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

Where is the Magic in Childhood?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 @ 11:55 AM

A few days ago, Bunmi Laditan, author and mommy blogger, wrote a piece on the magic of childhood.  Laditan argues that parents should stop trying to create magical moments for their children and tone down extravagant gifts, decorations, and bedrooms.  She's not saying that parents shouldn't spend quality time with their children or create fun moments, childhood, Laditan argues, is alreadChildhood Magicy a magical time so why do parents feel the need to construct larger-than-life magical moments?

While Bunmi’s point-of-view seems to buck the tide of Millennial moms and dads committed to creating the kind of cherished childhood that they never really had themselves (think princesses actually coming to your kids’ birthday parties instead of princesses that simply populate their plates!), we do think she makes an important point about children more than about moms.

Laditan points out that children can find almost anything magical.  Childhood is filled with moments of fascination and delight that parents have very little control over:  seeing your first snowfall, meeting your first friend in school, finding something to be passionate about (if only for a few minutes).  Even when kids are given an engaging game or offered an over-the-top toy, they often play on their own terms. 

It’s clear that kids can create their own magic, but perhaps even more importantly, they should.  Being presented with a magical moments is exciting, but discovering and owning it feels even better.  The experience of finding magic in unexpected places inspires kids to experiment and take risks. And for marketers and content creators, watching how and where they experience magic is as important as knowing what it is.

The notion of leaving a little bit for kids to finish or find on their own isn’t new in innovation.  Products and properties that provide little direction can open up endless magic.  Characters that let you contribute to the story keep you engaged and interested. Play products that imagine a child who participates, not just performs a static script tend to get more use. Understanding that almost anything can be magical opens up numerous possibilities for how we position products and brands in kids’ lives. 

Tags: play, free time, youth media

Frozen’s Princess Revolution

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 @ 10:42 AM

Disney's Frozen was recently released on DVD/Blu-ray and quickly became one of the bestselling video releases in the last decade.  It's one of the biggest hits of 2013 (and an Oscar winner to boot), and one of the most popular kid and family movies in awhile.  Some have called it the beginning of a new Disney renaissance. 

From the very beginning, Frozen was a different kind of Disney fairy talFrozene.  The earliest trailer for the film showed only the goofy snowman, Olaf getting stuck on an icy pond.  The 30-second clip was funny and entertaining, but gave no hints that the film was actually about two sisters.  Later promotional material highlighted the four principle characters (two females and two males), but failed to betray the fact that the film was another princess play from the company that made this trope famous.

But getting kids and parents in the theater is only part of the story.  With Frozen, Disney created another mainstay movie that parents and kids love (and already rewatch over and over).  So, how is Frozen unique in the Disney Princess world and why are parents and kids—especially young girls – so drawn to it?

Princesses can be complex too.  Frozen throws out the typical good versus evil dynamic we've come to expect from Disney animation, especially the classic fairy tales.  Instead, Frozen gives us two princesses at odds with each other.  Neither one is entirely good nor evil.  Both sisters are capable of doing some not-so-nice things (Ana yelling at her sister and Elsa emotionally shutting Ana out), but they are also capable of love and compassion.  These Disney Princesses don't just need to be rescued; they can also do the rescuing.  Frozen lets Elsa and Anna be more than pretty images on screen.  They are complex characters who struggle with relationships and their own identities.  Parents looking to teach their young daughters how to be true to themselves have found some great messages in Frozen.

Defy Expectations.  Early on in Frozen, it looks as if Disney is delivering another "love at first sight" with a young princess and handsome prince.  But the movie quickly rejects the idea of love at first sight and becomes a story about the relationship between two sisters.  One of the reasons fairy tales can be so comforting is that their plots are predicable and formulaic.  By violating expectations of plot, Frozen demands a lot of thought out of its young audience.  Frozen proves that kids don’t always need the simple and familiar stories.  Fans of this Disney film are embracing something that defies everything they’ve come to expect (and frankly, love) about the genre. 

It's not just about beauty—it's also about the ideas.  Some critics have found Frozen's plot to be overly simplistic (or non-existent).  But Frozen is a movie with some pretty big ideas.  Do you hide who you are or "let it go?"  Love is complicated and understanding true love takes work.  You have to take the good with bad, and figure out how to balance to two.  Kids watching Frozen not only get to see some spectacular animation and sing along to catchy songs, they are also confronted with big ideas and questions.  One of the reasons the film has been so popular is that these questions and ideas speak to kids.  Kids have a lot of questions about how the world works, and Frozen respects the seriousness of these questions.  Kids don’t feel talked down to by the film; instead, they are empowered by it. This is the junior viewer’s thinking movie – and we think parents and kids are ready for it.

Girly-Girls can be strong too.  While Frozen is unique and subverts a lot of familiar tropes of the Disney princess, it doesn’t completely reject the genre.  Unlike Brave’s Merida, who is sometimes so opposite of a Disney Princess that she potentially isolates the primary audience of the Disney Princess franchise, Anna is allowed to be kind of a girly-girl.  Anna has moments where she needs help, but she isn't completely helpless.  Young girls who love the Disney Princesses have a lot to love about Frozen, but unlike some early film, they also have a lot to learn about what it means to be a strong girl.  And obviously, the strength Frozen gives them. 

Tags: movies, Youth, youth media

Making Endorsements Count

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Feb 04, 2014 @ 01:39 PM

Every January, the American Library Association announces the winners of some of the biggest awards in children’s and young adult literature.  These awards are given for excellence in children’s books (John Newbery Award), illustration (Randolph Caldecott Award), young adult literature (Michael Printz Award), African-American children’s literature (Coretta Scott King Award), and much more.  But the way these awards operate in the children’s literature space suggest lessons that a broader group of marketers and content creators can tap into.american library association

In any category, it’s safe to assume that winning a major award increases sales. In the case of children’s literature, public libraries and schools see a medal on the cover as an endorsement of the author (for the unknowns) or as a reason to expand their collection of favorites.  These awards and honors serve as insurance policies on the product’s quality, and also convey secondary but critical information about age-appropriateness. In a 2004 study conducted by Gundry E. Rowe, in which he surveyed public and school librarians, he found that nearly all the librarians bought award winning titles without even looking at plot summaries.  In the extremely competitive marketplace for children’s books, winning an award can take a book from a few sales to hundreds of thousands.  Certainly, libraries and schools look for materials to buy in a different way than parents, but these expert buyers and children’s lit curators create the selection set for moms, dads, aunts and uncles, and children themselves. In other categories, award winners are often a searchable category on online websites. For example, yoyo.com includes their “yoyo picks” but also lets buyers sort by Dr. Toy’s endorsements. With so many options available, these awards feel like a soft exertion of authority which moms and dads welcome. 

In the children’s literature space, winning a major award propels authors to top status, signifying them as master craftsmen. An award can turn an unknown into a key player and force within a specific market. Long before Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1964) was a classic children’s book, it was a Caldecott Award winner in 1964.  The award gave Sendak, and his artwork, a boost in popularity.  Today, Sendak’s artwork is an important part of many children’s lives, and the image of Max and the Wild Things is a part of children’s culture. 

What lessons can we take from looking carefully at the ALA Awards?

  • Endorsement matter. Even for a cohort of moms that might not believe that there’s one source of expertise in any category, they seek out ways to distinguish quality products from simply popular one.
  • Remember to recognize the influencers. While understanding consumer preference is harder than ever in an age with so many property and content possibilities, remember that experts from unexpected places might be more influential than ever. Make sure you have a plan to connect with them.
  • While awards might, on the surface, say more about parent preferences than kids’ requests, they also suggest a glimpse at the marketplace. Even if kids are empowered to make their own choices, they are still limited to the subset of goods that adults allow them to access.

Tags: Education, book, free time, culture, youth media

Mario’s Magic

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 @ 01:12 PM

MarioWith the immense popularity of Nintendo’s new Super Mario 3D World for Wii U, we thought it was time to think about what makes Mario such an important and popular character among kids, tweens, and teens (and the namesake of kids’ favorite video game since YouthBeat’s launch in 2008).

For our YouthBeat readers who weren’t around then, Mario first appeared in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong.  Since then, he has appeared in over 200 video game titles and the Mario franchise games have sold millions of units.  Mario, and the characters and world built around him, have surrounded youth in the form of cartoons, comics, films, toys and countless objects of play and design.

So, what makes Mario (the character and the franchise) so popular?

  1. Mario Lets Kids Learn as They Go.  No matter the Mario title, players are slowly and methodically introduced to the key movements and elements of the game.  Not only does this help players develop skills, but it also encourages players to challenge themselves and push further. With each new level, there are new skills to learn.  And for mastery-loving kids, this chance to get good and test your skills serves as a recipe for success!
  2. Mario Can Fit Many Forms.  Mario has done a lot of rescuing over the years, and he has shown that he can be a hero in any setting.  Whether it’s a classic side-scrolling platform (Super Mario Brothers), 3D open adventure (Super Mario 64), a race (any Mario Kart), or a fighting game (Super Smash Brothers), Mario has the ability to adapt to any type of game.  Mario, an archetypical hero with a rags-to-riches story (he is a plumber who rescues princesses), begs you to root for him in every scenario in which he appears. 
  3. Mario is Familiar. While conventional wisdom might suggest that new is necessary to keep kids interested, Mario suggests another model.  Mario serves as the guide to new genres that kids can explore. He represents a typical hero (he is a plumber who rescues the princess) whose quests are filled with tragedy, comedy, and overcoming monsters (Bowser!).  Within the larger Mario franchise, there are numerous fighting games, RPG games, and racing games.  Everyone can find a game to love in the Mario universe. 
  4. Mario is part of the Family. Mario is about as family-friendly as video games get (little violence, cute images, and simple humor).  With the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo has also been using Mario to bring families together by making the games cooperative.  With Super Mario 3D World, parents and kids can work, learn, and play together.

What lessons can content creators and marketers alike learn from Mario?

  • Incorporate learning and growth.  This allows entry-points for all ages and skill levels. 
  • Think outside the box.  Moving across different platforms enhances appeal, not detracts from the franchise’s DNA.   
  • Think about family.  Cooperative play not only encourages family time, but also makes games more social and fun.

Now, who’s up for some real life Mario Kart?

Tags: youth research, Gaming, play, culture, youth media

Giving Back at the Beginning

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 @ 01:27 PM

We often hear about great causes and organizations at the end of the year. But since kids, tweens, and teens don’t care about tax write-offs, we see little reason why January 1st can’t be the start of their support of people, places and products/brands/companies that are making a difference! We know that this group of youth care about the world outside their neighborhood more than ever. They feel connected to others through many means. And they are prepared to solve the world’s biggest problems in ways that we might not always notice, but that, nonetheless, make them one of the most entrepreneurial generations ever to walk the earth! The organizations below sometimes include youth, but often serve their needs. Either way, we think these organizations deserve some recognition and also provide some valuable lessons for youth marketers.

Capes for Kids

We believe in kid empowerment, and certainly, no kids need or deserve to feel like superheroes more than kids who are sick. The Hero Project, which provides pediatric in-patients with customized superhero capes, understands that visible symbols of strength can go a long way towards making kids feel better, or at least braver in the face of unthinkable challenges. This group recognizes that one way to catalyze donations is by getting donors to give of their creativity, not just their money, as they encourage groups of friends, family members, etc. to get together and create capes as a collective.

Project Night NightProject Night Night

For victims of homelessness, having a snuggly toy or a care package offers more than just physical comfort – it gives a glimmer of hope and assurance that they matter. Project Night Night creates Night Night packages designed for children under five years old, “who can’t articulate their concerns overcome the anxiety, emotional and mental stress that comes with home displacement.” The project also offers a secondary benefit – keeping slightly used toys out of landfills. Project Night Night reminds us that there’s no place like home for small children, and when it’s not a safe space, kids need significant signs and symbols of well-being to help them carry on.

Room to Grow

The first “100 days” of a child’s life are incredibly important to their cognitive, social and emotional development. Room to Grow assists women living in poverty by providing them and their children with resources they need, including baby gear and clothing, along with an actual place where they can find support and community. This idea grew from the notion that many moms have baby gear that they didn’t want to go to waste. We think this is a great example of an organization that responded to an asset and found a deserving group of moms who needed it. This makes us wonder, who could benefit from the gifts your organization has to offer? How will you give with authenticity and integrity?

Imagination Library

Who knew Dolly Parton would make our list of kid philanthropists in 2014? We think her idea – to provide preschoolers with a specially selected book, via mail, each month - is both ahead of its time, but also taps into many timeless truths about youth. First, getting something in the mail might make kids feel more special than ever before! A physical book can still feel like a gift to a child who has few. And bringing good-for-you content to kids is more effective than expecting them to come to you. We love this idea, which began in Tennessee, but is reaching the rest of the country rapidly.    

Donors Choose

Many of us are lucky enough to live in places with great schools, and almost all of us can remember a teacher who went above and beyond. You’ve likely seen statistics about the amount of money that teachers spend out of their own pockets to make their children’s learning environments live up to their own, and to kids’ expectations. Donors Choose also solves a frequently cited dilemma about non-profits – people often want to act locally, but most organizations that they can easily find are more national or global. But on the website, you might even find a well-deserving school or classroom close-by that you can help in other ways than just donating your time. And everyone loves a thank you – which the teachers and students agree to send to supporters of their cause. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing more gratifying that receiving a card created by a grateful teacher and appreciative kids after providing them with something that truly enhances their learning environment.

Teens Turning Green

There’s no question that kids, tweens and teens are capable of compassion. But what we like about teens Turning Green is its competitive spirit! Games and contests (not of the random winner variety) appeal to youth who are often up to challenges. Like dieting (speaking of New Year’s resolutions), doing good is often easier when it involved a few friends. And these events – like a 30 day sustainability challenge or a “green your dorm room” contest - are also chic. It’s no surprise – this organization isn’t run by adults for kids, but was actually founded by students striving to change the world.

In 2014, we think youth brands can give as much as they get. We recommend you follow the lead (and fuel the good work) these organizations are doing – let’s begin!

Tags: Education, Social Issues, Youth, culture, youth media

Lessons from The Snowy Day

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Dec 23, 2013 @ 11:33 AM

imagesOver the past few weeks, kids and families across the country have experienced their first snowfall of the year.  While we were sledding, donning snowsuits, building snowmen, and sipping hot chocolate, we were reminded of one of our favorite picture books about playing in the snow:  Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day.

The Snowy Day is the story of Peter, a young boy living in the city, who wakes up to find snow covering EVERYTHING.  Soon, he’s out of his “jammies” and out in the wide world all by himself. He knocks the snow from trees, makes snow angels, and climbs a hill pretending to be a “mountain climber.” After a long day of exploring, Peter returns home to his mom, a hot bath, and a good night’s sleep.  What can marketers and content creators learn from this simple but elegant story?

  1. The simplest pleasures can be the most fun.  In The Snowy Day, something as simple as your feet provides a wealth of possibilities.  Peter walks through the snow with his toes pointed out, and then in.  He then drags his feet to create long, unbroken lines in the snow.  An average stick becomes a toy for Peter and he’s able to reach up higher than he normally could and smack the snow off a tree.  And that’s all Peter needs to do before moving on to his next adventure.  The simple act of sliding down a hill is so much fun, Peter does it repeatedly. It’s easy to think that today’s youth are too jaded to enjoy the “basics.” But one snowfall shows that there are plenty of young-at-heart activities that attract kids, tweens and even teens and their parents!
  2. Being alone can be fun too.  In a world in which everything is social, remember that on occasion, kids want and need time to themselves. Without any adults around, Peter is in control of his day. He revels in recounting his tale to his mother, but he had almost every adventure on his own. It isn’t until the final page of the book that we see him with a friend. Once he’s mastered his environment, he’s ready to bring a playmate along for the ride.
  3. The outdoors can still be magical to kids.  For Peter, the city is a playground.  He never stays in one spot for too long.  He wanders through city streets, past buildings and street lamps.  But no matter what city elements are around him, Peter always turns to the snow.  The snow gives him something to walk on, something to slide on, something to build with, and something to create with.  Just before returning home, Peter creates a snowball and puts it in his coat pocket “for tomorrow.”  Peter wants to bring the snow home and inside with him.  Like, arguably, the other greatest children’s book of the past century, Where the Wild Things Are, the hero is alone in the “wild,” both making it his own and showing how at home he feels within it.

No snow where you are? Try out “snow wonder” - we double-dog dare you. And please let us know what you think!

Tags: Youth, reading, youth media

Creating An A-Peeling Kid/Tween Promotion

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 @ 11:09 AM

While Despicable Me 2, which topped the box office for the past two weekends might be benefitting from family-movie-friendly weather across much of the country, we would be remiss if we ignored the true pull and power of the film: enter the Minions.Chiquit Banana

These golden-hued mischief-makers made a big impact on kids and tweens after the original film; with their silly speak, funny shapes and sizes and relatable role as “minions” (what kid doesn’t feel like a servant to an all powerful adult at least some of the time?).

So it’s no surprise that Despicable Me 2 earned over $250 million in promotional partnerships before the film’s release, just prior to Independence Day. Predictably, there’s a collection of cute Happy Meal Minions. Cheetos is running a “One-In-A-Minion” sweepstakes, and put Minions in a special edition of Cheetos “Mix-Ups.” Honey Nut Cheerios and Lucky Charms has gone old, school, offering a literal “prize inside” the box.

But the promotion that stands out to us comes from an unexpected source: Chiquita Banana. From our perspective, this might be the perfect partnership for kids. Here’s what we think brands can learn from Chiquita’s strategy and execution:

  1. Keep it simple!  Minions love bananas. This simple truth, told to viewers in the movie, makes infinite sense to (and we say this with affection) LITERAL kids! They are yellow. They look kind of like bananas. Therefore they love them. So they chose this URL: www.minionslovebananas.com. When it comes to kids promotions, don’t overthink it. Keep it simple, and kids will understand.
  2. Play AGAINST type. Bananas don’t exactly have a rebellious rap. They’re one of kids’ first foods. They’re easy eating. They don’t require utensils. And, of course, simple sweets like bananas get squeezed out as favorite snacks as kids turn to tweens, and certainly to teens. BUT, Minions bring a bit of edge to the bunch. Bananas have always had a humorous halo, and Chiquita reminds us that bananas can be as fun as they are fulfilling. So when choosing your promotional partner, don’t just consider what “fits” – think about your partner as a pathway to the place you’d really like to be.
  3. Own it. When it comes to kid and tween promotions, simply being associated with the right partner can be helpful. But Chiquita shows that promotions that matter make the most of any brand/partner association. Other brands include the Minions; Chiquita makes it hard not to think about bananas when you think of these little guys. Granted, Chiquita has a unique advantage in that they only have to own “bananas” – not differentiate themselves among a formidable category competitor. But Chiquita seems to claim these characters in a way that other Despicable Me 2 promotional partners have not.
  4. Package it. While all of the Despicable Me 2 partners include Minion imagery on their offerings, Chiquita takes the best advantage of the little bit of real estate they have. The brand went big, placing more than a half billion Despicable Me 2 stickers on the front of these fruits. The variation gives kids a chance to literally pick their favorite, and makes a healthy option even more a-peeling for moms.
  5. Follow-through. Chiquita’s site offers games, kid recipes and even a chance to win a trip to Hawaii – all great ways to extend the life of this association online. But the games on the site – “Minion Memory” and a “Minion Maker” feel younger than the presumed target for this promotion (which, remember, involves a PG –rated film). The site lets you vote for your favorite Minion model, which includes a Minion wearing a hula skirt. These Hawaiian themes Minions win among voters in almost every case, yet the “Minion Maker” doesn’t give you options to create a luau-looking Minion. And finally, the kid recipes don’t connect to the Minions theme – a missed opportunity for both kids and tweens, as well as for moms. To take advantage of a strong strategy, make sure your execution matches developmental level with look and feel and game play with age group.

Have you seen a smart strategic partnership in the past year? Tell us about it!

Tags: advertisment, food, movie, youth media

Scripps’ Spell

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 30, 2013 @ 03:51 PM

Spelling BeeTonight at 8 pm, families around the country will turn on ESPN to watch a hard fought final among a group of seasoned competitors. They’ve trained, they’ve endured, and now they will spell. It’s the highly anticipated final round of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

What makes this event so mesmerizing?

  • Kids take center stage. Kids might have many opportunities to see themselves on television, but not often do they see a group of seemingly ordinary kids (not actors, not stage kids) rise to the occasion.
  • They all have a story...Just like Olympics coverage, which turns unknowns into bearers of epic narratives, the producers of the Scripps Spelling Bee showcase the heroic in its kid competitors, and importantly, its parent patrons.
  • Everyone has a shot. There’s no denying that the kind of perseverance and pure stamina required to learn so many words, and the ability to recall them from their memory on a stage gleaming with hot lights and audience feedback is a talent, the Scripps National Spelling Bee might make kids (and families) feel that anything is possible. Unlike athletes or singers that they’re used to seeing in the spotlight, these kids shine simply because they did their best – something parents promote and kids hope pays off the way they’ve been told it would. In a world in which sports have become more exclusive and elusive than ever, learning to spell seems possible regardless of a child’s shape or size.
  • It’s good clean fun. More and more, families seek out shows they can co-view together. Talent competitions have certainly scratched the itch for many…But they also include the risk of a rogue contestant who doesn’t take family entertainment to heart. And these marathon seasons require more commitment than many families can make. In one night, the Scripps National Spelling Bee captures the drama of an entire series. And what’s not to like about kids who have earned their way to the stage through studying…
  • There’s drama! Let’s be clear…Spelling wouldn’t be televised like a sporting event if there weren’t for some drama! The reality of the Scripps Spelling Bee makes it memorable and mesmerizing for parents and youth…These contestants will cheer, and probably shed a tear. Their precociousness will come off as endearing, and exhausting, sometimes in the same breath. And kids and parents will negotiate their understanding of these extraordinary kids together…

Tune in and let us know your favorite moments! We’ll be watching…

Tags: Education, youth research, TV, youth media, news

Generation Adaptation

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, May 22, 2013 @ 10:12 AM

In our 2012 YearBook, we share our “Five Vibes” for the year. This past year, we included one that we called, “Survival Savvy.” Like all of our “Vibes,” it’s not a trend or a fad, but rather our feelings about the state of youth right now. We see some eviYouthBeat Yearbookdence of the Survivalist trend on reality television, particularly of the basic cable variety. And while the Hunger Games’ Katniss serves as the poster girl for this idea, we think of it as more than just a fight to the death. For this cohort of youth, “making the most of what you have” is a necessary stance in a world that requires adaptation to new terms.

While we sometimes see youth as changing the game, it’s also important to acknowledge that this generation has had a few surprises thrown their way. Teens have encountered changing expectations about college and how they should calculate its costs. Growing up in a down economy means that many can’t count on summer jobs – but that’s just a starting point.  Many have adapted to uncertainty surrounding their own financial future, becoming a generation more likely to value thrift-shop finds than extravagant expenditures. Some have bemoaned this generation’s seeming loss of interest in the environmental crisis (it’s fallen on our YouthBeat list of top concerns), but perhaps this generation has come to expect that they need to change to sustain. Instead of reacting to crisis, this generation recognizes that they need to simply readjust.

In their book, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy suggest that “most of us were born into a culture which aspired to solve all problems. How do we support people and create systems that know how to recover, persist, and even thrive in the face of change?” They argue that the skill that this generation of problem-solvers requires most is the ability to know when a problem cannot be solved. In contrast with the “me, me, me” generation that Joel Stein describes in the May 13th issue of Time, this generation might be listening and carefully calculating in ways that we’ve overlooked. Look to them to solve problems by seeking the viewpoint of all sides, and to make decisions of all sorts with a careful understanding of how their desires look in the light of day. They might be more realists than dreamers, and more measured than spontaneous. And for brands, content providers and organizations, it means not underestimating their ability and their intent to adapt to an ever-changing world.

Tags: youth research, culture, youth media, market research