. Between sharing their best shots on photo sites like Picasso (Picasso.com), and capturing their every move on their cell phones, it’s no surprise that one of this year’s hottest heists lets preschoolers put their own stamp, quite literally, on the pics they take. Fisher Price’s Kid-Tough See Yourself Camera puts photography in preschoolers’ little hands, and allows them to take a picture of these little narcissists’ (which we say with affection!) favorite person, themselves, with a lens they can turn to face them. Once they’ve caught a great pic of their mom, for example, they can accessorize right on screen…Suddenly dad dons a cartoon cowboy hat on his head, or their cousin wears a clown wig. Vtech offers the Kidizoom, but we think the added assurance that the Fisher Price version can stand up to the rough play that makes us love the preschoolers with whom we reside will appeal to parents.
Whenever we talk about an age group as a whole, we inherently minimize the many differences – particularly in the consumptions habits and attitudes – of the very different types of parents who have children of any given age group. The new line of products from eco-brand Seedlings may make for a great gift from parents who prefer to buy their preschoolers do-it-yourself products with a seemingly nostalgic simplicity. With products like “make your own family” dolls, that invite girls and boys alike to turn works of art into actionable objects (not just display pieces), this brand capitalizes on parents’ desire to foster their little kids’ creative instincts, these totally self-contained craft kits (with many – like make your own car, or decorate your own magic wand - also available from Melissa and Doug) might also make family fun night a bit easier to plan.

Tags: Youth, shopping, dad, kids tweens teens, holiday, money