Pearls of Wisdom: Millennials vs. Gen Z Edition

Posted by Manda Pawelczyk on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 @ 10:30 AM

Pearls of Wisdom: Millennial vs. Gen Z Edition

Spring is graduation season – a time of caps, gowns, diplomas, and graduation speeches, where speakers pass down ‘wisdom’ to the graduates. Today’s high school graduates are members of Generation Z, so we wanted to dive deeper into the advice they are receiving on this major milestone, what that means for the overall attitudes and behaviors of this generation, and how that differs from the graduating classes that came before them. 

This is a generation that lived through the downturn of the economy. They have watched parents, older siblings, and other members of their community struggle. While Millennials grew up believing the world was their oyster, Gen Zers take a more practical approach – understanding that life won’t always be rosy and that it will take hard work and sacrifices to reach their goals. Through the years, we have seen a shift in the most popular high school commencement speeches – from a tone of hope and optimism to one of realism.   

Words of wisdom to Millennials:

Bill Clinton, Sidwell Friends School, 1997
“We celebrate your passage into the world in a hopeful time for our Nation and for people throughout the world. For the first time in history, more than half of all the world's people live free, under governments of their own choosing. The cold war has given way to the information age, with its revolutions in technology and communications and increasingly integrated economies and societies. Scientific advances and a growing global determination to preserve our environment give us hope that the challenges of the 21st century can be met in ways that will permit us to continue the advance of peace and freedom and prosperity throughout your entire lives.”

Doug Marlette, Durham Academy, 2005
“There is hope. And today is the beginning, Square One, for all of you…Ease up on yourselves. Have some compassion for yourself as well as for others. There’s no such thing as perfection, and life is not a race.”

Ray Sidney, Edwin O. Smith High School, 2007
“Know that with hard work you can achieve great goals, but also know that there’s more to life than just your career. If all you ever do is work, you will regret it.  You will look back on your life, and no matter how much you have accomplished, you will wish that you had lived differently. Play time and family time and sleep time are all necessary for you to recharge yourself, to keep yourself from burning out, to get perspective on what you’re doing and what your life means, and to get good ideas for the future.”

Jonathan Youshaei, Deerfield High School, 2009
“We also hold the power to turn our dreams into reality, which is another part of achieving 7/7ths. But at 18 years young, it’s hard to know what your dream is. Sure, some of us may know what we want to do in life, but even those people may find a new inspiration along the way. So for the many of us still trying to figure out what we want to do, just give it time, and you’ll find your dream or maybe it’ll find you. And when you find that dream, you gotta get after it, protect it, and dare to be idealistic. Just like with failure, though, society has turned us against that word — idealism. But make no mistake about it; we desperately need more idealistic thinkers in the world today.”

Said to those on the cusp of the two generations:

David McCullough Jr., Wellesley High School, 2012
“You are not special.  You are not exceptional.  Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests…you’re nothing special.  You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless…we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…Now it’s “So what does this get me?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.” 

And the graduation messages given to Generation Z:

Michelle Obama, Santa Fe Indian School, 2016
“Now, I know that perhaps I’m asking a lot of all of you. And I know that sometimes all those obligations might feel like a heavy burden. I also know that many of you have already faced and overcome challenges in your lives that most young people can’t even begin to imagine—challenges that have tested your courage, your confidence, your faith, and your trust.

But, graduates, those struggles should never be a source of shame—never—and they are certainly not a sign of weakness. Just the opposite. Those struggles are the source of your greatest strengths. Because by facing adversity head on and getting through it, you have gained wisdom and maturity beyond your years.”

Larssa Martinez, McKinney Boyd High School, 2016
“Let me be frank.  I am not going to stand up here and give you the traditional Hallmark version of a valedictorian speech.  Instead I would like to offer you a different kind of speech. One that discusses expectations versus reality…When people see me standing up here, they see a girl who is Yale bound, and who seems to have her life figured out.  But that is far from the whole truth.  So at this time, if I may, I would like to convey my fair share of realities.”

The messages given during graduation ceremonies are just one of the ways we have seen a shift in the way that Millennials and Generation Z think and act. If you would like to find out more about how Generation Z and Millennials differ, Mary McIlrath will be presenting a retrospective look at both generations at the Marketing to Generation Z Conference in New York on July 20, 2016. You can click here to register attend the conference! If you plan to attend, let us know so we can give you our sponsor discount code!

Tags: Education, youth research, school, millennials, Gen Z, generation research, high school, graduation

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

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

3 Back-to-School Rules

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 02, 2013 @ 10:21 AM

Back to school shopping is well underway, although in some parts of the country, the first day of school is over a month away. According to the 2013 National Retail Federation Back-to-School survey,  24% of families with kids in K through 12th grades reported that they would begin shopping 2 months prior to school’s start (up slightly from 22% last year). The New York Times noted that some marketers began to plant the seeds for back-to-school shopping as early as May, citing Office Depot’s One Direction cause marketing campaign as an example. But with most marketers bracing for a back-to-school shopping period in which spending will decrease from last year’s record highs, getting back-to-school marketing, advertising, product selection and pricing will be more important than ever. How can retailers and marketers compete for these fewer dollars and deliver the needs of more discriminating back-to-school shoppers in 2013? We’ve got three rules for back-to-school that smart marketers will follow:

  1. kmartFocus on value, not price. Price might be prominent on the minds of moms, but she’s not willing to compromise – even when she has a coupon. We think Target gets it right this back-to-school season with their “Kids Got Style” campaign. Moms know that Target offers low prices (“Expect More, Pay Less.”). But compared to Kohl’s back-to-school campaign, which focuses on mom saving (even showing a close-up of the receipt that suggests she saved over $80), Target keeps the focus on delivering kid confidence.  Stylish products take center-stage, but the hero isn’t mom – it’s their confident kids. Target makes mom’s mission more admirable – it’s about getting the best (in a fiscally responsible way), not about pinching a few pennies.  
  2. Keep it light. While Target might have the market cornered on showing kids with style, Kmart has taken a refreshing approach – showing the funnier side of back-to-school. In a bully-sensitive schoolyard, an ad that shows kids “talking trash” might be a risky move. But this playful piece from the discount retailer turns the tables on typical kid slams. The kid stars of these spots, who reflect a more diverse kid cohort and who look decidedly real, call each other out with clever comebacks like “yo mama must have cavities because that hoodie (that she bought at Kmart) is sweeeeet!” Or (our personal favorite), “Your mama’s like a tasty cheese plate because she saved so much cheddar on those Kmart jeans.” Just try to stay stressed out about long back-to-school shopping lists after watching this spot.
  3. Give her a guide. Much has been made of the lengths that moms will go to comparing prices and online pre-shopping before heading to the store for back-to-school stuff. But the smartest marketers don’t depend on mom doing all her homework. In fact, one trend we think that’s worth following? Help mom make the grade. Pottery Barn Kids caters to a mom who is willing to pay a premium for a custom carrying case, and the retailed knows that these moms really want to get their kids’ gear right. On their website, they let moms shop by child grade – particularly useful for finding the right size backpack for that not-so-preschool, but not-so-big-kid backpack. Moms might be willing to look around for the perfect products for her kids, but she also values brands that give her the reassurance that she’s getting size and style right the first time. At back-to-school, showing you understand what kids need matters as much as offering a varied selection.

Tags: youth research, preschool, advertisment, shopping, school

Kids, Tweens, Teens On-the-Field Talking-Trash

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 03, 2013 @ 09:23 AM

200225711 001Sports might be one of our favorite topics at YouthBeat – we’ve written about the Olympics and sportsmanship, soccer and head-related injuries, LeBron James and loyalty (from kids’ perspective) and more. We’ve also written about the state of sportsmanship in a blog on winning and on discussions of Silent Saturdays (a designated day in which soccer parents and coaches are asked to keep quiet on the sidelines) , the shifting role of the sports dad in conference presentations and in our YearBook. So, naturally, we felt compelled to weigh in on New Jersey’s recent decision to treat teens’ on-the-field trash-talking as a Civil Rights violation.

The new rules enforced by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association and the State’s Attorney General require that “obscene gestures, profanity or unduly provocative language or action toward officials, opponents, or spectators” be reported to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights. The rules fall under New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act and make it clear that the Act extends not only to locations outside of school (as originally stipulated) but specifically to the fields and courts where high school athletes play.

While educators and coaches will likely debate about how to enforce this Act, it’s likely that another debate will soon surface: whether a ban on trash-talking shows consistency and sensitivity or an over-regulating of children’s lives. Put another way, is “handling” trash-talking something that marks a mature athlete (i.e., one who can block out distracting fans or competitors’ chatter) or is on-field harassment as dangerous and damaging as a vicious Facebook campaign or a taunt in the school hallways?

In full disclosure, I should reveal having partaken in some trash-talking in my day. Some of my most bitter rivals from my soccer playing days were both the subjects of my in-game goads, and, years later, bridesmaids in my wedding! A few are neighbors whose kids play with my kids on the playground. For all of us, trash-talking was part of the game and it was easily forgiven after the fact.

But for today’s youth, bullying isn’t something that they’re permitted to accept as being part of childhood. Today’s youth know that words can be weapons, and weapons whose cuts can last. So it seems increasingly difficult to identify places where verbal punches should be seen as permissible. And while adult athlete might temporarily cringe at the sanitizing of sports in this way, it’s hard to argue that respecting others should stop once you walk on to the place where, for those same athletes, the goal is to be one’s best self.

Tags: Education, bullying, Sports, free time, school

Why Back to School Should Start with an Understanding of “School”

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 @ 09:09 AM

Marketers tend to seek insights about adolescents outside the classroom – in their culture, in their extracurriculars, etc. But sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much time youth spend in schools during the day. As it should be (at least we think), these spaces are considered sacred and generally off-limits to non-academic researchers. However, understanding their attitudes towards school can shed light on the state of mind and on the characteristics of this cohort. What engages them intellectually? What does it feel like to walk through the hallways of their own schools? And, how do they view the adults they interact with almost everyday of their lives?

for web 57447358In a July 2012 study of 981 high school students (an equal mix of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors), C+R Research found that some things never change, but of course, this creative and connected generation may be perceiving and experiencing school life differently than we might think.

We asked our survey respondents to choose the three words that best describe their school. Overwhelmingly, teens described their schools as “competitive” and “challenging,” but also “friendly” and “interesting.” Over 50% of freshmen say that science or math is their favorite subject – but only 32% of seniors share this sentiment. And, when it comes to food in the cafeteria? Boys and girls both agree that the options better suit the boys’ tastes than the girls’.

Recently we’ve taken to watching the documentary series, “Kindergarten” on HBO Family. Like the series, “High School,” before it, this tot doc shows how 5- and 6- year-olds handle the big transition from home to school – following a real-life kindergarten classroom from day one to the “moving on” ceremony. A view of this show reminds us what really gets little guys going and how a thoughtful teacher can engage and invite even the most timid early learners. (My own four-year-old is riveted!)

Knowing what their everyday lives are really like further contextualizes their out of school time (are we surprised that some kids want to lounge on the couch, after seeing the rigorous schedule they keep at many schools?). Knowing what topics they care about in school can inspire innovation even more than an investigation of what they already do after school. And knowing about their school day makes the causes they care about outside of school make more sense. So next time you want to understand eating, viewing or participating in sports, start with what’s going on in the place where youth spend most of their hours. You may find that what happens in school is closer to their hearts than you might have thought.

Tags: preschool, bullying, Sports, Teens, free time, reading, school

Mom Confidence: What Back to School Ads Really Sell

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 @ 11:59 AM

With summer winding down, back-to-school advertising has come on full force. According to the National Retail Federation, $83 billion will be spent for back-to-school 2012, and the fight for those dollars has already begun. Retailers have been on air with messaging about new jeans, school supplies, and lunchbox fare for weeks. Brands have begun to release reminders that the choice of gluestick and even sticky-note matter…

describe the imageEven though a Yahoo webinar from April 2012 suggested that back-to-school advertisers should remember that back-to-school shopping isn’t all about moms (“23% of dads and 84% of teens say they're getting more involved in back-to-school shopping; 80% of those in charge of making back-to-school purchases say their children influence what's actually bought”), it seems that back-to-school ads are taking some typical approaches to tantalizing parent purchasers. Despite different approaches, most seem to adopt, as an underlying premise, that winning the back-to-school battle is all about instilling confidence in mom. Sure, you could do that by showing her how much she’ll save. But what fun would that be? Here’s how some of the most aired campaigns are making moms feel like she’s too cool for school…

  1. Reminding her that she was cool once…Beverly Hills 90210 might have found a new audience with this generation of teens, and Jenny Garth might even play a role, but none of their dramas will top that moment when Kelly Taylor faced the ultimate choice: Dylan McKay or Brandon Walsh? This moment is played out in Old Navy’s back-to-school advertising, perhaps to persuade mom shoppers that high school hasn’t changed. Or more likely, Old Navy has realized that their brand of tongue-in-cheek humor makes the mom shopper more comfortable, than, say, Abercrombie? Old Navy seems to be positioning itself as the place for parents to purchase, leaving the teen-with-a-wallet crowd to spend somewhere else. 
  2. Old people icons…And by old, we mean over 18…Target, once again, plays with the juxtaposition between cool and kitsch, high and low, high-style and highly practical that define their brands. In their back-to-school campaign, ordinary objects like rulers come together to form guitars…Back-to-school shopping takes on the event-like status of a Lady Gaga concert….And actors who would likely (hopefully) only be recognizable to parents are used in a commercial that could seemingly get kids bopping. The guy from Bridesmaids? Sure, he should be selling jeans to kids for back-to-school. But lest you think we don’t like this idea, let us be clear: Target (like Old Navy) is letting moms and dads in on the fun.
  3. Schoolhouse rock. Well before Glee, JC Penney had made school look like a Broadway show. Once again, advertisers seem to be softening the blow of returning to the books by re-imagining school as a stage. For parents, who perhaps fantasize about their children as confident, bubbly students, strutting and giggling through their days, these images might comfort. Will kids, tweens and teens buy-in? Payless has raced past the first day right to the fantasy field trip, with its spot (using a They Might Be Giants tune that might make parents wonder where they heard those voices before) that features frolicking kids who delight in dino exploration. There are no lines or rules for these happy-kids. And this seems to be just what parents have in mind as they purchase pants with reinforced knees, or hoodies that promise to hold up for the whole year.
  4. Mom’s make it better. In contrast with showing all of these confident kids, dancing their way through the classroom doors, 3M chooses another approach to instilling moms with the confidence that they can make back-to-school better. In their ad, a shy, sweet little girl tentatively scans her new class…It’s not until she opens her lunchbox to find a sticky-note of reassurance that she drops her shoulders and lets her grin spread.

Will their approaches work? It’s likely they’ll win a share of the back-to-school booty. But while it’s too soon to tell, we predict that they’re leaving some kid, tween and teen influenced purchases on the table.

Tags: Education, mom, shopping, fashion, parenting, school

To Tech or Not to Tech: Questioning Kids’ Relationship to Media

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Nov 08, 2011 @ 02:53 PM

A few weeks ago, a friend of YouthBeat passed along this intriguing article from the New York Times on Silicon Valley stars who are opting to send their children to Waldorf schools – where technology is not allowed (to say the least). Their rationale: kids will learn computer skills eventually, and learning the Waldorf way (which includes knitting and playing with wooden manipulatives) engages the youth imagination more than any app. But the article’s author also acknowledges the other side of the debate: shouldn’t our classrooms take advantage of technology to bring them into the 21st century? The Joan Ganz Cooney Center (an extension of Sesame Workshop) has taken on answering this question as part of its mission…Just as Joan Ganz Cooney saw the potential to turn TV into an educational tool (inspired by the way in which it tantalized her own children, but also by the discomfort she felt when watching them glued to the tube), the Joan Ganz Cooney Center was established to “catalyze and supports research, development, and investment in digital media technologies to advance children's learning.”

And this debate does not only happen between the experts, but also on the playgrounds, play groups, and cocktail parties where parents compare their parenting strategies and beliefs. For some parents, exposing their kids to technology is as important as teaching them to read and write. For others, screens are sacrilege – along with sugar and toys that make sounds. For every parent who sees video games as anti-social and aggression-causing is another parent who attributes game playing to their child’s sophisticated strategic thinking. Anthropologists often say that if you want to understand culture, don’t look at what everyone agrees on – look at what participants in a culture debate. The spaces in which we’re most conflicted are often the sites where values are developed. Media and technology’s place in parenting, and screens’ role in schools, are certainly at the center of a heated discourse on how children should live in the media world right now.

Rather than attempting to wrap our arms around this massive subject, we thought it best to point our readers to three essential studies, all released in the past few weeks…

  1. In mid-October, the APA (American Academy of Pediatrics) reaffirmed their recommendation that screen time is not appropriate for children under two years of age. The study continues to ignore the role of digital media, but when it comes to TV viewing, the APA sees it as sub-par to free play, and parent/child interaction. We continue to question whether this recommendation is really based on media usage or is it attacking media as an activity that distracts from others which the APA deems more educational…Specific content viewed isn’t examined as much as time spent consuming media.
  2. Also in October, Common Sense Media released Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America. The study covers a broad range of digital media, and introduces data to support the emergence of a new “app gap.” According to the study, 55% of children from higher-income families have used a cell phone, iPod, iPad, or similar device for playing games, watching videos, or using apps, while just 22% from lower-income families have done so.
  3. Finally, an interesting study just released from a group of researchers representing varied institutions examined the unintended consequences of the Children’s Online Protection and Privacy Act (COPPA). The study looks at how Facebook’s Terms of Service, which stipulate that users must be at least 13 years old, have influenced parents’ behavior (many of whom allow their underage children to bypass the sites restrictions by lying about their age). The study suggests that parents might be teaching their children that it’s okay to lie, and might also be acting in opposition to their stated beliefs about shielding their children from online advertising.

Tell us where you net out on these important debates!

Tags: Education, kids, Teens, culture, parenting, tweens, school

Back to School Means Big Transitions for Both Moms and Kids

Posted by YouthBeat Speaks on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 @ 09:43 AM

By Paul Metz, Senior Vice President

By the week after Labor Day, this year’s back-to-school period will be all but over and families across America will be settling back into their school-year routines.  The transition back to a school-year schedule happened almost two weeks ago in my family, as we coped with the anxiety of a daughter entering middle school and the excitement of her younger sibling returning to the known stomping grounds of grade school.  While it is a familiar annual event, the back-to-school transition brings a lot of change and emotion.  In fact, in August we talked online with hundreds of moms and observed that while moms’ feelings about the start of the school year may vary from sadness to elation, every mom seems to have a strong and heartfelt opinion on the topic.back to school

We were expecting a majority of moms to relate stories of “mixed” feelings about the end of summer and their children’s return to school.  We did hear plenty of mixed reactions, but we were fascinated that a full half of moms expressed nothing but positive feelings about their children’s return to school.  This sentiment didn’t feel foreign to me, as my wife expressed quite a bit of relief when the school-year began, because it brought a stable routine and relieved my wife of the weekly summer challenge of figuring out how to keep the kids busy and entertained.  What we heard from moms around the country, through our online parent community, ParentSpeak, were various expressions of happiness, excitement and relief.  The onset of school can solve many “challenges”, including irregular summer schedules, lack of time to get work done, and kids’ boredom.  It seems as if many moms welcome the forced discipline of a school-year routine, even though they also acknowledged that they enjoyed laid-back unscheduled summer days.  This mom articulated the feelings of many moms: 

“I’m definitely glad to get back to school.  Being in a routine is so much easier.  I am glad for my kids to have that unstructured play time in the summer; don’t get me wrong.  But I love routine and order.” 

Another mom echoed these sentiments with,

“School gives them a routine and set schedule to follow and it makes for a more harmonious life in our home.” 

Clearly, many moms view school as a positive co-partner in helping them manage the busy lives of their families.

Moms’ outlook about the back-to-school period seems to depend heavily on how they perceive their evolving role as a parent as their children grow.  Some moms are excited that their children are moving to the next grade, getting the opportunity to learn new things and socialize with their friends.  Other moms, however, lament the new school year because it reminds them of how fast their children are growing up and they feel a certain sense of “loss”, and know that the happy, fun days of parenting a young child are not easily recaptured.  These moms tend to feel that summer is too short and that they aren’t quite ready for the school year to start, which leaves them feeling sad and anxious.  Our just-completed research suggests that approximately one in five moms feel this way. 

In between the extremes are a number of moms who exhibit truly mixed feelings.  Many moms have a balanced perspective of both the positives and negatives of summer and of the school year.  It’s not atypical for moms to welcome the regular schedule of the school-year while dreading the early mornings and long nights of helping with homework.  The same mom can feel happiness for her child’s advancement, and sadness about having less time to enjoy with her children. 

This mom captured her competing feelings quite well:

“I am sad that my son will soon be heading off to 2nd grade; I love spending all the time with him in the summer.  But I am also excited because I love watching him grow and become the wonderful little guy he is.  I love hearing his stories about his day.  It’s such a mixed feeling,  but I am glad he is getting a good education  and know I have to slowly let him grow up.”

These are the types of tensions and inner conflicts that companies with child and mom-targeted products and services should try to understand.  There is opportunity for companies who understand moms’ feelings and emotions during the back-to-school time, because they can reflect these in their advertising messages and strike a chord of relevance and authenticity with moms.  For their part, retailers seem to be succeeding at connecting with moms, as we tallied over 60% of moms saying that they enjoyed back-to-school shopping.  And this was something that both moms and kids could agree on, and serves as a positive exclamation point to the end of the summer.

Tags: kids, mom, family, tweens, school

The debate over learning – and teaching – for today’s youth

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Aug 09, 2011 @ 10:55 AM

Don Tapscott, a self-described “digital revolution expert,” writer, educator and business consultant has spent more than a little bit of time and money exploring how this generation learns, and importantly, how they should be taught. While his research has focused on higher education, his claims and his studies hold implications for kids, tweens, and teens and how they receive and process information across multiple contexts.

In his latest book, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (2010), he suggests that the way we teach today’s youth is misaligned with how their brains are wired. Specifically, he describes the classic university lecture model (and let’s face it – the oft used research presentation model) as applying 17th century technology and philosophy to a 21st century student-base. Expanding on an idea that served as the centerpiece of his 2006 work, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, (which along with his latest work, was co-authored by Anthony D. Williams), he describes today’s students as being cognitively oriented towards collaborative learning versus “being broadcast to” based on their life-long experience “making, changing and learning from digital communities” (listen to an interview in which he describes this shift, in depth, on the website for NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”

Tapscott has investigated this theory in numerous studies (one which he priced at $4.5 million and included a sample of 11,000 youth!)…But perhaps what was more interesting about his theory, which seems to hold some water, is the strong reactions it garnered from callers into the above-mentioned radio show on which he was a guest.

First, a professor (who revealed his age to be a young 31) vehemently disagreed with Tapscott’s assertion that we need to change classroom approaches to adapt to today’s students’ learning styles. Using his own college students as evidence, he claimed that this generation was more entitled, more self-absorbed and more isolated and isolating than they should be. He described students who protested assignments that involved reading over 30 pages, and cited numerous examples of students bypassing class, only to search a topic on Wikipedia, where they can find questionable but convenient information in sound-byte chunks. Rather than catering to these tendencies, this professor asked educators to continue to push and challenge students to engage in “real learning,” even if it meant sitting and listening or reading a book.Teen at computer

Tapscott has heard this rebuttal before. He countered with a compelling story of one student who he met who claimed that he didn’t “read books.” Upon getting to know him better, Tapscott found that the student had a 4.0 GPA. He had friends and was president of his school’s student body. His girlfriend was from New Orleans, and when Katrina hit, they went to her home and set up a health clinic (based on information and know-how they gained from networking – virtually and with people they met through social networks. They became immersed in understanding how to provide affordable healthcare to a population in need. The clinic continues to serve 9,000 patients per year. 

But can you get a job without reading books? Well, it might be too soon to know. This guy followed up his college experience at Oxford, where he went for free. He received something called a Rhodes scholarship.

To be fair, we have straddled this issue. Anyone who reads our blog, or knows us, knows that we see few youth trends as signs of a doomed generation. We explore – and are fascinated by – change as part of our trade. But some of us (this former English-major writer included) still revel in reading the old-fashioned way, and really hopes our children find reading to be one of life’s great joys. While I’m confessing, I also like lectures – which makes me an overly eager and enthusiastic Ph.D. student – I apologize to my peers. But I think Tapscott’s point is not to suggest that paper is going away or that listening to an expert isn’t important. He champions dialogue and connection. He pushes for experiences that engage students in hands-on learning, not passive receiving (giving an interesting example of how Boomers grew up being broadcast to by the television, in contrast with this generation who expects to log-on and customize and even co-create content to make it work for them). Finally, he promotes the idea that today’s youth have ideas to give, not just information to learn. This makes sense to us (and it’s in line with the 21st Century learning initiative, which most educators have embraced as the new way students should be learning today).

This debate might have started with questioning the college classroom, but we think it has implications for anyone creating programs and sending messages to today’s youth. First, make sure you’re bringing them into a dialogue – not merely dictating to them. Second, recognize that they relate to authority different than in the past. It’s not about rejection, but it might mean that you need to partner more than posture, and allow for multiple ways of being right. Finally, don’t underestimate their desire to connect. This is far from an isolated generation – this is a group eager to build and engage in community, and to make a difference in the places where they live and play.

Tags: research, Social Issues, kids, parents, Youth, school