YouthBeat Celebrates Moms!

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Fri, May 12, 2017 @ 03:53 PM

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Moms today are forging a path in a world very different from the one in which they were raised.  And at the same time, some maternal practices and principles are eternal.

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Girl power!  Momming involves a series of decisions that span the mundane (do they HAVE to match their socks?) to the pivotal (which high school will they attend?).  Most moms are at peace with the way they handle them.

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Compared to prior generations, today’s moms are less “helicopter” and more “Om.” They exhale, let go of the small things, and focus on what’s really important in raising their children.

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For her grade-schoolers and middle-schoolers, mom’s most important goal is teaching them to be decent human beings.  It’s the hardest thing she has to do, but well worth the toil.Mothers Day_infographic elements_4.png

 

The Mommy Wars aren’t completely over.  That said, girlfriends will cut each other some slack because they know parenting can be such a challenge today.

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Be it comic books, TV, or the Internet, media has always spurred adult worry about children becoming addicted or ill-influenced.  Most of today’s moms aren’t too worried, but some carry a glimmer of doubt.

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Tags: parents, mom, kids tweens teens, parenting

Brands Capitalize on Youth Influencing Parents

Posted by Jane Ott on Thu, Dec 01, 2016 @ 09:37 AM

The more technology proliferates our lives, the more native kids become to any aspect of technology, often putting them in the position of being the in-house “experts” and helping mom and dad with setting up and programming devices.  Combined with Gen Z kids having an increasing say in non-traditional household matters (such as travel and tablets) as we’ve seen in our YouthBeat parents’ data, this generation has been dubbed as “reverse influencers” – they influence their parents just as much as their parents influence them. 

Marketers have been capitalizing on this trend by engaging kids in their advertising from the ground up – influencing parents by giving their kids a role in the marketing game.  It’s not a new concept, engage kids to ask for something to spur parent purchases, or even use kids to market a product not at all related to them.  And, parents hear multiple requests in a day, even in an hour.  So what is it about these marketing campaigns that look different with this generation? 

  • They break away from products that kids traditionally have had influence on
  • They offer parents a new way to connect with their kids and tug at emotional ties by sharing a kids’ point of view of something that parents may take for granted
  • They give kids an opportunity to push boundaries and shine in a grown up world by validating their feelings, dreams, and imaginations
  • They focus on simple tenets of childhood that every kid, and parent, can relate to
  • They take it beyond traditional media into new formats or tie ins with relevant causes to reinforce the message   

What are some of the brands that are doing this well?   Some of our favorites include:

  • Dove’s Love your Curls. This commercial, as well as their related book of poetry and curly hair people emojis reminds us that parents and kids win when we show kids how to love themselves, just as they are:

Tags: advertisment, parents, Youth, TV, marketing, brands

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

Participation Trophies According to Kids, Tweens, and Parents

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Nov 12, 2015 @ 12:02 PM

cartoon kid trophyThis year, we at YouthBeat have been talking about a new kind of parenting style we call “Om” Parenting.  The “Om” is a guttural exhale, a release of stress and negative energy.  As a parenting style, it’s characterized by common sense, reality checks, and raising children with healthy senses of responsibility and dignity.  Some of the ways “Om” parents encourage independence and resilience are through letting their children fail and solve their own problems, and through letting their children go without luxuries or extras in order to appreciate what they do have.

An “Om” parent might act similarly to James Harrison from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who this summer famously declined sports participation trophies for his sons.  His gesture encouraged his children to work hard to earn an emblem of success, rather than receive a shiny object merely for showing up to a game. 

But how do youth feel about their participation trophies?  This was one of the questions our friends at Highlights explored in their 2015 State of the Kid research report.  In the spirit of full disclosure, C+R conducted the fieldwork for the research this year and in 2014.  Though the majority of 6-8 year-olds and 9-10 year-olds say they want the trophy just for playing, some of them acknowledge that when a statue is a sure thing, everyone might not bring their A game.  The bulk of oldest kids 11-12 prefer to only receive a trophy when winning, as a more meaningful token of success.

All told, participation trophies are probably here to stay in the near term, at least for younger athletes.  Proponents say they foster a love of the game and a healthy sense of “doing one’s best,” rather than a thirst to outdo others.  Each family must decide for themselves what works best.

This year’s State of the Kid Report also explores youth attitudes around parental discipline and indulgence.  Highlights’ 2015 report is available for download, along with prior editions of the report.

Tags: kids, parents, Trophies, Youth, tweens

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

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

5 Reasons Why Teens Love the Youngest Jenner Girls

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 @ 04:09 PM

Kendall and Kylie Jenner

On the surface, Kendall and Kylie Jenner are not relatable in any sense of the word. They come from one of the most globally recognizable families in the world. They call an Olympic athlete their dad and a “Momager” their mom.  Kendall Jenner’s IMDB bio describes her as an “American socialite, television personality and model.” Kylie Jenner hangs with Will Smith’s son, movie star Jaden Smith. Their famous sisters (and half brothers) have had self-titled TV shows, and almost everyone in their family of drinking age is paid in the thousands of dollars for merely appearing at a party. Not to mention that their lives have been filmed and broadcast since the age of 10 (Kylie) and 12 (Kendall).

But despite the odds, they might have just become role models of a certain sort to today’s youth. What makes these girls the celebs of the moment goes beyond good marketing and a public platform that is arguably unrivaled (although those help). We think that they were far from destined to become today’s trendiest teens (with millions following them on Twitter). And while there are many reasons why adults might critique their particular brand of fame, we’re endlessly curious about the reasons why these girls have connected with today’s teens.

  1. They defy the script. Despite being part of the most scripted unscripted family of all time, the youngest Jenner sisters consistently seem to speak in a different tone, in a different way than their older counterparts. Kylie dyes her hair blue. Kendall prefers to portray herself as awkward and anti-social versus gregarious and polished. They publicly criticize their celebrity family (all the while, reassuring listeners that they’re all about familial love). They sometimes shun the camera (all the while, continuing to post selfies of all sorts).
     
  2. They eschew entitlement. Like their older sisters, these girls seem to engage in deals across multiple domains. But the image they’ve cultivated is one that suggests that they are workers. Beyond constantly praising the work ethic of their parents, they have served as “interns,” designers for a line at Pac Sun (who, in the “fashion” of the day, claim to be hands on, and they’ve written a fictional novel). Even Kendall’s recent success as a model feels like it’s fueled more by the kind of flow she gets from pursuing a lifelong passion (even though, in early episodes of the series, she buckled under the pressure her older sister put on her to take modeling classes).
     
  3. They have issues. But they have the right kind of issues – teen angst, sibling rivalry, a little bit of narcissism - but they’re not known for promiscuity, overindulgence, or insensitivity. Remember, their young fans are much more morally self-righteous than we might expect. Tweens, in particular,are quick to feel uncomfortable when their idols make ill-advised decisions.
     
  4. They care about creativity. They represent a kind of creative class of youth that feels both age-appropriate and consistent with the ethos of their cohort of youth. It’s unlikely that teens will read the countless scathing reviews of their newest endeavor, a novel entitled Rebels: City of Indra, and instead will see them as “authors” of a form that feels different than the memoirs of their famous sister and mother. They treat fashion with reverence that helps to elevate their occupation as “designers” and models to a respectable height. And their boho style, while fueled by designer labels, feels more earthy and relatable to today’s teen girls who see themselves as more creative than  luxury-laden. 
     
  5. They’re connected. It’s not just about tweeting or posting a never-ending stream of images on Instagram. They’re connected to each other – they come as a pair like so many popular kid and teen characters (remember Mary Kate and Ashley?). They are surrounded by people and have a built in social club in the form of their siblings. This reassurance that these stylish, attractive girls are also part of a larger team is critical to keeping them within reach. 

Tags: girls, parents, novel, Youth, Teens, fashion, TV, tweens, books

Reflections From a (U.S.) Youth Researcher Abroad

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

Recently, our family spent spring break in Italy with two boys of our own, and two nephews allItaly under the age of six. While technically “off the clock,” I couldn’t help but bring my researchers’ eyes along for the ride. This is by no means a scientific study, but this fresh look at youth and this, admittedly, random collection of observations and reminders has left me with ideas and inspiration for the past few weeks. I hope they do the same for you!

  • The slides are steeper.  In the town where we stayed, the fountain at the piazza’s center was backed by a modern playground comprised of colorful slides, bridges and tunnels, and climb-able trucks and trains. By all accounts, this play space looked like it could have been in Chicago or New Jersey, or anywhere else in the world. Except for the slide. It was STEEP! As if our American-ness wasn’t already apparent in this off-the-beaten path town, the way we gawked at the tall yellow slide signaled that we were not from “around here.” But what insight can possibly be gleaned from the slope of a slide? Like so many European TV programs (if you ever have the chance, see the brilliant David Kleeman’s presentation on the big risks that children’s television takes in other markets around the world), risk looks a little different outside our borders. There was hardly glass on the ground, and no dangerous characters lingered by the swings, but this playground didn’t have signs signaling appropriate ages, and it had one heck of a drop from the top. The fun for kids from this whizzzzzzzz came from taking off, however tentatively, one’s cloak of nervousness to experience the joy and
    bravado that comes from tackling a phobia. More was at stake on this slide than on their safer American counterparts. Too bad for all the undercover superheroes in the U.S. just waiting for their chance to fly.
  • Play is a language. The highlight of our vacation, at least for me, came not from watching the sun set over a grove of olive trees (although that was nice) or a glass of vino with family (nice as well) but watching my six year old son negotiate a game of tag with a new friend. Beyond a “bon giorno” and a cautious “hello,” the two children had little to discuss. But they were able to gesture and smile their way through a fairly recognizable game of tag (with my son’s new Italian friend sometimes hugging instead of simply tagging!). It reminded me that play is a language all its own, and it travels. The impulse to play is something that adults sometimes try to manage, promote and steer, but the desire to connect in un-productive leisure represents something more powerful than many adults can understand or facilitate. Play pushes its way through barriers of all sorts, including language barriers, to become the language itself.
  • They have the same Legos everywhere. Globalization and consumer culture are weighty issues—and ones that marketers often view very differently than the many critics who consider the loss of local flavor (in addition to many other potentially deleterious effects). But there was something amazing about the way that characters and properties bond children across the globe. Beyond Cartoonito’s decidedly dark rendition of Heidi, many of the shows on Italian TV were familiar to our kids. This universal culture might have its downsides—and in the least, suggests we should treat these ubiquitous exports as sacred symbols—but it also serves to make children comfortable across strange lands. When my son saw his favorite Legos in the window of a toy store in downtown Chiavari, he was home.
  • “New” can be nice. It could be these specific kids, or it could be this cohort of youth, but the differences in pizza, ice cream, language, and environment and even in other people didn’t seem to faze our young travelers. The excitement came from the same sources it typically did—from really, really good gelato. Or a particularly challenging playground bridge. Or that steep slide. But without making a big deal about what was different, our kids seemed to think that most things were pretty much the same. Kids are shockingly adaptable if we allow them to be. For all the concern that modern parents face about fixing schedules and helping children adjust to new experiences, kids not only survive but often thrive when they must encounter and integrate the “new.” It goes without saying that this is where learning and growth live—not just for kids, but for adults as well.

Tags: toys, food, travel, kids, play, parents, Youth, TV, culture, youth media, speaking

What’s the Power in Parentology?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 08, 2014 @ 03:50 PM

ParentologyToday’s parents have more information than ever about parenting; but that might be part of the problem. At least according to Dalton Conley, author of Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About The Science of Raising Kids But Were Too Exhausted to Ask. Despite the sub-title of his book, and the blurbs on the back cover from Tiger Mom’s Amy Chua, and Bringing Up Bebe author Pamela Druckerman, Conley doesn’t necessarily intend to add to the long shelf of self-help books. (In fact, he points out the “one” place where he agrees with Chua in his book, suggesting he doesn’t, in most cases, and he identifies himself as more of an “Italian papa” than a French mere.) Instead, he promotes and chronicles a “new” approach to parenting: “parentology.” While he is a sociologist by training, and does tap into some of the key, recent texts in that field (see our blog post on one of his cited works, Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods), he suggests his parenting journey is one based more on improvisation. Conley outlines three components of the parentology philosophy of “highly engaged child-rearing”:

  1. Accesses all relevant research
  2. Makes a practice of constantly weighing said research against one’s own experience and common sense
  3. Invents unique methodologies on the fly and fearlessly carries them out in order to test creative hypotheses about best practices for one’s own particular offspring

As antonyms to parentology, Conley lists: “Old-world parenting, traditional parenting, textbook parenting, tiger mothering, and bring up bebe.”   

Conley’s genre-bending book reads more like a memoir than a parenting manual. And as the former Dean of NYU, a sociologist by training, and a New York City dad, his story is hardly representative of those of that imaginary “typical” parent that marketers and researchers so often rely on for “authentic” insight.

So what does a book like this help us know or understand about parents or their kids that they’re raising today?

  1. They seek out research. Sure, most parents aren’t consulting social science journals – and wouldn’t necessarily know where to look if they did – but they do have more and more “research” at their fingertips. Instead of googling a second opinion, Conley seeks out experts in the relevant field.
  2. They recognize research’s limits. Even the most academically-inclined among us must admit that the research doesn’t reveal magic bullets when it comes to parenting or to understanding kids. Conley’s journey manifests a reality that many students come to know: just when you thought one theory held the key to your conundrum, another theorist or study counters it. This doesn’t suggest that there’s no point in consulting studies and experts. But it does suggest that the search for the holy grail of putting an infant to bed with ease, potty training, college applications, etc. just doesn’t exist. And most parents come to the realization, much like Conley does, that at some point your gut really matters.
  3. They know that kids are messy-- I mean unique. We admit it – most kids aren’t reading the same textbooks we are. They don’t often fit into neat developmental models, and while it’s incredibly satisfying when these theories help us predict or explain something we see in the world, the truth is that most kids are messy. There, we said it. They fail to comply with the “rules” that experts purport. Or worse, they play fair for one or two days, or maybe even a year, and then they defy their parents by growing, changing and evolving in directions that are sometimes unpredictable. Parents know this. Marketers reluctantly admit this.
  4. They have to laugh. Conley reminds us that part of parenting resilience must include a sense of humor. It’s not only important to laugh with your kids, but to sometimes take great joy and find the kind of humor that you can’t find on any screen in the ridiculousness that is sometimes childhood (and parenthood). We think Conley’s work works because it doesn’t slip into cynicism or snark (except when it does), but rather maintains the loving, knowing tone of a father who has failed as often as he succeeded and kids who make the world complex more often than they simplify it.

We think these are attributes that many of today’s parents – especially Millennial moms and dads – share. And we wonder if “parentology” might not be an approach to parenting with more longevity than the methods that have made it to the mainstream in the past few years.

Tags: youth research, play, parents, parenting

Why Kids Need to Find the Forest

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 06, 2013 @ 01:03 PM

Toys “R” Us began airing their 2013 holiday campaign before trick or treaters even made it around the block. But an early start to holiday advertising isn’t really news and hardly caught our attention. Instead, it was the content of the TV commercial, created by the agency, The Escape Pod that took us by surprise.

The spot starts with a man telling the audience (presumably adults) that a group of kids are about to go on “the best fieldtrip they could wish for – and they don’t even know it.” Ranger Brad enthusiastically ushers a line of elementary schoolers onto a green bus, which reads “Meet the Trees Foundation” on its side. A moment later, he asks the students to play “name that leaf…” Cut to a close-up of a yawning little boy, next to a stone-faced classmate. And then the reveal: Ranger Brad rips off his ranger shirt to expose a Toys “R” Us shirt. “We’re not going to the forest today – we’re going to Toys “R” Us! You’re going to get to choose any toy you want!” Children cheer and triumphant music plays. The Toys “R” Us logo shines from the TV screens behind Ranger Brad, as if he’s (a scaled down) Steve Jobs revealing the iPhone.

In its short time on air, the spot has garnered attacks from predictable critics, The American Forest Foundation and The Sierra Club have penned astute reviews that suggest that this kind of nature-bashing is detrimental to the environmental movement. Raz Godelnik, the co-founder of Eco-Libris who also teaches courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development at Parsons The New School for Design and The University of Delaware’s Business School points out that Toys “R” Us seems to be promoting an unsustainable kind of holiday. Godelnik notes that the Toys “R” Us sustainability page is vacant. Numerous websites have suggested that holiday shoppers boycott Toys “R” Us and take a stand for forests, trees and everything green.

Most of these critics suggest that Toys “R” Us has pitted commercialism against environmentalism – and that’s hard to deny. We agree that the authentic, magical moment of a child getting a toy of their dream is surely a moment that feels like wish fulfillment. From our perspective, it’s not the fantasy of getting a favorite toy that bothers us. We find this ad troubling because it taps into an insight that it assumes to be authentic…The “torture test” featured in this ad suggests that the most boring situation imaginable – the one that allows for a moment of significant surprise – involves learning about nature. We don’t know if youth viewing this ad will actually get the joke (in fact, Ranger Brad seems like a particularly engaging ambassador of the outdoors). But perhaps Toys “R” Us believes that parents will.

And according to statistics from a myriad of sources, today’s children are less connected to nature than ever. In fact, at the same time that Toy R Us is airing it’s campaign poking fun at the forest, the U.S. Forest Service, with the help of the Ad Council, has been making an effort to promote the joys of “finding the forest.” On the same day that we saw Toys “R” Us imply the drudgery of detecting the difference between a field maple and an oak leaf, we heard a radio spot suggesting that a trip to the forest could be as fun as parents remembered it.

In very different ways, both spots convey the same message: many youth may not find the forests to be fun, and certainly don’t find them on their own. We suggest that brands and companies seek ways to change this story, not perpetuate it.  And we propose looking for ways to make your messages align with, not fight against, the sustainable future that today’s children and parents want to achieve – even if they don’t always know how to do it.

Tags: toys, kids, parents, kids tweens teens, culture