Reading into eBooks for Kids, Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 @ 10:29 AM

As a once-upon-a-time English major, a paper and pen kind of girl, and a hoarder of books (which often necessitated storage units or piled up in precariously stacked book boxes during my apartment-dwelling years), I used to view the emergence of eBooks as a literary option for kids, tweens and teens with a sense of trepidation. My favorite moment of every day with my preschooler is that stretch of time before bed when we devour two, three or even four books with shared glee. But the latest findings from Pew Research, and early indicators from our own YouthBeat study (eBook ownership among youth households is up from 6% in 2010 to 15% in 2011; from 1% of youth owning the device on their own to 3%), suggest that the eBook is on the rise, and most likely, here to stay.

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the conference, “Children's Publishing Goes Digital.” Listening to industry experts reminded me of the many reasons why eReaders deserve a second look by suspicious parents, and serious consideration by companies and organizations seeking platform and promotional partners. Additionally, more and more educators have been studying the potential and the possibilities for eBooks among youth and specific sub-groups within this broad category. So here’s what gives this old school book ogler reason to rally behind this reading innovation:leapfrog ereader

  1. eReaders don’t fundamentally change books. A look at the list of highest selling eBooks suggests that a book is a book is a book. Dr. Seuss still sells, regardless of whether his rhymes are read in paper form or on a portable digital device. Content is still king, and a move to digital doesn’t mean that a great story doesn’t constitute the first hurdle for publication. As long as stories are still evaluated for their narrative quality, and not their cool quotient, it shouldn’t really matter how we read them. And if we can’t give up our paper products, I wonder if books have just become fetishes that we like to look at on our shelves? (Note: I write this in front of a very, very large bookshelf, populated by a lot of pretty lit).
  2. eReaders might bring in more readers. Reluctant, struggling readers, and readers with special needs can all benefit from the way in which eReaders reinvent the reading experience. Being able to hear a tricky word pronounced by touching it, or getting to play a game for finishing a chapter might seem like unnecessary supports or incentives, but from the perspective of kids who haven’t yet found reading to be rewarding (and the parents of those kids), eReaders might make the difference.
  3. eReaders make books more complex – not more superficial. For today’s digital natives, every experience – whether it’s watching a movie, playing a video game, or even hearing an idea in school – comes with the expectation that you can go deeper on your own. Why should books be any different? And doesn’t the desire to learn more about an author, or “hear” a song described in a book actually sung, or find a land you’re reading about on an actual map all speak to a need for a stronger connection with books – not a weaker one?
  4. eReaders make reading more cost effective and environmentally friendly. Yes, that first device costs a lot, but a download is much cheaper than a bestseller at cover price. And what about all that paper? Maybe eReaders will make it easier for this earth-conscious cohort to indulge in words without worrying about wasting more trees.

Perhaps the most important benefit of eReaders is that their mere existence has inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators to think carefully about reading! Books are no longer nostalgic baubles, but have once again become catalysts for changing the way we live.

Still, some caveats exist. Most researchers (and many speakers at the industry conference) affirmed that familiarity with old-fashioned books still serves as an important foundation for literacy. Infants benefit greatfully from the education that comes from sitting on a caregivers’ lap and learning that stories work sequentially, that pages turn in one direction, and that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Games and puzzles might be fun, but shouldn’t interrupt the carefully crafted flow that an author intends. And does the art work that often separates a good picture book from a great one always translate to a digital device?

And, of course, there are outstanding questions. Can a digital bookstore ever capture the magic of a physical one? (Check out this homage to the bricks and mortar bookstore that is making the rounds on YouTube). How does “discovery” happen in the digital world (a problem which many of the entrepreneurs at Children’s Publishing Goes Digital seem to be working on)?

But for now, we find ourselves inspired by eReaders’ possibilities more than pessimistic about what it might mean to reading.

Tags: youth research, book, Teens, tweens

Upcoming Webinar: “Putting the Preschool Market into Perspective”

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 @ 01:05 PM

Presenter: Amy Henry, Vice President, Youth Insights
January 31st at 1pm (CT)

Preschoolers have more power in American households than ever before. They have always had opinions, but those opinions are taken more seriously by today's parents who seek to listen and learn from their preschoolers as much as they try to teach them.  

Today's preschoolers no longer have to settle for oversized baby stuff or wait for big kid stuff-they have a culture that they can call their own. Also, parents of preschoolers are highly invested in the choices they make for their preschoolers as they know that their decisions about their children's education, eating, and entertainment set the stage for their child's preferences and opportunities in the years to come.

In this webinar, you'll learn about:

  • The critical issues facing today's preschool parents and their children
  • Insights that will affect your ability to better connect with them
  • Cases that show how the best preschool brands are navigating this tricky terrain
  • Practical considerations that come into play when preschool parents are making decisions in your category
  • Finally, we'll describe some of the best practices in conducting research with this age group and introduce you to some of C+R's most effective tools for uncovering their needs

Click here to sign up!

Tags: youth research, kids, play, research methods, parenting

Anecdotes and Outliers: When Kids, Tweens and Teens Go Against Type

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 @ 01:35 PM

“You can’t trust 6 kids in Podunk…” might be a phrase you are familiar with if you’ve attempted to make decisions about the youth market based on qualitative research…Or, “those kids just aren’t representative.” Enter quantitative research, developmental models and other reassuring statistics and structures that show us what’s really happening in the world. But the problem is that sometimes youth defy expectations, act counter to “type,” and occasionally, the outliers are more relevant than we might care to think. The question for youth researchers: when do we change our minds about youth, and how do we know whether what we’re seeing is really right, or just reaffirms what we already believe?

I found myself wondering about this recently in relationship to what I’ve come to believe (and often seen) about gender identity and children’s play. It might be easy to see that gendered play is part nature, part nurture (clearly, boys will try on the tutu in the daycare dress-up trunk if they’re given permission, but at the same time, just try to talk a boy out of their crush on cars). And there’s no denying that girls gravitate towards princesses and pink in large numbers, if not exclusively. Countless studies and developmental paradigms provide explanations ranging from exposure to gender expectations to a cultural/biological need for boys to separate from their mothers, while girls model their behavior. But, what happens when you’re confronted with anecdotal evidence that all seems to converge on the same themes?

My four-year old son recently caught a severe case of Spiderman fever. superheroesDespite never seeing any of the recent or old Spiderman films or cartoons, and rarely finding himself in the toy aisle of any store (mom and dad prefer shopping online to taking a preschooler into a manufactured Mecca), he seems to have a version of the Spiderman narrative inscribed in his mind…This “version” seems to be the result of a telephone game of sorts that has been playing out in his preschool. Clearly, someone has heard of this magical man with webs shooting out of his wrists, but my son has brought home numerous variations on this theme. “He is friends with all kinds of spiders…” “He wears a red costume because that’s his favorite color…” “He says nice things to his friends – but the bad guys don’t…” Some of these ideas seem more authentic than others…

But his conflicted parents encourages him to dress up as a firefighter instead of a crime fighter this past Halloween. And he agreed. When we showed up at his school parade, we cringed – our little one was a lone community helper amidst a sea of superheroes. And here’s the kicker – it wasn’t just the boys. There were a few preschool princesses, but supergirl and spidergirl lined up right behind our son. And just the other day, we warned my son that our friends with daughters ages 3 and 7 (without an older brother to pass down his toys) might not have cars or superhero toys, only to arrive and find that – right next to the Barbie castle – was a pile of well-loved Spiderman dolls, vehicles and even trading cards. Soon, imaginary webs were flying.   

So what does a student of youth do with this kind of info? Do we deny the evidence that shows that the stereotypes are often true (regardless of what causes them)? Do we encourage brands and organizations to go against type and to stop making all of those girls toys for girls, and boyish gear for guys? Probably not…But, back to our original question, when do we acknowledge that these outliers might be evidence of a real trend or truth, and when do we simply dismiss them as “not representative?”

Clearly, the answer is more art than science…But a few questions might help.

  • Are you making assumptions about what one “like” means about another category? Youth often relate to brands, products and experiences in complex ways. Youth – particularly kids – can sometimes love both an experience and its opposite…Being an athlete doesn’t mean one’s not an artist…Liking TV doesn’t mean that you shun books or reading. Being connected to Facebook doesn’t mean that friendships in the real world don’t matter.
  • Does your method fit the answer you want? Don’t get us wrong – we think quantitative information is incredibly valuable. YouthBeat is founded on the premise that your perceptions might lead you astray if, for example, you see a six year old on Facebook and assume every elementary schooler is a member of the site. Or when you need to know how many teens really own iPads. In other words, 6 kids in Podunk might help you really understand your audience in a nuanced way. But if you’re wondering about your brand’s ability to resonate among members of an unexpected group, qualitative might help you understand not just the “whats” but the “hows.” Clearly, Spiderman hasn’t replaced princesses as the most popular play-thing of the preschool girl set, but careful observation and age-appropriate conversations might show just how “super” they think those heroes are.
  • What perceptions are we bringing to the table – and where do we place them? Finally, any great researcher knows that your own knowledge and experience with a category or audience segment is both your advantage and your Achilles heel. Knowing a lot about kids, tweens and teens, we would contend, is an incredibly important foundation on which to build your youth-specific custom study. In our opinion, you can’t truly make sense of the data you get back without knowing how these groups of youth express themselves, develop and make meaning of the world. But as important as knowing a lot is knowing when to blink…Even the most strongly held conventional wisdom deserves a re-think when evidence to the contrary emerges. This applies not only to what youth do, but perhaps even to what might be “good for them.” 
Regardless of what you know about youth, don’t forget to pay attention to the occasional outlier – it might just inspire you to get a leg-up on the next big insight.

Tags: youth research, qualitative research, quantitative research, superheroes, Superman

Getting Away From Setting “Good-for-you” Goals for Kids, Tweens and Teens in the New Year

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 09, 2012 @ 12:23 PM

At this time of the year, gyms are packed, diets dominate the banter or morning talk shows, and advertisements attach products and services to a collective desire to re-craft ourselves…But like so many other cultural rituals, setting New Year’s Resolutions might not be a concept that can be easily applied to kids, tweens and teens.

“Resolving” to do anything that requires long-term commitment might seem like a dealbreaker for youth. But we could find countless examples of kids, tweens and teens who set goals and achieve them. One recent example: Jordan Romero’s Christmas Eve feat of climbing to the top of the seven highest peaks in the world (ending his journey in Antarctica!). Too ambitious for your ten-year old? Fret not. There is something to learn from Jordan’s story…Jordan Romero

While psychologists and educators note the importance of teaching youth to set goals (with interventions among at-risk youth often incorporating planning and goal-setting as part of a holistic “recovery” program), and both sets of experts acknowledge that this might be a practice that requires support from adults (i.e., it’s not instinctive), Jordan’s story suggests that a healthy New Year’s Resolution might be focused more on what youth are passionate about than what youth “should” do. In the early days of any new year, blog entries abound that suggest helping kids set health-oriented New Year’s resolutions…Encourage your preschoolers to put away a toy every time they play…Challenge your tween to try a veggie at every meal…Ask your teen to research one potential college once a week. And while all of these goals might be noble, and clearly worthy of mom’s and dad’s encouragement, maybe these self-help ideas are more about parental hopes than about connecting kids with great goals. It’s not just that these “to-dos” feel more flat than fun (we know that teaching kids, tweens and teens that sometimes meeting their obligations isn’t all about entertainment), but it may be demonstrating that planning is unpleasant.

As an extreme, but telling case in point, look at Jordan’s journey…He set a difficult goal, but one that he (and his family) was personally invested in. He not only thought that fulfilling his goal would be a feat, but he described a sense of passion and fulfillment that he got from the view at the top. Climbing, for him, is a lifestyle he embraces – not a chore he’s charged with. Jordan and his family have founded the “Find Your Own Everest” movement to encourage youth to set meaningful goals, but more importantly, to find that goal that matters to them.

So if you want the youth in your life to stick to a promise this year, start by sussing out their interests, not their shortcomings, and focus on helping them find what they love, not fix what’s wrong with them. Perhaps this should be the New Year’s resolution that every parent and organization embraces for 2012.  

Tags: research, Social Issues, play, outside, Youth, Teens, tweens