Marriage Equality as Children’s Rights

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 @ 02:42 PM

On the surface, two cases before the Supreme Court this week seem to have little to do with children. The challenges to California’s Proposition 8 and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act might appear to involve the desire of a group of adults to participate in an institution that should be available to all. But, in very different ways, both the proponents and the opponents of gay marriage have suggested that these cases aren’t really about adults; they’re about kids.

This is far from the first time that children have been invoked in the rhetoric surrounding marriage equality. While it’s debatable what purpose marriage serves in contemporary society, both sides would probably agree that it comes with benefits (and the promise of government support with child-rearing if needed) and it symbolizes stability (considered an important factor in children’s development). On one hand, opponents have suggested that marriage should be reserved for those who procreate (and by procreate, they mean “the old fashioned way” – not the way many parents become parents today). On the other, many child advocates believe that denying gay parents the right to marry puts children at risk. Last week, The American Academy of Pediatrics came out in support of gay marriage because of the protections it offers children. And while today’s youth might be more accepting of families of different configurations (even my five year old knows that there is “no normal family”), receiving validation that their family isn’t lesser because of their parents’ gender clearly matters to children being raised by same sex couples.

If asked, which they rarely are, we could expect that most children of this cohort would see denying a group of people their rights was simply unfair. They are more informed than any generation before them on the need and desirability of diversity and the importance of inclusiveness. The Republican National Committee has recently acknowledged that the debate over gay marriage might in fact be a generational one (read: young people don’t get what bugs old people about gay marriage).

But children might also be confused about why they’re so critical to the discourse surrounding this issue. Many of them are likely to know children who are raised by loving, stable, responsible same sex couples. It’s likely they also know children whose families don’t look so nuclear – and who are just as loving. And, sadly, they probably know some children whose parents are married but don’t necessarily come from happy homes.  Even young children are likely to recognize that marriage isn’t the “insurance” that adults sometimes suggest it is.

Does this mean that marriage equality doesn’t matter to youth? Absolutely not. Following through on our national promise of equal rights for all assures kids, tweens and teens today that they can expect to have their rights protected no matter who they are or who they might become.

Tags: youth research, Social Issues, trends

“Typical Kids” versus Your Kids: The Researcher’s Dilemma

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 @ 04:09 PM

162270070Recently, we titled a presentation for Digital Kids 2013 “Everyone has an iPad” in which we promised to help sort the myths from the truths when it comes to the real habits and practices of today’s preschoolers through teens and their parents. Our inspiration? A bevy of calls over the past few years in which clients asked for accurate data on iPad (and iPhone, and eReader) data because at their organization everyone seemed to have an iPad. And, not surprisingly, the kids, tweens and teens of many of these marketers were often among that .5% who already had one of these cutting-edge devices to call their own.

At the heart of this question is one that goes deeper than data on digital devices…It involves the dilemma that youth researchers face regarding the “typical child” versus “my child.”

Of course, this challenge might face every researcher or planner who is forced to distinguish their own views or the perspectives of their crowd from those of the “consumer” for a given brand or category. But kids are a tricky category that makes this pitfall even more probable. We’ve all been children but we all have not been a middle-aged housewife, or a twenty-something guy who loves ESPN, for example. We pay a lot of attention to our children (other adults aren’t nearly as interesting). And, we tend to see youth segmented into stages that characterize universal, developmental truths related to kids that age. All of these characteristics of kids, tweens and teens put us at risk of seeing our children, children we know, or even our own childhood as exemplars and authorities on all children.

The solution might, on the surface, seem easy…Ignore your own kids. Forget your own childhood. Stay neutral, researcher!

Well, good luck. Researchers from all disciplines – Anthropology, Sociology, and even Psychology – have long cautioned that even the most noble efforts to adopt a reflexive stance, and to attend to the ways one’s own experience might shape the way we interpret or see data, true neutrality is never really possible.

AND…ignoring the children in our own lives brings its own risks with it. “My child isn’t typical” or “your child isn’t typical,” suggests that there IS a typical child. One that, perhaps, we fetishize – the “real” child, authentic “youth,” etc.  And it leads us to another question:  Who is that authentic kid or tween or teen whose image sits in our mind? Are they a he or a she? Are they Caucasian, Hispanic, African American? From the U.S.? What is their household income? Are they from the burbs or are they city kids? (How many times have we said, “New York City kids aren’t ‘typical’” when asked to conduct groups in the Big Apple?)

So how do we reconcile this dilemma in our thinking about youth? First, recognize that this challenge isn’t something that we ever truly master. It’s a question worth revisiting on every single project with every sample we consider. We think through this as we write about “trends,” for example: Is it okay to include something “big” in our kids’ schools or should we seek out the opinion of some other groups of kids who seem more “normal” than our own?   

But there are some questions to ask and guidelines to follow that can help you along the way…

  • Know the difference between inspiration and information…Our kids can be great sources of inspiration. Our newest YouthBeat offering, the Trendspotter, features trends that we came across in the media, on the road or from our YouthBeat qualitative panel, but certainly some were inspired by the play, the products, even the birthday parties in our kids’ lives. But when it comes to building a research plan or marketing plan on the number of teens who like brand on Facebook, make sure you’re looking at data specific to the group that your brand hopes to reach. It might be a sample that’s national, or, more likely, it’s a specific type of kid. Maybe your own children are good examples of that group, or maybe they’re not.
  • Recognize that there’s no “typical” kid…Forget about typical. This suggests that there’s a right childhood or a normal way to be. Our thinking about childhood can be overly framed by the idea of norms (standardized testing, Pediatrician’s milestones, developmental discourse), but keep in mind that children can be as individuated as adults. Children might be typical in some ways (they might eat the same foods as the “average” U.S. kid does), but they might be quite atypical in the way they consume media. Know what your respondents need to “represent” when you think about a representative youth sample.
  • Stop saying, “Kids today are different.” At the risk of sounding bossy, we suggest that you take this phrase out of your vocabulary! First, your OWN childhood isn’t likely to be exactly the way you remember it. Second, you were not likely a “typical” child just like your own children or even the children you meet in focus groups are not representative of all childhoods. You might not even know the ways in which your childhood was representative. Did you watch as much TV as other kids your age around the country? Was it more typical to ride your bike to school or to take the bus during your grade school years? The assumptions you’re making about your own childhood might be just as faulty as those we often make about the “normalness” of the kids in our own lives.
  • Remember that parenting and researching aren’t the same things…Speaking as someone who was a researcher before and after kids, I can attest—someone without kids can offer true and authentic insight into the lives of youth. Privileging parents can be a natural trap, but one that should be avoided. Living with children can sometimes cloud your vision, of course. But more importantly, equating parenting with researching children does a disservice to the discipline of youth and family research. Just like eating food doesn’t make someone a skilled food researcher, or shopping doesn’t make someone an expert on consumers or consumerism, we suggest that you can know youth without living with them.
  • Finally, recognize that the children in your life might actually be useful to your work! Recently, I observed a local playground over a period of eight weeks for a school assignment. I tried to go without my own children in order to maintain focus, but also to maintain my objectivity. A few times, my son came along. And you know what? I gained access to conversations that I would never have heard from the benches on the side of the slide. I had permission to get in the game in a different way. And what he told me about his experience at the playground was in language that was more natural, intimate and authentic than what I heard from kids and parents who were aware, to differing degrees, that there’s a script that’s performed between subject and researcher. Sometimes the kids, tweens and teens we know share useful “whys” about the practices in which they and their peers engage. With all the caveats listed above in mind, don’t be afraid to ask your children what they think. Just keep their responses in context.

Tags: youth research, play, kids tweens teens, research methods

Kids’ Most Prized Possessions

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 @ 02:00 PM

Photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s recent project, Toy Stories, combined anthropological study with artistic endeavor to showcase children with their prized possessions: their toys. Galimberti not only captures differences in the items that children around the globe chose, but he also shows the way in which the materiality of youth suggests a shared sentimentality about the little things that children call their own. His work reminds us that children see an object's value as determined by far more than cost. They curate collections, put their action figures on pedestals and they nurture their stuffed animals not because of their cost, but because in their eyes they are priceless. His images don’t tell us the whole story, but in these objects, we begin to see them not as separate from these children, and not as “object and subject,” but as part of a dynamic relationship with the children whose identities they both influence and express.   

What are U.S. kids’, tweens’ and teens’ prized possessions? According to YouthBeat data from 2012, their top ten include a mix of tech and non-tech, of the instrumental and the intimate. Think teens have lost that tender spot for their stuffed animals? Think again! Prized Possessions

What does this mean for your brand? Don’t ignore the importance of objects when seeking to understand the lives of youth today. Move beyond seeing things as evidence of mere materialism, and instead, look for the meaning that youth make of their most loved and coveted items (and the meaning these items convey to them). And, as Galimberti’s work reminds us, don’t just ask or analyze, but look. Listen to the stories that kids’, tweens’ and teens’ tell, but don’t forget to read into these items to find the untold narratives that characterize youth culture right now.

Tags: youth research, toys, Gaming, kids tweens teens

Building a Brand that Kids and Parents Will Love

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 08, 2013 @ 03:37 PM

Far too often, youth promotions have been focused on child delight, with parent appeal relegated to the background. On the flipside, many kid brands have put parents front and center in their promotions, but have forgotten the fun. Two programs at decidedly adult retailer seem to be building fun into the shopping experience in a quite literal way. Better yet, parents and kids can both enjoy the benefits, which makes these programs perfect fits with the new way that youth and families understand and experience brands.

Lowe's Build and GrowLowes Build and Grow program and Home Depot Kid Workshops make a trip to these home improvement retailers more than just a mom and dad endeavor. Instead, parents can sign up for Saturday morning workshops that allow their children to put their own tools to work, while mom and dad shop or share in the fun. The retailers supply the kits, and the kids participate in putting together small creations, ranging from wooden monster trucks to old-fashioned birdhouses. And both of these retailers seem to recognize that this kind of hands on play isn’t just for preschoolers. Even parents with the most frustrating, exasperating and costly home improvement projects can connect with the playful side of projects through these programs. This may be the only home project that has a light at the end of the tunnel for many of them, but what better way to associate these brands with self-satisfaction than empowering parents to complete a project that means so much to their kids.

Think kids won’t connect with these projects? Some smart partnerships ensure that these projects have brand cache among older kids and young tweens. Sometimes, the workshops feature unbranded crafts like birdfeeders or picture frames, but they keep these workshops feeling fresh by teaming up with movies or toy brands to make these creations feel current and urgent.

Tags: Education, family, kids tweens teens, Lowe's, Youth

Happy birthday, Justin, Jake and Me

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 01, 2013 @ 11:51 AM

Jake and The Neverland PiratesToday is my birthday. But I only get to write about it here because of this date’s profound role in youth culture. I share this day with Justin Bieber, 2012’s favorite kid and tween pop star and Jake of Disney’s popular program, Jake and the Neverland Pirates. It is my 30-something birthday and, while I hope my husband and two sons are planning a grand gala, and I really hope to receive my share of automated and authentic birthday wishes via Facebook, I don’t really expect to rally the online universe around the anniversary of my birth in quite the way that Justin or Jake have.

If you are a tween girl afflicted with Bieber Fever, it only seems reasonable that you would want to give Justin a birthday gift.  Many Beliebers tweet their tokens of affection to the star, and Justin, of course, knows this. But what do you get the guy who received a $100,000 custom car for his 18th birthday, who cites a purple pool table as his favorite gift ever, or who has the access and income to acquire almost anything he could want? In 2010, Justin took his fame to Facebook, partnering with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness (and money). While other stars simply gave away their renditions of “Happy Birthday” on TV advertisements, Bieber asked his fans to donate $1 to unlock his own version of this song (nevermind that one does not usually sing happy birthday to one’s self!). What will he do this year? We’ll watch, but we think a little birthday philanthropy could do Justin some good right about now.

Speaking of coffers, and talking of treasure, Jake also seeks to turn his birthday into ratings gold. Kids love events and, as we’ve often said, a preschoolers’ life is often punctuated by holidays and excuses to celebrate. And what better way to create news around your show than by informing viewers that it’s the pirate protagonist’s special day! Disney Jr. invites kids to wish Jake a happy birthday via videos. Check out how boys and girls got into the birthday spirit like it was their own anniversary!

So what does this mean for you?

  • Consider building your brand biography…What’s the backstory for your characters or products, and how can you engage youth in celebrating your milestones?
  • When it comes to digital, remember to rally young users to your sites. It’s your job to give them a reason to visit, don’t just create a digital presence and assume they’ll find their way to you. Promoting a cause or event doesn’t activate your audience as much as giving them something to do (and a reward for doing it).
  • Finally, remember that birthdays are big in youth culture. This might not be new, but with more and more ways for kids to celebrate (an explosion of venues dedicated to kid parties, endless theme ideas from retailers ranging from Wishworks to etsy), seek out ways to make your product or organization a part of the big days in kids’, tweens’ and even teens’ lives.

Tags: TV, holiday, youth media, Justin Bieber