Youth Marketing Strategy London Takeaways 2017

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Fri, Apr 07, 2017 @ 09:28 AM

The YouthBeat team was recently in London to present findings from YouthBeat Global at the Youth Marketing Strategy conference.  While YouthBeat’s focus is on kids, tweens, teens, and parents, most of the other presenters telescope in on young adults 16-24, given European restrictions on messaging to youngsters.  And there was particular focus on English college freshman who are exploring their identities and open to new brands during the initial transition from their parents’ home to college housing. 

We were intrigued by several of the presentations—our top takeaways were:

“Ticketmaster knows everything about you.”

Big data isn’t brand spanking new anymore, but companies are still exploring how to utilize it to maximize cross-selling and marketing efforts.  Ticketmaster is able to overlay Experian data with its customer records, so anyone who buys tickets with a credit card contributes to the pool of what is known about how such concertgoers behave.  It might sound shocking, but really any company who engages in credit card transactions can buy this kind of data.  We believe they’re using it for purposes of good –  to enhance the experiences, products, and messaging that they offer to today’s consumer.

More than half of Birchbox’s sales are now via mobile device.

The beauty service, which began as mail-order subscription and retail, has moved into the brick + mortar space.  They’ve organized their stores differently from typical beauty retail (which is brand blocked), to a broader focus on product categories.  This allows in-person shoppers to explore all of the mascaras or moisturizers at one time, rather than having to search through each brand for a particular product.  What does this mean for brand loyalty in the future?  We’re not sure, but it is a social foot forward in physical retail spaces.

“1,000 True Fans.”

Hearkening back to Kevin Kelly’s 2008 article about the point of momentum it takes for a musician to have a viable commercial career, start-up brands in every category are embracing this concept.  Even without large marketing budgets, they can form one-to-one social relationships with hardcore fans who will go on to evangelize for them to their own networks.  They don’t necessarily have to be influencers, just people who find a brand that speaks to them, and have the willingness to let their friends know.  We’ve seen this in our teen research in the U.S. also—a highly-paid celebrity endorser has far less credibility and influence than a “regular” person on Instagram who really believes in a product..

“Insights aren’t free.”

This is true—there is a lot of widely available information (including this YouthBeat blog), but generating targeted insights into your brand’s category are usually more complex and delicate than the blunt instruments available online allow.  That’s why it’s important to partner with an insights agency who is intimately familiar with your target consumers or shoppers and knows how to reach them in the way they like to communicate.  It’s worth the investment.

For more information on YouthBeat Global, register for our free webinar on April 27 or reach out to Mary McIlrath at MaryM@crresearch.com.

Tags: youth research, kids, kids tweens teens, millennials, Gen Z

Toy Fair Recon 2017 – Major Trends in the Toy Industry

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Mar 02, 2017 @ 09:18 AM

The YouthBeat team once again attended Toy Fair in New York, and it was another exciting year!  There’s a lot going on in the toy space, and here are a few of our favorite themes:

  • Danger is fun! Our subscribers have heard us talk about Millennial parents’ greater acceptance of a little bit of risk in their children’s play.  There was no shortage of toys that will feed into this.
    • Our favorite was Fiesty Pets--they look cuddly until their heads are squeezed, then “Rawr!”
    • Marshmallow guns and bows and arrows aren’t exactly new, but they are as prevalent as ever and super fun to play with, even if the child just wants to have a snack.
  • Clean sandbox play. Think of it as an evolution of kinetic sand.
    • Floof (a snow version), Mad Matter (colorful dough to play in), and Sands Alive (snow or sand) all offer the ability to mold and create without getting too sticky or dirty.
  • Bubbles, in any form, never go out of style.
    • Zuru makes large plastic ones that envelop each player, for fun Sumo-style wrestling.
    • Candylicious Bubbles was there with their blow-able and edible bubbles and toys. Yum! 
    • Their parent company, Little Kids, was there with their 25-year-old brand Fubbles and a costumed Fubble giving out free hugs!
  • Mystery and surprise are still thrilling.
    • Half Toys open up to reveal a skeleton inside, which can range from a dinosaur to a human. Perfect for a budding scientist. 
    • Surprizamals are miniature, adorable plushes that are a mystery until opened—and highly collectible.
    • Sourcebooks is offering a range of “How to Catch…” mystical creatures books, including elves, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and new this year, a Leprechaun.
  • Do-gooding is rising to the forefront.  We saw several companies with overt “giving back” components—not necessarily new programs, but more prominently proclaimed than in prior years. 
    • One of our favorites was Bears for Humanity. For every purchase of one of their animals, they donate one to a child in need.
    • United Healthcare Children’s Foundation is another great example. They run a book program in which proceeds from book sales go to grants for families with disabled children (things like a specially equipped ski so the child can ski with his or her family). 
    • Many other companies are using sustainable materials, to “give back” a healthy planet to all children, regardless of whether they use their products.

The exhibition floor contained plenty of drones, robotics, and other electronic toys.  And there is plenty of time for kids to engage with digital entertainment too.  But the toys that really stood out and touched our hearts this year are the ones that offered good old-fashioned fun, excitement, and kindness.

Tags: youth research, toys, kids, kids tweens teens market research, Youth, kids tweens teens, toy trends

2016: The Year in Review of Youth

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 @ 03:41 PM

Many adults on social media have declared themselves glad to be done with 2016.  For youth and their parents, there were certainly moments of angst and uncertainty, but also moments of inspiration and just plain fun.  A few of the highlights we noted across the year:

American Academy of Pediatrics Changes Recommendations for Screen Time

In our YouthBeat® and YouthBeat® Jr. surveys, parents routinely report 
that preschoolers, kids, and tweens have about 2 hours of screen time a day—which we believe is woefully underreported.  But we know why.  For many years, pediatricians have been telling parents that children under the age of 2 shouldn’t have any TV time, and that older kids should have no more than 2 hours—so that’s what parents tell themselves is happening. Over the last five years, the presence of tablets and smartphones in year in review image 1-1.jpghomes and schools has accelerated, as has the beneficial content available to youth—including not just educational material, but also high-quality entertainment in television programming and online content.  The American Academy of Pediatrics last fall defined “screen time” as only the digital exposure that is entertainment-related.  Schoolwork doesn’t count.  For 2-5 year-olds, the new recommendation is an hour a day, and for 6 year-olds and above, there is no time limit recommendation.  Rather, parents are encouraged to have their children take breaks, spend quality face-to-face time, and help their children understand what high-quality entertainment looks like.  We expect in coming years that parents’ estimates of screen time will increase.

Sea World Announces End of Orca Whale Breeding and Shows

Though spurred by pressure from adults over the breeding and treatment of the marine mammals, the gesture is consistent with what Generation Z expects and demands from the adults who are the custodians of nature.  seaworld.jpgAlong those lines, an 11-year old Michigan boy started a non-profit called Polar Army with the aim of raising awareness of the impact of global warming on the polar bear population.  Some teens even became activists for climate change, suing the federal government for knowing about the threat of climate change for decades, but continuing to endanger the lives of future generations.  They say this limits their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Stay tuned for news from the courts to see what happens—and know that this generation expects adults to be responsible in their use and care of the environment and the human and animal creatures that inhabit it.

Flint, MI Water Crisis Extends Across U.S.

Since the tainted water crisis in Flint became national news in 2015, other municipalities began testing their own water supplies—particularly those in schools.  An alarming number were found to have unsafe amounts of
lead.  So much so that in our YouthBeat Global study, U.S. parents wereelite-daily-flint-michigan-water-crisis-twitter.jpg more likely to encourage their children to drink bottled water (66%) than tap water (57%).  Parents only in Mexico, China, and India were more likely than parents in the U.S. to prefer bottled to tap water.  In late 2016, criminal charges were filed against several local government officials in Flint who allegedly knew of the dangerous water content and did not act to protect the children in their constituencies.  Youth were unable to stand up for themselves as these dangerous waters flowed to them—but the effects of the tainted water could be felt for decades.

Pokémon Go

It’s rated E for Everyone and took the country by storm in the summer of 2016. C+R Research even blogged about the #GottaCatchEmAll craze and why it was a game changer…in the adult world.  For kids, just like adults, it represented a fun way to get out and move around without consciously exercising.  And, when played with parents, it was a great way Pokemon-GO-APK-DOWNLOAD-for-Android-Latest-Version-and-PC.jpgto bond and spend time together. But the parents in our Parentspeak community had mixed feelings about the game. As one mom summed it up, “The 10 year-old wanted to play but I didn’t want her wandering off and getting into places she shouldn’t be, so she entertains herself with other games.” Their concerns were largely around children playing by themselves—parents were happy to allow children to play from the car while driving past Pokémon, or with parental supervision.  Our take at YouthBeat® is that the Pokémon Go craze is perfectly fine for kids to play, with a responsible adult playing alongside.

Colin Kaepernick Takes a Knee

Colin Kaepernik of the San Francisco 49ers made headlines last fall for kneeling during the national anthem before football games.  His actions, in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, caught a lot of backlash on social media as being Anti-American and anti-veteran.  Moreover, in a Yahoo/YouGov poll, a third of NFL fans said they were watching less football than usual, and 40% of them blamed Colin Kaepernick’s protests.  At the same time, he inspired some high school football players to kneel during the national anthem at their own games.  From Seattle to North Carolina, teens followed suit in support of BLM.Colin-Kaepernick.jpg  We’ve written before about the importance of the movement to multicultural youth, as it was inspired by the deaths of African-American children as young as age 12. Kneeling is their way of saying they’re aware, they care, and they are taking sides.

These are just a few of the events that shaped the lives of youth in 2016.  For creators of content and products for youth, 2017 represents a new opportunity to inspire, to entertain, and to delight the youngest consumers.  We look forward to seeing what our youth + family clients provide to support their well-being, and we are here to help.

Tags: youth research, kids, kids tweens teens market research, Youth, kids tweens teens, trends

A New Year, Introducing a New Generation

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 @ 09:29 AM

Here at YouthBeat, we’re always keeping our eyes on the shifting nature of youth generations. We recognize these generations are shaped not just by birth rates and demographic trends, but also by the prevailing characteristics and spirit of the times in which they are born.

Everyone’s read a lot about Millennials.  And many brands have been paying attention to Generation Z for several years now.  But we have some news for you—move over Generation Z, there’s new kids on the block!  Yes, Gen Z is still crucial for brands to understand and create content for – in fact, check out our report.

That leads us to the introduction of Generation Alpha.  Born starting in 2010 (the year the iPad was introduced), they are demographically different from their two preceding generations.

  • The world in which they’re growing up is substantially more technological, accelerating, and crowdsourced.
  • And brands need to start paying attention to them too and incorporate them in their long-term strategies (or now for those who serve preschoolers!).

Click here to download our infographic comparing Millennials, Generation Z, and Generation Alpha. 

And don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions or for more information about how we can help your brand stay on strategy now and for years to come.

Tags: youth research, millennials, Gen Z, generation research, generation alpha

Rio: Inspiring Golden Opportunities

Posted by Manda Pawelczyk on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 @ 08:10 AM

The 2016 Summer Olympics have come to an end and will be remembered as the event with awe-inspiring stories of hard work, dedication, amazing feats and chasing your dreams. During the past 16 days of the Olympics, the lessons learned span all ages, but perhaps the group with the most to gain is our youth. But did they tune in? In the first half of 2016, only 44% of youth (37% of kids, 48% of tweens, and 49% of teens) said they were interested in watching the Summer Olympics.Those numbers increased significantly as the Rio Olympics actually got under way. According to participants in our August 2016 YouthBeat survey, 65% of youth (58% of kids, 74% of tweens, and 62% of teens) said they want to watch the Summer Olympics. 

Not only were youth tuning into the excitement of the event, but the stars of Rio are already having an impact on them. While athletes like Lebron James and Michael Jordan usually dominate youth’s list of favorite athletes, in our August survey medalists such Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, and Simone Biles have made their way to the top of the list.  Olympic swimmers Katie Ledecky, Lily King, and Missy Franklin also got mentions as did soccer star, Alex Morgan, and volleyball player, Kerri Walsh Jennings. And already 11% of the mentions name a member of the gold medal winning gymnastics team, the Final Five (Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, or Madison Kocian). 

The Olympics leave many youth feeling hopeful that they too could someday capture a medal of their own.  When asked what they want to be when they grow up, being an athlete is the second most popular career boys aspire to. For girls it is tenth. But the concentration of strong and successful women athletes being showcased on TV screens and in the news during the Olympics may leave more girls with athletic dreams of their own. That is what the United States Olympic Committee and the U.S. summer sport national governing bodies are hoping for. While 54% of youth participate in a sport, only 13% do it at an elite or highly competitive level.* The NBC Gold Map hopes to use the platform of the Olympics and the inspiring stories of its athletes to encourage youth to start their own journey in an Olympic sport, whether for fun or competitively. The website stands as a great resource for youth to learn more about each Olympic sport and how they can get involved. Here at YouthBeat, we believe anything that encourages kids, tweens, and teens to try new opportunities and chase their dreams is a worthy endeavor. 

 *According to YouthBeat data from January to June 2016.

Tags: youth research, kids, kids tweens teens market research, kids tweens teens, olympics, athletes

Is Pokemon Go for Kids?

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Mon, Aug 08, 2016 @ 09:20 AM

It’s rated “E” for Everyone and has taken the world by storm in the few weeks since its launch. Unquestionably, Pokemon GO represents a breakthrough in augmented reality for adults. But, what is this new craze’s value to kids? Beyond the many existing augmented reality apps available, we see that the value it brings is twofold:

  • It is a fun way to bond with parents when the family plays together, and
  • It encourages walking around and getting exercise.

But, along with the fun and exercise comes some concerns for parents.  Many of them do not want their children playing Pokemon GO without adult supervision for several reasons:

  • The app collects a lot of personal information from the device on which it is installed (it asks for geolocation, photos, media, and other files, access to contacts, and the ability to take pictures and record videos).
  • In the United States, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires verifiable parental permission to collect this kind of personally identifiable information from children under the age of 13 — that’s why to register as a trainer within the game requires a birthdate. Many parents want to keep such information about their children private.
  • The app may suggest to children that they go places that they otherwise would not be allowed by themselves (or at all) in order to ‘catch’ Pokemon.
  • The economic model of the game is based on in-app purchases which parents may not want their children to be able to make.

Our online parent community, ParentSpeak, reports mixed feelings about Pokemon GO.  Here is what some parents say:

  • “It is the hot new game for teens to play at camp. She is 12 and it keeps them after camp and running around.”
  • “My child is not playing. She is 10 years old. Her and her dad did just get into geocaching though.”
  • “My 7-year-old son is excited, though he doesn’t know much about Pokemon.”
  • “My 11-year-old plays it only while in the car driving by Pokemons. Nothing by herself on foot.”
  • “The 10-year-old wanted to play but I didn’t want her wandering off and getting into places she shouldn’t be so she entertains herself with other games.”

So is Pokemon GO for kids?  From our YouthBeat® data, we know that Generation Z is tighter with their parents than Millennials were.  Our POV is that Pokemon GO is a great app for family interaction—so yes, then, in a family context with parental supervision, Pokemon GO is great for kids.

To read more about Pokemon GO, check out the blog on our parent company’s website, crresearch.com, where we blogged about the #GottaCatchEmAll craze and why it was a game changer…in the adult world.

Tags: youth research, Gaming, kids, kids tweens teens market research, Youth, kids tweens teens

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

Kids, Tweens, and Teens at the Holidays 2015: Toy and Gift Wish List Results

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Mon, Dec 07, 2015 @ 10:32 AM

Coolest wish list toys!  Holiday wish list alert!  Tech toys kids want! Headlines are hollering this year, whipping parents and gift-givers into a frenzy with the goal of pleasing children during the holiday gift-giving season.  The National Retail Federation predicts that overall holiday spending will top $630 billion this year, up nearly 4% over last year.  This makes sense in households with children, given:

  • Lower gas prices according to AA, thus higher household disposable income

  • The multitude of digital and high-tech-meets tactile toys (think Skylanders, Disney Infinity, or Star Wars/Sphero BB-8 robot) available this year, at higher price points than traditional toys

The holiday gift guides for childern have two consistent themes: 1. Go with anything Star Wars, and/or 2) buy something high-tech (virtual reality, cameras, or tablets).  The browsing and list-making process itself has become tech-saturated.  The Toys ‘R Us catalog includes codes that unlock virtual games and 3D augmented reality views of the products. Kids can create wish lists using Amazon or Target’s Wish List app

All of this sounds very exciting.  Is it, however, what kids are asking for, or what we as adults are projecting onto their desires?  Our 2015 Holiday Wish List survey is in, showing that kids’ desires might be simpler than we think.  Click here to download the Holiday Wish List infographic.

Sure, kids are asking for Star Wars—as long as they’re Lego sets.  Robots and talking dolls?  Not so much.  That’s not to say that they won’t love the more sophisticated toys that they receive this year.  The key to pleasing the recipient is to fit with their favorite play patterns, be it role playing with dolls or action figures, building, or game play. Most of all, they’d really like to pick out their own presents, so consider a gift card.  This commercial for IKEA underscores kids’ desires for simple pleasures at the holidays (spoiler alert: Grab a tissue). 

We also asked kids about their charitable giving over the holiday season.  Most are participating in some way, primarily by donating toys/gifts, food, or clothing.  Just for fun, we asked them whether they’d rather give all of their holiday gifts this year to charity, or forego their electronics and media for a month.  Kids in 1st-4th grades overwhelmingly want to keep the gifts and give up the media, as do the better part of tweens in 5th-8th grades. Teens disagree; the majority would gladly give up the holiday haul in order to hang on to their sources of connectedness, information, and entertainment.

So make those lists and check them twice. But do it knowing that youth pleasures are simple and eternal, even as the toys we build and buy for them grow more complex.

Happy Holidays from YouthBeat!

Tags: youth research, toys, target, wish list, kids tweens teens market research, star wars, holiday, trends, infographic

Are Watchover Voodoo Dolls the Next Craze for Kids and Tweens?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 29, 2014 @ 11:15 AM

Predicting the next kid or tween craze or collectible is far from easy, and assessing a contenderVoodoo Doll Collectibles often requires a highly tuned gut more than a simple list of rules. Still, practice makes perfect and we thought we would give you newbies to the kid space a starting point, and you vets a compelling case study to add to your own collection…Watchover Voodoo Dolls

Watchover Voodoo Dolls are keychains featuring little people made of string. The characters range from ninjas and karate pros to little girls shopping and to test-taking students. Each one comes attached to a tag which provides the character’s name, but more importantly, the way it will watchover its owner…Keeper,  a soccer player, promises to be “your last line of defense against all those who try to beat you at your own game.” The Student purports to “help you enjoy the best days of your life and ensure your future is as debt free as possible.” They’re
sold in novelty shops, on eBay, and on Amazon.

So what does our latest favorite kid/tween collectible get right? Here’s what we think…

  1. Cute+cool.  For kids and tweens, the best collectibles are the ones youVoodoo Dolls can show off to your friends…and most of the time, you see your friends outside of school. So collectibles for this age are, not surprisingly, small. Little can inherently lead to cute, and cute, depending on your age, can be a bit uncomfortable. So what do the best collectibles do? They combine the cute with the cool (subscribers can see our JFM 2013 Trendspotter for more on this timeless and timely trend, inspired by the work of scholar, Gary Cross). These dainty dolls deal with strong feelings and emotions, making statements that might be wise beyond the years of their young owners. But containing these weighty sentiments within these tiny trinkets makes for just the right juxtaposition. They are safe but bold, mature but manageable for the developing kid and tween psyche.
  2. Material matters. As scholars like Robin Bernstein contend, the material that children’s toys are comprised of conveys a “script” for the play experience. Are these toys or objects of desire to be treated gently? Are they precious or rare? For kid and tween collectibles, a little bit of breakability isn’t all bad….This might seem counter to the wishes of
    protective parents, but might that not be the point? The best collectibles tend to feel like they require cherishing – much like the dirt-attracting fibers of these miniature Voodoo figures. They aren’t fragile in the traditional sense, but they do require more careful handling (the notion of protection put back in youth’s hands) than the average keychain.
  3. A dose of danger. So many of kids’ collectibles are relatively benign. But for kids and tweens, a bit of subversiveness often makes for a more salient item. This encroaching on the occult is an evergreen theme in kid culture – think Ouija boards and magic eight balls. But collectibles often have an air of the rare and mysterious to them too.  Pokemon cards have their exotic look (especially when they first emerged on the scene, in the early day of the anime explosion). Or the mischievousness of Garbage Pail Kids. Or the taking of a regular top and overlaying it with slightly threatening personas, as in Beyblades. Watchover Voodoo Dolls do a great job fulfilling kids’ and tweens’ fascination with the mystical and dangerous (voodoo), while keeping things light and positive (watchover). These dolls serve as symbolic mantras that kids can carry around with them. More like a lucky rabbit’s foot than an actual voodoo doll, the power behind these objects comes from the ideas they represent more than just their aesthetics.
  4. Priced right. A collectible might have an air of preciousness about it, but to incentivize a trend, it’s important to get the price point right. In the U.S., these dolls linger between the $7.50 and $10 price point. They are just expensive enough to matter (something has to be at stake for a collectible to “count”), but cheap enough that they’re within the range of many tweens’ allowance.

Tags: youth research, toys, kids, play, Youth, collectibles, tweens, dolls

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