Rediscovering Parenting Power

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 @ 09:31 AM

Portraits of parenting (effective or ineffective) almost always involve some indication of who holds the reins in their relationship. Successful parenting might have once looked like a mom or dad who is obeyed. More recently, the powerful parent is a positive one – a mother or father who can get what they want without raising their voice, or even saying “no.” And more and more parenting ads position the truly powerful parent as one who is willing to relinquish control to their kids. In other words, a truly in control mom or dad makes their child feel like they’re in charge.

Perhaps it’s the promotion of kinder, gentler parenting, or the modern mothering mandate that it’s all about the kids that have led to a (somewhat) recent deluge of depictions of dads and moms who parent with pride (and a healthy dose of humor). Millennials are often described as a cohort whose parents told them they were stars right from the start…So is it any surprise that today’s parents who are Millennials, and those who parent Millennials, have put parenting back in what might seem to be its rightful place? Today’s parents prefer to promote an image of parenting that shows them strutting, even when they’re stressing, and keeping it real even when they’re riding in a minivan.

Swagger WagonFirst, the soundtrack of parenting today is more rap than nursery rhyme. Rather than retreating when times get tough, parents play a pep talk on YouTube! Subaru started this trend with their ad for the Sienna SE, affectionately referred to as the “Swagger Wagon” by the mini-van driving mom and dad who star in their spot. This duo defies notions of proper parenting by breaking all the rules, and following their own, despite giving in to the inevitable need for a vehicle that prioritizes volume over vroom. While dad does ask, “where my kids at” in a funny moment in which dads’ casualness turns to momentary concern, this spot and song stay watchable because they show parents who clearly keep the kids in the picture, but haven’t fully given up on their adult aesthetics.

Fiat U.K. made media waves recently with its Gangsta Rap, in which a stressed out mum describes the sometimes grim reality of her “Mother-hood.” The psychology lives close to the surface – when babies scream, cereal spills, or, as she notes, “work and home is a mental combination” – mom doesn’t meltdown. She gets gangster. And she doesn’t give in, she shows off.

And parent pep talks aren’t just for moms. The most recent viral video that position parents as real and righteous at the same time came from a stay-at-home dad.

He’s daddy and he knows it.  This dad doesn’t cope, he controls. Today’s parents see themselves as superheroes. But these superheroes aren’t the shiny, one-dimensional kind that we’ve seen on screen in the past. Instead, they are the flawed figures, who feel conflicted and challenged and committed to their mission, all at the same time. They have back stories and pasts (they were once real people!) and they expect to be acknowledged for it. At the same time, they’ve undergone a transformation. Like any good superhero, they’re hoping to be seen not as being weakened by the loss of their “regular” self, but to be embraced for the resilient and resourceful stars they are now.  

Tags: advertisment, mom, family, dad, TV, youth media, parenting

Cyber Sincerity: Teens Turn the Tables on Online Bullying

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 @ 12:38 PM

When we think of teens and tweeting or teens and texting, we might tend towards an image that’s far from friendly. The discourse surrounding teens’ digital doings includes a significant strand related to the ways that teens often turn communication tools into ways to tease (to use a euphemism). Over the last few years, bullying has been elevated to the level of national youth crisis. Adults and teens alike acknowledge that social media of all sorts can amplify subtle snipes and can put personal conflicts on the public stage.

But three boys in Iowa City were recently caught in the act of using Twitter in a way that turns the tables on these simple notions of teen torment. 9d006ee4c6e8728d33b589f334f9f94bRecognizing that a tweet can carry great weight, they created a Twitter account from which they send messages meant to lift their classmates up, not tear them down. A tweet from the westsidebros might compliment one’s disposition, a recent achievement, or simply a new element of their style. The criteria that these crusaders hold themselves too is a simple one: the compliment must be sincere. And while three boys began this initiative, many more have paid it forward. Good works, or rather, words, have gone viral at this school, and this feel-good story has gotten noticed by media outlets across the country.

And what does this say about teens in general?

First, the fact that a good deed done digitally has received so much attention suggests that we might, as adults, be underestimating the altruistic tendencies of teens. Of course, we know that bullying or exclusionary behavior happens, and when it does, it hurts. But many more teens use technology to build rather than destroy. This story shows that kindness can be as viral as meanness, even among teens.

Second, teens transform their tools to fit their needs – not always the other way around. Teens are not mere victims of technology, but they are also active agents, influencing the way that technology affects their lives, and ultimately, ours.

Finally, teens aren’t only concerned with themselves, but feel connected to their communities, their classmates and the culture in which they live. Since the year began, we’ve come across a number of articles on teens and technology (good ones, in fact) that have, alas, reiterated the notion that teens are a narcissistic bunch. Of course, identity development (which can seem like a solo endeavor) is important during this life-stage. And friends can fuel this process by reflecting who they are, and allowing them to experiment with new self-concepts via “sampling” the many possible groups to which they might belong. But friends are far from simple props. Teens are on their way to creating relationships that might not always stand the test of time, but that are real and meaningful, regardless of whether technology takes a part in them.

For brands and organizations, it’s as critical to catch teens on good behavior as it is to bemoan the ways that some can abuse the tools they have.

Tags: internet, cyberbullying, bullying, digital drugs, culture