In the Era of Millennials and Stay-at-Home Dads, Has Parenting Fundamentally Changed?

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Tue, Aug 30, 2016 @ 10:14 AM

In an homage to modern dads, on Father’s Day this past June, Chicago columnist Heidi Stevens called out the softer, more caring adults that are portrayed in the media today. In this, she compared them to the fondly remembered, but not as nice portrayal of adult relationships of 80s and 90s movies. That got us thinking: how is “real” parenting different now?

Certainly, demographics have shifted across a generation. Pew Research data shows that dads are increasingly stay-at-home caregivers, and less likely to be the sole source of household income.  Of preschool dads in our sample, 5% are stay-at-home dads. Even when dads work outside the home, they’re responsible for more traditional child caregiving tasks than ever before. Our YouthBeat data shows that more than half of our preschool dads report being involved either “somewhat” or “very much” in the daily activities of their children’s lives; in everything from shopping for children’s clothes to communicating with a school/daycare to planning children’s birthday parties.*

Most of these preschool parents are Millennials. In our YouthBeat data, half of Millennial moms and dads with children in 1st-4th grades said they feel that their parenting style is different from their own parents’ approach to raising children.** Though, interestingly, while 75% of Millennial parents feel that it’s much harder to be a parent today than it was in the past, this is less than those who felt that way four years ago (83%)***. So is parenting, then, getting a little easier?

Not so fast.  We’re seeing a few other things come into play that could explain this shift:

  1. Millennial parents’ kids are more connected to them than ever. Parents of all ages routinely say that they give their child their first cell phone so that the child can be reachable. This gives parents peace of mind in a child’s well-being, for the low, low price of a family cell phone plan.
  2. Millennials approach their parenting with a sense of humor. Just follow #parentingfail, or watch Jimmy Fallon to see how parents today poke fun at the ridiculousness of daily family life. And they’ve given advertisers permission to laugh along with them. For a cute take on how this occurs, check out the Halos spot where the girl whose parents ran out found her little brother duct taped to the wall.
  3. Technology offers parenting aids that simply weren’t available even four years ago. There is Amazon Prime Now, Uber Eats, and Netflix Kids, just to name a few. While some Millennial parents are worried about the dangers of technology and connection for their kids, the tradeoff is that they offer convenience that can offset those drawbacks.

So who’s raising our country’s kids today? It’s a very different mix than it was a generation ago. It’s more male; it’s more connected, and it sees challenges, but it has a sense of humor about the most important job in the world.

In this environment, smart brands are the ones who offer not just another product or app—but a way to bring families together for quality time, save some of the scarce resource of time that parents have to hang out with their kids, or give everyone a good belly laugh together.

*Source: YouthBeat, Jr., Spring 2016
**Source: YouthBeat, Total Year 2015
***Source: YouthBeat, Total Year 2011

Tags: kids, parents, kids tweens teens market research, dad, kids tweens teens, parenting, millennials

Is Out-of-School Shopping the New Back-to-School Shopping?

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 @ 03:24 PM

128935230Increasingly, the back-to-school list includes as many “must-nots” as “must-haves.” These restrictions range from a ban on candy to limits on chips and a veto on peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish (scrap that shrimp sandwich, mom!). Even at schools that don’t require uniforms, dress codes have become increasingly strict. Depending on age of child, schools have prohibited everything from colors that could be interpreted as gang-related to t-shirts with words of any sort on them. Some schools are urging parents to forego the juice box for a refillable water bottle. At some private schools—and even some public ones—parents can expect to see that all or some characters can’t appear on backpacks or t-shirts. And, of course, technology that might be deemed permissible at home is often forbidden on school grounds.  

This might suggest that the back-to-school shopping trip is more rule-driven than ever. It certainly suggests that it’s a little less fun trip for many kids.

But will parents also miss a bit of the magic of selecting the perfect backpack or the peer-approved outfit? Based on what we know at YouthBeat about today’s moms and dads, and on what our C+R Shopper Insights expert, Terrie Wendricks, has seen in stores and online, they might.

Unlike parents of the past, today’s parents are perfectly fine with kid “asks.” They value their kids’, tweens’ and teens’ opinions like no cohort that came before, and see their children’s requests as keys to understanding their culture, in general, and their personal passions specifically. Having grown up with popular culture more prevalent in their lives, Millennial Moms and Dads, in particular, are more likely to share their kids’ interests in properties and characters. And with an increasing convergence around the content they consume, parents are more likely to side with their kids’, tweens’ and teens’ desire to express themselves through their affinities.

Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in the retail environment where parents and kids seem to find more to agree over than to argue about! Terrie told us, “Today’s parents seek to ensure their children have their own ‘moments,’ especially in social situations like school, but today’s kids also recognize the reasons for parental restrictions across a wide variety of categories.”

So what happens when schools shun the very items that parents are happy to provide? Parents find other reasons to buy. So this back-to-school season, and for more to come, we predict that the out-of-school shopping list will be as important as the in-school one. Of course, with many families continuing to stick to the kinds of tightened budgets that they adopted during the down economy of the past few years (despite some evidence that families are returning to their traditional retail options over “band-aids” like dollar stores), the necessities are a priority. But if your product or brand is no longer on that list, we think there’s still hope for you…

  1. Position your product or offering as essential to “after school.”
  2. Forego messages about success and readiness, the domain of those in-school products, and instead speak to parents’ belief in the importance of play.
  3. Leverage parents’ nostalgia for characters that they grew up with, and that might provide their offspring with the kind of out-of-school enjoyment that parents can recall—Ninja Turtles, anyone?
  4. Remind parents that the fall “reset” doesn’t just involve the re-establishment of serious routines—it can also be a time to plan for fun!
  5. Remember that out-of-school offerings have permission to be packaged differently—think family size and shareable versus lunchbox friendly. 

Tags: kids, mom, Teens, Back to School, dad, tweens, millennials

The Contested Meaning of Parental “Supervision” for Today’s Youth

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Aug 07, 2014 @ 03:58 PM

“Childhood isn’t what it used to be.”

This statement is often followed by an observation or perhaps a few statistics relatedGirlOnSwing 465184085 to the way kids don’t roam their neighborhoods the way they used to. While this fact is hard to dispute, the reasons why are highly debatable. Some suggest that technology and television have made nearby nature seem boring to today’s kids. Others blame it on parents who hover, the helicopter moms and dads who prefer to keep their progeny in close proximity.

But giving kids the freedom to roam, or permission to spend time alone, is hardly a universally welcomed solution. In fact, what constitutes healthy supervision for today’s kids has become the subject of some of the most intense societal debates today.

Over the past few weeks, two mothers were arrested from Florida and South Carolina for child neglect has brought to a boil a debate that’s been bubbling up for some time. The first mother was arrested for allowing her 7-year-old son to walk to a park a half mile from his house, and the second mother was arrested when another parent called the police after seeing her 9-year-old daughter playing alone in a park near her place of employment (McDonald’s). The coverage of these stories have positioned these women as symbols of the hardships faced by the working poor (particularly single mothers), the shift from personal involvement to policing, and the change in neighborhoods from ones that are safe and “local” to ones that feel unfit for kids to play in without adult supervision.

Childcare website “care.com” asserts with authority, “Never let your child cross the street by themselves before age 10.” On the other hand, advocates of the “Free Range Kids” movement remind concerned parents that statistics do not support their fears of random abductions.  While advocates of both positions will likely continue to disagree, a broader conversation worth happening might be “what constitutes supervision for today’s parents”?

For previous generations, supervision may have seemed more black and white – you were either with your parent or not, supervised or not so much. Today, parents – even helicopter parents – often keep in intimate contact with their children via text. Today’s latchkey kids can Skype mom and dad in the office when they arrive home. While it’s true that many kids are better equipped to enable and disable “parent” controls on their iPad, Kindle or laptop than their moms and dads, these virtual limits can be set without a parent actually being there. And while even a decade ago, parents had to pre-view a TV show or browse a website to know if their child was accessing age-appropriate content, now they can consult CommonSense Media for a full review – along with the age listed for appropriate use/viewing.

“Are these controls enough or too much?” seems to be the crux of the question on the minds of cultural critics. But we think it’s just as important to view this heated debate as a sign of its importance to parenting culture, and thus, to kids’ lives.

But what does this mean for anyone operating in the kid and parent space?

  • Don’t assume you know what “everyone” thinks about safety. Assume ambiguity, and don’t expect that you can predict what your audience thinks. Even the most research-reliant parents can admit that they still worry about kidnappings (despite “knowing” that their child is more likely to be abducted or abused by someone they know). Despite the risks associated with putting kids’ personal info online, many parents continue to post pics of their little ones online. Beliefs and practices don’t always match.
  • Do treat parents with respect. Parenting is hard and while many staunch defenders of the “free range” or the child supervision camp will suggest that the other side is damaging children, remember that most parents live somewhere in the middle. And sometimes for good reason. Remember that many parents don’t have the choice to supervise “ideally.” As the stories of these single mothers suggest, childcare is complicated and expensive. Age doesn’t always tell the story of a child’s level of responsibility. And keep in mind that compromising on a child’s safety isn’t something that most parents would ever do if they had another choice.
  • Reconsider the “permissive/restrictive” continuum. Most parents have complex relationships to the rules they establish for their kids, and what they permit them to do, when, and why. Labeling parents “restrictive” or “permissive” in any category is likely to mask a much more complex reality. Parents often consider context (e.g., sometimes parents who are strict about sugar are even stricter about making sure their children doesn’t insult another parent who has just offered them a treat. Respecting parents’ choices and realities related to their child’s safety, health and well-being starts with understanding their lives. 

Tags: kids, parents, mom, Youth, Teens, dad, tweens

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

Navigating the New Dad

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jun 15, 2012 @ 10:02 AM

Last year right around this time, we conducted a webinar, (click here to view) “The New Deal on Today’s Dads.”

We discussed the latest stats…Happy Father's Day

  • 290,000 children cared for by stay-at-home dads;
  • 24% of preschoolers are regularly cared for by their dads (full-time and part-time);
  • 1.7 million single dads with children under 18.

We shared five ways in which dads differ today - they are more:

  1. Involved than any cohort before them.
  2. Likely to identify with the role of fatherhood than dads of the past.
  3. Diverse than previous generations.
  4. Likely to seek out information on parenting than in the past.
  5. Likely to purchase products for the home than in the past).

Finally, we provided some “dos” and “don’ts” to help you speak to their needs and show their authentic experiences.

A year later, we wanted to take stock of what’s changed even in the short time that’s passed since we presented…

  • Dad ads have been held to a higher standard. It used to be that simply including a dad in a diaper ad would get you a lot of credit. But Huggies learned the hard way that today’s dads don’t just want to be shown, they want to be respected. When Huggies suggested that the ultimate torture test for their product was a day with dad, papas protested. As Heather Chaet suggests in a recent AdWeek article, the “doofus dad” might be doomed. Now comes the hard part – getting serious about exploring dad insights…How will you get it done?
  • Cliché’d dad humor has been deemed not so funny. James Poniewozik of Time recently wrote a column called “Daddy Issues? What’s so funny about men taking care of babies?” In it, he suggests that TV might be out of touch with the true lives of today’s dads – particularly when it comes to that modern classic joke: man with a baby carrier strapped to him. He notes the appearance of this bit in the pilots for upcoming shows Guys with Kids and Baby Daddy. It might be hard to blame them for coasting on the coattails of the Hangover (we can’t say that we ever tire of seeing Zach Galifinakis with a Baby Bjorn bound to him). But as Poniewozik suggests, this jocular jab at dads might be a bit weary. Yet all is not lost…Poniewozik gives props to the creators of Modern Family, Louie and Up All Night and upcoming Lifetime docudrama The Week The Women Went (in which the wives of blue collar workers leave their husbands for seven days while they take a realty-TV mandated vacation) for not only treating pops like people, but also introducing some fresh new father jokes. It’s not that dads aren’t funny – it’s just that dad jibes should be better.  
  • The modern dad has been mainstreamed. We noted that Pampers was already doing a great job recognizing dads through promotions and events designed to honor and inform them. But just because fatherhood is mainstreamed, it doesn’t mean all dads take the same approach. Like chic moms who fight the good fight against suburban malaise, Hipster Dad refuses to retreat into regular-ness just because he’s a dad. (Check out his interview with Honest Toddler here.) And speaking of keeping up with the times, more and more two-dad households have gotten attention in the past year. JCPenney (rising to the occasion after protests over employing Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson) recently ran a Father’s Day-focused ad featuring real-life same-sex couple Todd Koch and Cooper Smith playing with their children. Oprah gave Neil Patrick Harris and partner, David Burtka, a chance to let the world into a day-in-the-life of their family with an OWN special devoted just to them.
  • Moms have emerged as a newly defined market! Finally, mom marketing hasn’t fallen to the wayside in the wake of a focus on fatherhood…Instead, mom promotions have sought to identify the specific role that mom plays in many families; and working moms have become a bit more complicated. With better depictions of stay-at-home dads come more complex female characters who are both ambitious and attentive to their kids at the same time. If the rules of masculinity are changing, so are tenets of femininity.

Perhaps this Father’s Day’s gifts to dads (and moms) is a promise – we’ll take a closer look at who you are in the upcoming year. Make sure you and your brand don’t forget!

Tags: research, youth research, parents, family, dad, culture, parenting

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.

Preschoolers

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