5 New School Lunch Truths

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Sep 12, 2014 @ 01:58 PM

Kids across the country are officially back to school, and we thought we would kick off the119417656 school year with a few new “truths” related to one of the most important parts of kids’ and parents’ days: school lunch. Whether you’re concerned about the cafeteria consumer or the meal maker, there are a few new (or at least novel) truths that might change the way you think about fitting into this occasion:

  1. Time is of the essence. According to a study conducted by the Partnership to Promote Healthy Eating in Schools, 20 minutes should be allowed for lunch after children have sat down at their tables. In middle school, this means providing an adequate timeframe for kids to move from their class to the cafeteria, via their locker if necessary. It means having the right number of lines/cash registers to minimize the waiting time. And it means taking into account the load they’re carrying (can a tray fit on top of the pile of books they’re carrying, or do they need to factor in finding a spot at a table before they return to the lunch line). Of course, if you’re in food service, the implications are considerable. But even if you’re humbly hoping that your containers or snack foods make it to their bags or boxes, you have to keep in mind that convenience matters.
  2. Sharing isn’t the same as it used to be. Trading snacks, leering at the lunches of others – these are rituals that have almost completely disappeared. And where snack sharing is permitted, it’s certainly more limited than it used to be, given sensitivity to food allergies and eating restrictions imposed by parents. For today’s kids who are raised in a less critical and less judgmental culture regarding others (every family is different, every mom and dad have different rules about eating, etc.), they’re less likely to brag about their own lunch or look to others for food ideas. You know who does ask about school lunches? Moms and dads! Kids might be less inclined to share intel on their friend’s brown bag brings, but parents do ask.
  3. Speaking of parents…Parents might be privy to more information and opinions than ever when it comes to their kids’ food – especially in a setting like school. So, while it bucks the conventional wisdom, perhaps it’s not surprising that kids report that parents are more likely to introduce them to new school lunch foods than their friends (60% versus 37% for kids ages 6 to 10). Parents are all about healthy options and alternatives to old stand-bys, but they also want to pack lunches that are inspired and creative. Kids report that their favorite lunch foods are sandwiches, and their favorite beverage is water, but moms and dads sometimes want to send their little students to school with more exciting fare.
  4. Sustainable containers. As much as kids and parents might prefer coming home without extra dishes, today’s parents and kids often opt for containers that are more sustainable and reusable. It makes parents feel thrifty and kids feel like they’re heeding the many mentions of “earth-friendliness” that pervade their days.
  5. Brain food is better. Today’s kids often have a very different definition of lunchbox “treat” than kids from the past. This cohort can’t always have cupcakes at school on their birthdays, or bring candy in their lunch bags. They’re less exposed to sugary and salty vending machine snacks, and even juice boxes are often considered a once-in-a-while drink versus the refillable water bottle that kids often bring right into their classroom. Kids get constant communication about feeding their bodies – and their brains – with the right kind of food. Don’t put them in a bind – health isn’t a benefit that kids seek out, but it is one that they might respond to in surprisingly open ways.

When it comes to understanding school lunch, make sure your brand isn’t relying on outdated ideas or conventional wisdom that no longer tracks. Brands that stay current with today’s cafeteria are sure to get an “A” among parents, kids and even teachers.

Tags: kids, parents, family, Teens, Back to School, tweens, school, school lunch

Lollipop Seeds that Sprout for Kind Deeds

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 @ 09:20 AM

Lollipop SeedsWhen it comes to creating family traditions, many of today’s families – especially those headed by Millennials – seek less to recover the past than to adopt great new ideas. The Elf on the Shelf is not necessarily a new tradition but one that many kids consider timeless, while many of their parents take pride in knowing they’ve identified a great opportunity for family fun, and have created a tradition along the way. In our recent work with Millennial Moms, we found that they seek out ways to celebrate the little moments in their children’s days and calendars in ways that are more engaging for kids than any generation before them. Far from cynical about family-focused holidays and kid-events, they see them as sacred. At the same time, they look for ways to bring fun and play into these special days.

Enter a new idea for Easter that we think sits at the center of the Millennial family Zeitgeist. Cherri Prince, an alum of the advertising world (and, in full disclosure, a friend of YouthBeat!) has decided to bring her own family tradition to the world in the form of a new book and idea called Lollipop Seeds that Sprout for Kind Deeds. The concept:

  • Before Easter, kids must do something kind for someone.
  • The night before Easter, parents and kids join together to plant seeds in the backyard or in a pot.
  • The next morning, if kindness occurred, the seed will bloom into a lollipop garden!

In addition to a sweet treat, kids get a great lesson in the power of kind acts. And moms not only get the joy that only comes from watching kids get surprised, but they also have a great story to tell other moms – another element of the experience that Millennial Moms find hard to resist.

Tags: play, family, holiday

5 Ideas from the Elf on the Shelf

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Dec 06, 2013 @ 12:57 PM

Just after Thanksgiving this year, many households around the country welcomed a houseguest. It wasn’t an aunt or uncle from across the country. It wasn’t a college friend with their kids in tow. It was an Elf. And he showed up on a shelf.

Elf on the ShelfThe Elf on the Shelf tradition can be traced back to 2004, but has taken hold in households as if it had been around for decades. For the uninitiated, the Elf on the Shelf (whose story has been told through a self-published book written by mother and daughter team Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, and later turned into a holiday TV special) serves as Santa’s special envoy in the homes (and increasingly in the classrooms) of children everywhere. The Elf, assigned to the child, watches on Santa’s behalf, eager to catch good behavior or naughtiness! The child gets to name the Elf, but beyond that, the Elf decides where he’ll appear each morning. These Elves can get pretty creative, as shown in this video featuring the 125 best Elf ideas. We think there are lessons to learn from this phenomenon, which returned youth’s attention to the magic of the season just at a time when the getting of gifts often garners more attention than showing Santa you’re “good.”

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of surprise. While the Elf on the Shelf might have been compelling as Santa’s steadfast seer, he matters more because he’s “new” each day. Consider ways to keep the surprise and delight into your everyday offerings.
  2. Remember the power of being good. Young kids are obsessed with the rules, and interested in good versus bad. But often, this timeless trope is twisted – we forget that children want recognition for their good behavior as much as they seek to avoid getting in trouble for the bad. Find ways for your brand to catch them acting their best behavior. See Sprout’s wonderful campaign for kindness as an example. http://www.sproutonline.com/kindness-counts
  3. Keep it simple. With promotions in general, complexity is sometime mistaken for depth. The Elf on the Shelf premise might have meaning, but it does it through the most basic of mechanisms. Make sure your own “events” make participation and the pay-off as easy as possible.
  4. Build on existing traditions. The Elf on the Shelf may have been a novel idea, but it leveraged the legends of elves, Santa and the naughty list to keep the communication simple, and to ensure a place in the home during the holidays.  
  5. Get parents in on the action. While we don’t necessarily have an inside track on elves’ criteria for choosing their holiday homes, we can imagine that they prefer the ones where parents get involved in the fun. Remember to make your promotions not simply parent-friendly, but make them exciting and enjoyable for mom and dad.

Tags: play, family, holiday, parenting

Rethinking Intergenerational Influence

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 @ 10:56 AM

GrandparentsPick up any book for young children that include a reference to or visual of a grandparent, and you’re likely to see a sight unfamiliar to most youth of this generation. The days of the truly elderly grandma, who dons her apron all day and ricks the day away in quiet acceptance of old age are long gone. Many of today’s kids, tweens and teens have grandparents who struggle with the name “grandma” or “grandpa,” opting for sassier monikers to describe their relationship to their children’s children. Many Millennials and their younger counterparts know “grands” as folks who are fully engaged in work or their personal passions or travel. Many see their grandparents running or walking races, staying socially active and fully participating in life. In fact, for some youth, grandparents seem to have a much younger outlook on life than their own parents!

But when we think about the role that grandparents play in youth’s lives, we still tend to think of them as transmitters of tales from the past, or conveyors of fairly conventional life wisdom. It seems as though the kind of influence we attribute to grandparents hasn’t caught up with the way they really live and look at the world right now. Last week, we heard this story on NPR’s Story Corps (collected by Story Corps, an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives) and it reminded us of the way grandparents are and have been reframing their role from authoritative elder to trusted confidant. This tale, told by an adult grandson, describes his grandmother as his partner in crime – someone who would go on adventures with him, not simply warn him of their dangers or wait to hear his recap. He suggests that he didn’t always know where he fit in with the world – he felt like an outsider – and somehow it was his grandmother who (an outsider herself) made him feel like he “fit.”

Like this grandmother, today’s grandparents are sometimes more prepared to play than parent. In a world dominated by devices, they sometimes surprise and delight by bringing offline activities to their offspring’s homes. They are increasingly aware that their value doesn’t come from advising parents about the proper way to do things, but rather providing a break – for parents and for kids – from their daily routines. And for brands and retailers, grandparents represent not only a link to the past, but sometimes, the most forward thinking consumers in the lives of youth.

Tags: family, Youth, grandparents, culture, parenting

Back to School Means Back to Basics

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 @ 08:29 AM

156200911We admit it: the Miley Cyrus story that has dominated headlines this week begs for commentary from us. But with so much being said about the performance of this young star and youth favorite at the 2013 VMA Awards this past weekend, we’re not sure there’s much for us to add to a story that has easily entered media-frenzy mode. Instead, during a week when many commentators have questioned the values of youth, the moral of Millennials and the salaciousness of youth celebrities, we thought we’d focus on a story that’s more authentically affecting kids, tweens and teens around the country: back to school.

If you have kids in your home, you know that back to school is often filled with simple reminders of the timeless joys and fears of childhood. A letter from a new teacher can cause a kindergartner delight usually reserved for a new toy – and it can also cause anxiety about a new challenge ahead. Parents get giddy about the return to a routine – but they also watch, heart breaking, as their little ones take another step away from babyhood. And kids and parents everywhere lose sleep wondering what this year’s workload, teacher, mix of classmates or tryouts for varying activities will mean for how they spend the year ahead.

And this year, across the country, parents at new schools will ask questions about security. They’ll find out about no-tolerance bullying policies. And they’ll wonder if decreasing school budgets will mean the sports they love, or the classes they thrive in, or even the recess time they desperately need will remain available.

Above all, kids, tweens, teens, moms and dads will take a fresh look at how they’re all doing. They’ll resolve to make mornings easier, and they might even institute a new system to organize their households and their lives. They’ll prep new snack options, hoping that this is the year that carrots don’t come home from lunch! And they’ll set goals for who and how they want to be.

During this time, brands can serve as problem-solvers, but they can also take the higher ground: they can inspire and invoke parents’ and their children’s desire to be their best. It can also be a fresh start for brands and content creators, pushing them to take a look at what grade they hope to receive at the end of the year – and how they’ll get there. For youth marketers, back-to-school doesn’t have to mean back to normal – but it should be a call to go back to basics.

Tags: preschool, parents, family, culture, school

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, Youth, kids tweens teens, Lowe's

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

Talking to Kids About Tragedy

Posted by YouthBeat Speaks on Tue, Jul 24, 2012 @ 09:49 AM

Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of the tragedy in Aurora, CO. For kids, tweens and teens, tragedies affecting other children – even those that happen far away – can weigh heavily on their minds. Over the past few days, much has been written about how to talk to children about an event that is confounding even to the wisest adults. We recommend the APA’s (American Psychiatric Association) blogpost on this topic, found here.

The Team at YouthBeat

Tags: tragedy, family, youth media

Picky Eating and Parenting Wars

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 @ 03:37 PM

Kids ResearchIn Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic brings together hard data on the way we taste to challenge one of many measuring sticks that she claims parents use to compare how well they’ve done at raising respectable, reasonable rugrats. A self-proclaimed picky eater, Lucianovic resists the notion that kids don’t eat whatever is on their plate because of their parents prep (or lack thereof). Instead, she suggests that proclaiming one’s own child to be a good eater is just one more front in the mommy and daddy wars. In a New York Times blog, she points to this politicization of parenting’s predecessors: breastfeeding battles, sleep-habit superiority, and the stay-at-home mom hostility, just to name a few. And she asks, what if being a picky eater has nothing to do with bad parenting, as your friend, whose child eats everything might imply?

Lucianovic seems to pick a side in the parenting wars versus truly catalyzing a truce (which she claims to be her goal). But wherever you stand on the nurture/nature continuum, it’s hard not to see that Lucianovic has identified an insight about parents and parenting today. Whether the subject is sending a kid with a fall birthday to kindergarten at 4 or at 5 (see the 60 Minutes piece from this past weekend entitled “Redshirting:  Holding Kids Back from Kindergarten”), or the ideal age for cell phone acquisition, today’s parents’ decisions might be based on what’s right for their child, but whether they’re concerned about it or not, are likely to face the scrutiny of others. Thus, whether their child’s choice of afternoon snack seems like a big deal to them or not, the amplification of advice from all aspects of the expert universe might make them place more importance on the specific ways they scaffold their children than they might naturally do.

So how can brands and organizations navigate the new obstacles that their parent purchasers or influencers face?

  • First, don’t assume that all parents are on the same side of issues – regardless of the demographic markers they might share. Although issues like holding back kids from kindergarten may be one that is on the radar of middle and upper income families more than lower income families, don’t assume they all fall out on the same side.
  • Look for ways to solve the problems that many moms and dads face, but don’t pile on the judgment that they’re likely to be feeling already.
  • Finally, don’t assume that parenting decisions are “set” early and remain the same. Today’s parents are constantly confronted with new information and changing contexts in which to evaluate them. What worked today (or what worked for one child) might not work for another.

Tags: youth research, food, menu, family, culture

Making Retro Refreshing: Radio Flyer Reinvented

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jun 29, 2012 @ 08:31 AM

Radio FlyerThe first brand I worked on out of college, back in my ad agency days, was an iconic teen brand (which will rename nameless) that had seen better days. If you’ve worked on one of these brands, you know they can simultaneously elicit overwhelming affection and extreme frustration from those charged with nurturing them. Their brand caretakers wrestled with retaining the brand’s charm and reenergizing it at the same time. This is particularly true for the stewards of youth brands, who may have memories of the role the brand played in their own lives, but who have to rediscover the right way for these brands to connect with today’s youth.  We’re often asked for guidelines or rules for keeping classic brands cool…Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all in this regard. But we think Radio Flyer has struck a nice balance between authentic and exciting with some of their most recent innovations. Here’s how they’ve done it:

  1. They built from, not against their brand.  While Radio Flyer could have gone “everything container,” or even everything wagon, the brand seems to have recognized early on that its style was as important as its ride. Sure, its offerings are almost all of the four-wheeled variety (with the exception of little wheelbarrows and rocking horses), but they stand out versus the competition because they’ve kept to their classic look. Many brands have made wagons – even red ones – but the shape, the style and the lollipop-delicious-look of Radio Flyer products take them from scooter to sculpture. And when they have walked away from heritage red, they kept it basic: pink for girl trikes and primary colors as accents to their steer and fold riders. The essence of Radio Flyer exists in the middle of nostalgic and modern, and the brand seems to embrace it in product type, form, and aesthetic.    
  2. They found a way to fit families (not the other way around). The little red wagon might represent the most basic mode of transportation for the kid set (and for their stuff), but today’s parents are far from simple when it comes to their strollers. This generation of parents – especially those living in urban areas where your carriage carries more cache than your car – see their prams as much more than practicalities. It might be retro, but Radio Flyer delivers on timely design. Not only are the sleek lines and nostalgic materials (wood and aluminum) hip again, but the available add-ons make the wagon the perfect transition from baby’s stroller to big kid’s transport. With padded seats, beverage carriers and sun-shading umbrellas, the new Radio Flyer wagons meet the needs of moms and dads while the cushier seats suit the bottoms of the post-Pamper set.     
  3. They gave families a reason to re-buy, not re-use. Finally, following a trend set by many entrenched brands looking to re-establish their relevance, Radio Flyer went the custom route. Sure, you might have an old red wagon in your garage. But now you can get one made to order, with your child’s name on it. You can pick your own design, making the old fashioned four-wheeler fit whatever your style is. And it doesn’t just stop with wagons.  Radio Flyer kept the technology of their scooters simple – and reminiscent of the scooters they’ve sold since the 1920s – but they give kids a chance to put their personal stamp on them. The Style N’ Ride brings the customization and collectability of charm bracelets to a much more active mode of play.

Of course, keeping a brand strong over time is easier said than done. But we think Radio Flyer shows that oldies can be goodies if they’re treated with the care and consideration they deserve.

Tags: research, play, parents, Sports, outside, family, kids tweens teens