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How Entertainment Brands Turn Kids Into Superfans


How Entertainment Brands Turn Kids Into Superfans

Successful intellectual properties have a pint-sized army of marketers touting their content and products from coast to coast. We call them Superfans.

Because Superfans enjoy these IPs so much, they can't keep their enthusiasm to themselves. Our research shows that 69% of Superfans talk to friends or family members about their fandom at least once a week.

So how do you turn a casual fan into a Superfan? Give kids what they need developmentally. Our survey of 2,000 kids revealed that kids become Superfans of the IPs that help them with their most important task—the work of growing up. Within that, fandom does a particularly good job of helping kids grow as individuals.

Here’s how.

Spark Their Imagination

Good content makes play better. It gives kids characters to emulate, scenarios to act out, and a fun and fantastical world to immerse themselves in.

The richer the world is, the more immersed your Superfans can get. And even beyond that, you can plant nuggets for Superfans to find. Those nuggets will let Superfans engage even more deeply with your IP across platforms.

The richer the world is, the more immersed your Superfans can get.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 didn't just gross $145 million in the US on its opening weekend. It also thrilled fans with Easter Eggs from '80s pop culture and the Marvel universe. David Hasselhoff briefly appears in the film and sings a song on the soundtrack. Howard the Duck is seen eating at a bar. Stan Lee does his cameo, which is a constant in all Marvel films. These Easter Eggs, which are now being shared and discussed online, keep fans talking about the movie long after they've seen it.

Brands like Disney and Pixar also include Easter Eggs that serve as callbacks to the movies filmgoers loved as kids.

Uncover Things They're Interested In

Kids are explorers. They experiment with different skills, and IPs can be there to help them do it. Inspirations for exploration can be active (martial arts from Kung Fu Panda, skateboarding from Jagger Eaton’s Mega Life), or more intellectual and creative (sleuthing from Sherlock, vlogging from iCarly).

The best way for brands to help kids uncover interests? Have the characters that kids admire and relate to engage in an activity with passion. IPs should depict characters' activity in a layered way, and include both the activity's challenges and its triumphs. This depiction will help kids get a feel for something that was previously unfamiliar, and that feel will help kids decide whether the activity is something they’d like to try out.

Give Them Ideas for What They Can Do in the Future

All kids are looking for role models. And media can provide fleshed out examples of being a bigger kid or a grown up, including the rewards and struggles that come with those roles.

For younger kids, who are still learning the difference between reality and fantasy, the attributes that kids latch onto can be either achievable or other-worldly. They may imagine themselves becoming a police officer or Captain America. So, if you're creating a character for a younger kid, feel free to throw some superpowers into the mix. You may just inspire a little one to dream of invincibility.

Older kids love superheroes too, but more for entertainment than inspiration. Instead of fictional characters, older kids seek role models that give them real-world guidance. They'll be inspired by characters who reach important goals—fame, fortune, the respect of their peers—through ingenuity and perseverance. Yes, Serena Williams and LeBron James have extraordinary talent, but they also demonstrate the more achievable asset of intense dedication.

The Harry Potter franchise combines elements of fantasy and reality, and appeals to a broad age range. Younger kids incorporate the wizarding spells into their play. Older kids admire a group of fearless kids who work together to achieve something important.

Help Them Get Better at Doing Something

Kids build confidence by mastering skills, especially if their new skill impresses others. IPs can show kids not only what they can learn, but how they can learn it.

Kids build confidence by what they master, especially if their new skill impresses others.

Kids can learn hairstyling by watching a YouTuber make a triple-bun hairstyle like Rey in Star Wars. They can learn crafting by watching a video about how to make Moana's necklace. Molly Richardson, 13, a cast member of the national tour of Broadway’s Matilda the Musical, credits “Dance Moms” for teaching her many of her dance skills.

So don’t be afraid of complexity, as long as you scaffold kids’ learning. Show kids something new they can learn, and the steps they need to master to get there. And if you want to leverage your IP to help kids discover new skills, start with a YouTube channel. Our research shows that, after friends and family, kids discover IPs through YouTube more than any other source.

Help Them Be Their True Self

As they get older, kids start to think about their place in the world. What do they care about? What are they good at? What is their sense of style?

Your IP can help kids find their way. Model a world where characters with quirky personalities, difficult family situations, or unique talents somehow all fit in.

So many of the kids we talk to—across geographic and economic groups—love The Big Bang Theory. They acknowledge, accept, and identify with the unique backgrounds that the show's creators gave each character:

  • Leonard, who’s lactose-intolerant and loves Dungeons & Dragons
  • Sheldon, who was raised by a devout Christian and started college at age 11
  • Penny, a struggling actress who's constantly short of money
  • Howard, a toy fanatic who goes into training to become an astronaut
  • Raj, an immigrant from India who suffers from social anxiety, especially around women
  • Amy, a Little House on the Prairie fan with a Ph.D. in neurobiology

Do the characters in your property have unique personality traits that can help kids feel like who they are is more than okay?

Boost Their Confidence

The people in our lives who make us believe in ourselves, like parents, coaches, and teachers, are the ones we think back on with immense gratitude decades later. IPs can have the same impact. So it's no wonder IP can turn kids into Superfans—sometimes for life.

Content that boosts a kid's confidence usually relates to the above benefits. It might:

  • Show them a new area to explore that they turn out to be talented in
  • Let them master the nuances and rules of the story-world they enjoy, so they feel like experts
  • Help them find a friend group or cohort to validate their interests and tastes
  • Demonstrate that different is cool

The Ultimate Goal

These aspects of personal growth will give kids a strong foundation for the next layer of their personal development by building their social selves. IPs that build their Superfan base won't just enjoy incredible popularity. They'll also have the opportunity to help today's kids become confident, successful adults.

Want to know how to captivate today’s kids?



Lose track among the digits? That’s over five billion, also known as the number of views, as of this writing, for tutorial videos posted by stampylonghead, YouTube’s reigning Minecraft monarch.

Stampy’s videos are funny, informative, and comprehensive. They give kids everything they need to become experts in an area that they are passionate about.

Yet Stampy’s videos are only one infinitesimal speck in the nonfiction video universe online, a universe very much fueled by the curiosity of kids worldwide. Because kids have a nonfiction addiction.

What is nonfiction addiction?

In a nutshell, it’s child-directed learning, where kids are in control of the pace, content, and format of their explorations. Building on the school-based trend of child-centered learning, kids fully take the reins outside the classroom via their personal laptops, tablets, and phones. The interfaces are simple to use, and parents generally let kids roam and choose as they please, within basic parameters of appropriateness and safety.

To a large extent, kids are choosing nonfiction. According to the data from Insight Kids’ recent survey, “Kids of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”…

So what does this nonfiction look like?

Nonfiction that kids engage with takes many forms, going beyond watching YouTube videos to searching on Google Maps and Google Earth, exploring Wikipedia, and asking Siri the answers to questions that come up at the family dinner table. Common video formats offered up by companies include tutorials, reality programs, ads/trailers, behind-the-scenes footage, music videos, “making of” content, and cast interviews.

In addition, much of the nonfiction kids seek and consume is user-generated. And new, user-generated sub-genres emerge constantly. Here are a few examples of the often extremely low-budget content that is captivating today’s youth:

  • What’s on My iPhone? – These are people literally showing what’s on their phones, including cases, background images, photos, and apps. Variations include “What’s in my purse” and “What’s in my backpack?” Product makers benefit from this user-generated marketing.

Model Amanda Steele declares this her “most requested video ever.” Like, wow.

  • Unboxing videos – Hugely popular, these videos typically simply show a pair of disembodied hands, often with elaborately fun nail polish, opening a toy package and displaying and describing the contents.

This video from FunToyzCollector has over 37 million views.

  • Surprise eggs – Related to unboxing videos, these tend to focus less on the details of the toys and instead on just seeing the toy itself. They also tend to feature kids. They show homemade, large, wrapped “eggs,” kind of like piñatas, that have packaged toys hidden inside.

This is a Star Wars surprise egg video from Awesome Toys Collectors. May the force be with the parents who let their kids keep all the toys from the videos they make.

  • Pranks – These take two main forms: (1) instructional, and (2) observational. Kids can learn how to do basic pranks. And they can also see the (arguably hilarious) results of pranks. Many of these are inappropriate for kids.

“Little super g gives a tutorial for 10 pranks”

This video from Marj B is kid--friendly and actually pretty funny, if you watch to the end.

  • Try not to laugh – These are compilations of Vines or other short videos challenging people to watch without laughing. They often feature kids or pets. Test yourself here. (I suspect you’ll do okay.)

Test yourself with this video. (I suspect you’ll do okay.)

In exploring these sub-genres, many adults are hard-pressed to understand why kids like them. They certainly help illuminate the differences in sensibilities between today’s kids and grown-ups.

Okay, but what is the appeal?

Kids are naturally drawn to content that helps them do the work of growing up. From exploring nonfiction, kids gain four Cs: Control, Creative Inspiration, Competence, and Confidence.

In their lives, kids have plenty of influence, but limited control – they can’t drive themselves to play dates, they can’t wear swimsuits to school, and they can’t eat gummy bears for breakfast (at least not every day). One of the main reasons kids love the digital space is that it does offer them control.

The top reason kids cite for love of nonfiction is creative inspiration (62%: “Helps me get good ideas for stuff to learn or do”). Coming in second is competence (41%: “Helps me get better at stuff”).

In combination, the first three Cs fuel the fourth, helping to bolster kids’ confidence. Confidence is crucial for kids as they go through what we call the Explore/Express Cycle. Kids explore new activities and passions, put them out into the world for feedback, and from there decide what to keep as part of their identity. Without confidence, there is no experimentation, and no room for trial and error, or trial and success.

In growing numbers, kids’ self-expression includes creating their own nonfiction content for other kids to learn from and enjoy. Some are even earning a sizable nest egg from the profits, like Mya, who posts educational craft videos, and young rapper Matty B.

Cool, but what does that mean for people who make stuff for kids?

Providing fans the multiple ways they crave to connect with your brand is key to deepening their brand relationship. Nonfiction also helps keep the brand fresh and socially relevant. And of course sometimes the nonfiction is direct marketing in itself, cluing kids into new offerings. With nonfiction content to guide them, kids are more likely to try what they like, and like what they try. One thing is certain—ignoring kids’ nonfiction addiction means letting go of a huge opportunity that your competitors will likely jump on.

Some ideas to consider:


  • Develop stand-alone nonfiction offerings to fuel kids’ passions
  • Support fiction brands with nonfiction that can help kids immerse deeper into the story-world
  • Model only behavior that would be safe for kids to do themselves (and at the same time ensure you’re not raising any flags for parents by showing dangerous, scary, or rude content)
  • Depict any products realistically—so kids won’t be disappointed, and won’t leave negative comments


  • Provide kids the tools and platforms needed to create their own nonfiction for their peers to explore
  • Champion the work that fans are doing for you, via UGC

We are always on the lookout for creative ways to fuel kids’ nonfiction addiction, so please share any you find with us!

By Sarah Chumsky, VP Insight Kids

Kids and kindness – are they getting the message?


‘Tis the season of giving and kindness, but are kids missing the message? A new NBC News State of Kindness Poll finds that adults think kids today are not as kind as they once were. According to the study, 47% of adults think kindness is a quality that needs to be developed, but we may not be teaching kindness as effectively as we’d hoped. Displays of generosity are abundant in the news this time of year, but kids may not be registering these examples of kindness as learnings to apply in their own lives.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan recently announced the birth of their daughter Max along with a pledge to give 99% of their Facebook shares — currently valued at about $45 billion — to charity. And while this sets a wonderful example for future generations, it’s unclear how old Max will be when she understands the enormity of this kindness. When Spanx CEO Sarah Blake, who became the first woman to sign the Giving Pledge in 2013, told her then 3-year-old son that she planned to give away half of her money, he reportedly said, "OK, Mommy, can we do a puzzle now?"

Oftentimes kids may not notice their parents’ kindness as a behavior to model and generalize to new environments like school settings or play groups. Talking to kids about the value of kindness and practicing it with them in developmentally appropriate ways may be the best route towards raising kind kids. And luckily, there are a bunch of great tools to scaffold these teaching opportunities. One example is Sesame Street’s Once Upon a Monster game, an interactive video game that teaches cooperation, friendship, and generosity. As a two-player game, Once Upon a Monster encourages kids to model pro-social behaviors in real time and offers parents the chance to practice these learnings alongside them. Another example is Captain McFinn’s new Swim & Play app, which uses live-video integration with real people, known as Explorers, to guide interactive play with a prosocial message. Swim & Play Explorers respond to kids in real time, addressing them by their animated fish avatar name, and encourage kindness in their undersea worlds. Kids can practice these lessons in real time among their new “school” community by engaging with other fish avatars through a clap button that cheers on other players.

This holiday season, I am incredibly grateful for entrepreneurs and philanthropists who give selflessly to ensure a brighter future for all of us. My hope is that we can make the most of their gifts, and teach our kids how to make that future a kinder one as well.


by Arin Tuerk, Research Analyst

What’s so great about…destruction?


Parents applaud with glee when kids build block towers. The developmental link is clear - they are beginning to define shapes and play with spatial reasoning and creative imaging. “She’s the next Frank Lloyd Wright!” mom says. Adults love the idea that these crude structures could be the first works in kids’ future architecture or engineering portfolios! But are we equally thrilled when we enter a room of toys that looks like the wreckage after a demolition derby? What we fail to recognize as we collect pieces of debris from their destruction epicenters is that our children’s experimentation with deconstruction is just as vital as their construction processes.

By building and breaking down, and building again, kids start to tinker with iterative process, fine-tuning their designs. This is not only an exercise in practice and precision, but it reaffirms their sense of gravity, informing their understanding of early physics. Infants start to discriminate visual patterns as early as one month old. This development models early processing of figure-ground perception (recognizing objects.) As kids grow and build imaginative structures and basic systems they begin to experiment more meaningfully with early geometry: ideas of shape, size, space, position, direction, and movement. Block play turns into Lego construction and puzzle piecing as motor skills develop (and the small pieces are no longer a choking hazard.)

Enter the age of virtual building. When kids play in Minecraft, they spend nearly as much time mining, seizing, and creating new building materials as they do plain building. Mining is, by no stretch, a craft and a science. Demolition and collecting wreckage are key game mechanics. Kids have to break down and combine block compounds to source their desired materials. In this deconstruction, chemistry learning is a byproduct of sheer experimental play.

From Tetris to Candy Crush, kids are using digital games to master pattern recognition and refine spatial concepts. These game spaces are taking the classic play practice of building with blocks to teach 21st century skills, such as coding. Visual coding platforms that use block language cultivate early learning systems thinking, logical reasoning, and sequencing. Kids can use game-makers like Scratch, Beta, Gamestar Mechanic, and a plethora of sandbox games to create virtual spaces for themselves and their peers to play in. De-bugging in these game worlds compel kids to un-build something broken in order to identify the problem and re-build something functional.

For TV content, consider depicting lots of building and busting-up, and showing the process. You may just be helping a kid learn to code!


by Barrie Adleberg, Senior Analyst

This article first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Kidscreen

Want to know how to feel relevant to today’s gender-savvy kids? Be panclusive.



Sasha L., a 12-year-old student in New York City, has drawn a road map to their generation, encapsulated in their illustrated description of gender. And, yes, I meant to write “their” there, despite the subject of the sentence being singular. According to Sasha, and many kids growing up with the understanding that gender is different from sex and sexual orientation, the proper way to refer to people is whatever term that person uses. For Sasha, that term is they/their/them. (Sasha’s writer mom and their mom’s grammar-concerned friends are still grappling with “They is” vs. “They are.”)

This is not a niche, forward-thinking NYC kid thing. Check out these young people in Australia, who eloquently espouse the same sentiments as Sasha. The fact is, while much has been written about the ethnic and racial diversity of today’s young generation, kids have always been wildly diverse in other ways: different interests, different abilities, and different ways to view the world. As even adults know, these differences can help define you as strongly as any ethnic or racial ancestry. And you need not be a thoroughbred to declare yourself a member of a breed. You can be so-so at soccer and dabble in baking. So are you a soccer player? Are you a baker? Sure, if you say you are.

Today’s young people have no problem taking this concept one step further. Are you a girl? Sure, if you say you are. So why not show some respect?

These hyper-inclusive outlooks have led to new categories of sexual orientation as well. Teens today acknowledge that in addition to being straight, gay, or bisexual, a person can also be pansexual, which encompasses being attracted to people of a gender other than strictly male or female.

Some progressive communities are right there with them. The Washington Post reported last spring that Sweden has officially added a gender-neutral pronoun to its dictionary. And many preschools there eschew gender-specific pronouns to help ensure that kids grow up without a gender bias. In July, Girls Scouts of Western Washington rejected a $100,000 donation that came with a stipulation that transgender girls be excluded. Hoping to replace the money, they touted the hashtag #ForEVERYGirl and posted a plea on Indiegogo.com, where they raised over $300,000 in one month. Um… yay!

girl scouts


There has been some backlash and backsliding as the grown-ups struggle to keep up. Earlier this year, the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Pride Center encouraged students to use more inclusive, gender-neutral pronouns like “ze” and “zir” instead of gender-specific ones like “he” and “his.” This prompted enormous, derisive public outcry, and a month later the president of the university system caved and removed the Web post. Others who are less angry are still skeptical that people can learn new ways of speaking. By this theory, however, we’d all still be using less respectful terms for African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians, among so many other groups.

So, bottom line, kids represent the future. And progress is progress. I, for one, am excited to find more inclusive ways to refer to Sasha and other kids who are defining themselves on their own terms. I’m also proud of them for asserting their needs and leading the charge by creatively coming up with solutions that work. Which less understood type of kid can we panclude next?


By Sarah Chumsky, VP Insight Kids

Our Galaxy’s Thoughts About Star Wars: The Force Awakens



With all the talk about the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 18, I decided to do some investigating to find out what people think about the impending release of the next chapter. I heard from people with varying levels of involvement with the franchise: from some who grew up loving the original trilogy to others obsessed with gleaning every detail they can from the trailers to one who has never seen a Star Wars movie in her life. No matter the kind of fan (or future fan), everyone agrees on one thing: they absolutely want to see the movie.

Millennials who grew up loving Star Wars, including the prequels, are simply thrilled about the new movie coming out. Matthew, age 18, said, “I was a huge fan of the series growing up, and I think this one has potential to be the best one yet. I have faith in JJ Abrams since he's a great director.” Star Wars super-fans are picking apart the trailers and using their extensive knowledge of the existing movies to make predictions about The Force Awakens. Frank, age 30, provided several paragraphs of thoughts and ideas about exactly what people are saying might happen, what he thinks about it, and why, all backed by proof cited from the trailers and previous movies. According to Frank, “The girl they have becomes a good Jedi so that could be a parallel that Kylo Ren and Rey are siblings or related as cousins. There is also some talk of Luke being a dark Jedi at this point, but I don’t buy that at all because it would ruin the ending of Return of the Jedi.”

In contrast, people who grew up with the original Star Wars and were adults when the prequels were released are more cautiously excited, like Richard, 55. Although seeing the original movies as they came out when he was in high school and college was like a rite of passage, he worries that The Force Awakens will focus too much on the special effects. Richard added, “A lot of big movies nowadays are more about the effects than the stories and relationships, but it’s empty if it’s just that.” People who were fans before the prequels were released don’t have the feeling that Star Wars can do no wrong, and that impacts how they think about the coming movie.

Across the age spectrum, everyone agrees that they want to see The Force Awakens. Selin, age 8, said that she wants to see the movie the day it comes out. Her twin Su agreed, and added that the new trailer only makes her more excited. My Grandma Lillian (age 77) who has yet to see a single Star Wars movie also has plans to see The Force Awakens when it is out in theaters.

There’s no doubt that the Star Wars franchise is getting something right. It reaches people at every age, and the full 360° brand experience provides ways for fans to engage however much they want: just dipping their toes in or fully immersing themselves in the Star Wars world. The stellar (pun intended!) mix of relatable characters and story elements give audiences an entry point, and then they are drawn in by fantastical adventures and a straightforward dark side/light side conflict that fans of any age can understand. This story-world at this moment in time has undoubtedly become a cultural watershed, and all I can say is…get me my ticket!


by Amy Strauss, Kids Research Apprentice

The Beauty of BeautyCon



BeautyCon NYC, an expo targeting teen and young-adult fans of beauty and fashion, recently glammed up the warehouses of Manhattan’s Pier 36. In its wake of selfies and how-tos, it left fervent fangirls, like Haley, 15, elated to have briefly met their beauty inspirations from social media in the finely-primped flesh, even if it cost her a pretty penny to attend. I interviewed Haley, who traveled from Virginia to go, to ask her a few questions about her experience.

So what is BeautyCon exactly? It’s a convention for those who like to express themselves through makeup, fashion, blogging, etc. Also, it is a chance for viewers to meet their favorite content creators through meet-ups and panels.

Who is it for? The convention is definitely catered towards youth. To me, it’s more about meeting inspiring creators than learning about fashion, makeup, and creating your own content. It also involves a lot of teenage trends, from the sayings on their shirts to the photo stations and products they sold.

What did you like about it? I liked the fact that it was very easy to touch base with creators that live all over the world.

Did you dislike anything? I did not like the fact that most of the talent and guests seemed to follow popular trends without pushing boundaries with their fashion and showing their uniqueness.

Who are your favorite creators? I personally really like Adelaine Morin and Louise Pentland, also known as Sprinkle of Glitter on YouTube. They both are not afraid to go outside society’s views of beauty to really embrace diversity.

Did you buy anything while you were there? No, but I will say I have gone out and bought things simply based on the fact that my favorite bloggers have recommended them, which probably isn't the best idea considering a lot of them get paid to sponsor products.

What do older people not understand about you and BeautyCon? I think since social media has really become a thing with our generation, it may be hard for some older people to understand how social media can actually be someone's job. Also, I think some people may see it as superficial but a lot of the people spread such a greater message with their content than just makeup tips.

Social celebs are outshining the stars of today in the hearts of teens because they understand the power of authenticity and connection. They’re refreshing for teens especially who are at a point in their lives when they’re discovering and refining who they are and want to be. Flocks of youth like Haley pay to attend BeautyCon and conferences like it (e.g., MagCon, VidCon) because it’s another platform to engage, this time face-to-face, with the creators who inspire them. And getting a compliment and some advice from someone you admire (even if they’re your age) is super validating as a teen, especially when it’s captured in a pic for the world to see. It can also be motivating as teens are figuring out what makes them beautiful and shareworthy. To Haley’s point, these creators have a job – to be themselves, create what they’re into, and connect with others about it – and they do it well. Teens are wise enough to know these celebs are paid to sponsor products, but it doesn’t really matter to them, because by the time they’re sponsored, they’ve already established a relationship with their audience, and their audience trusts them. I asked Haley what beauty meant to her, and her description is a fitting end because it embodies what these social celebs are capitalizing on.

What does beauty mean to you? To me, beauty is something everyone and everything has, yet not all people can see it. It is also the complexity and diversity present all around us. Sameness lacks beauty, but uniqueness glows with it. Overall beauty is what makes us different and helps us stand out.

As teens seek what makes them glow, they can consult their online inspirations to help guide them on their journey, and that’s what fuels teens’ fandom and social celebs’ celebrity.


By Tiffany Aguilar, Senior Manager, Research & Strategy

How to use the new APA screen time guidelines to your advantage



“In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete.” – AAP News, American Academy of Pediatrics

Children’s media creators and producers rejoice! You no longer have to walk the fine line between enticing kids to spend more time with your content while simultaneously encouraging off-screen play. While the APA reiterates that off-screen time is still crucial for healthy kids and should be prioritized, last week, the organization updated its screen-time guidelines – eliminating a hard-and-fast time limit, acknowledging the integrative role screens play in children’s lives, and outlining principles to guide parents in how they monitor screens in their home.

Beyond parents, the new guidelines have implications for kids’ content creators and producers. Here’s two of their recommendations that we think are particularly relevant to enhancing kids’ product development and messaging:


The recommendation to parents: Encourage your kids to use apps, games, and programs that are accredited by expert organizations.

Quote from APA: “Curation helps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality (Hirsh-Pasek K, Psych Science. 2015;16:3-34). An interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) that review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.”

How to leverage this: If your product is already endorsed, continue to promote it and use it in marketing. Strive for newly created apps, games, and programs to be reviewed and endorsed as well.


The recommendation to parents: Use screens along with your kids to enhance the experience and promote live interaction – watch shows with them, and play apps and video games with them to help them understand what they are seeing, hearing, and learning.

Quotes from the APA: “Co-engagement counts. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.”

How to leverage this: In content, provide more examples of kids interacting with screens in an active way. Provide more opportunities for parents to experience content with their kids. In marketing, highlight aspects of your product that parent and child can both enjoy, citing the APA as recommending shared screen time experiences.

Parents can be wary about media and screen time. Referencing the APA’s new guidelines, you can help them understand the aspects of your media offerings that positively impact child development.


by Molly Austin, Insight Kids

The Science of Growing Up


Science of Growing Up

When people ask me why I became a scientist, I never know how to answer. It seems to me that I’ve been a scientist my whole life. My passion for empirical studies became apparent when I was just four years old… that’s right: I was a preschooler with testable hypotheses.

I remember vividly one of my first data collection sessions. I was out with my father shopping for my mother’s birthday present. As we walked into the perfume store, my senses were on high alert. My nasal passages were bombarded with overwhelmingly sweet and spicy aromas, and laid out in front of me, bathed in the intoxicating odors were rows and rows of the most beautiful, shiny bottles I had ever seen. As I slipped away from my father to further explore these dazzling and fragrant specimens, a theory began to build in my mind. I picked a bottle up from the lowest shelf, and examined it. If perfume looks so good and smells so good, then surely it must taste good too! As the mist of Shalimar hit my tongue, an alternative hypothesis sprang to mind. Duly noted. The correlation between smell and taste is a complicated one.

As I grew, so did my research program, and there were always new experiments to run. If little marshmallows float in hot chocolate, will big marshmallows float in the toilet bowl? If my cats like cat food, do I? The characterization of the child as scientist is actually popular and well-supported in the world of developmental psychology. Under this theory, young children are not passive learners in their environment, but rather they are active explorers, continually formulating and revising naïve hypotheses as they collect information. Besides the fact that it’s fun to picture adorable toddlers in white lab coats, there is real evidence to suggest that children are learning via the mechanisms of science. Some of the best evidence can be seen when children undergo real conceptual change, trading in one theory for a better one in the face of sufficient evidence. During these qualitative shifts in understanding, the child jumps from having more or less evidence for one hypothesis, to replacing this hypothesis with a more computationally powerful one.

One of the clearest and most studied examples of conceptual change happens when children learn how to count. As a developmental psychologist, I’ve discovered that nothing makes parents prouder than watching their two or three-year-old child rattle off the count list from one to the highest number they know (often somewhere between 20 and eleventeen). Though they’ve listed the numbers in order, their patterns of failure on a few quick tasks show their true state of number knowledge. Take a young three-year-old who has just counted to 15, and lay in front of her a pile of marbles. If you ask for one marble, she will comply, if you ask for two marbles, she will likely hand over two, but if you ask for three marbles, you are just as likely to get three marbles as you are to get five, seven, ten or the whole pile. You then can move on to a simpler test and present the child with a series of comparisons; “which number is bigger: three or ten?” “Which number is bigger: seven or five?” Again, the child will guess randomly given the options.

Now, I just told you that the child counted to 15, so what in the world is going on here? Well I’d like to break it down for you in terms of old and new hypotheses. Although young children appear to know how to count, their initial hypothesis about our count list is that it is just like a song, a meaningless independent string of sounds that they are rewarded for parroting. They have the same hypothesis about the alphabet. Think, for example, about how a young child recites the ABCs. Are you familiar with the letter “emenellopee?” This is a result of processing the list of letters as a singular string of sounds rather than a list of symbols.

So how do children make the jump from thinking of the number list as a recitable song to understanding that these digits represent quantities? Well, luckily all children are innately endowed with a pre-verbal rudimentary numerical sense. This sense, shared by infants, non-human primates, and even baby chicks, allows young children to keep track of one to three objects at a time. It is this ability that allows these baby scientists to detect the correlation between these quantities of objects and the presence of those first few words of the count list. After repeatedly hearing the word “two” paired with instances of “two-ness” in the world (two shoes, two crackers, two cars), the child maps the word “two” onto its meaning. Next, detecting that the word “three” reliably presents with “three-ness” and “four” with “four-ness,” the child makes an inductive leap and understands the ordinal count list as representing quantities that increase by one.

Children are smart, creative, intuitive, and funny, but they are definitely not just little adults. Kids perceive and think about the world in different ways than we do, and sometimes that can lead us to misunderstand what they want, feel, or know. If we want to know whether a four-year-old can “count,” we first have to consider whether their definition of counting matches ours. When it comes to studying kids, it’s important to ensure that we’re speaking their language.

Additionally, in developing age-appropriate research instruments, it’s critical to keep in mind that kids don’t always have cognitive access to the answers that directly meet our business objectives. For example, a six-year-old probably won’t be able to articulate exactly what he loves best about his favorite TV show or check a box to tell us what emotional needs it’s fulfilling for him; however, through well-designed questions that match kids’ age and stage, we can uncover these answers.

When it comes to research with kids – the best approach is often not the most obvious, but for people like us at Insight Kids, that’s what makes it fun!

Arin Tuerk is an Analyst with Insight Kids, a division of Insight Strategy Group. She holds a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Harvard University.

Why kids make the best respondents (sorry, grown-ups!)


Here at InsightKids, kids and teens are our experts. And while we’re relying on their know-how to provide our clients with robust insights, kids are relying on us to make their voices heard. Whether they realize it or not, kids trust us to translate their opinions into actionable insights for the companies that make things for them – an important role that we take seriously.

As moderators, our job is to ask targeted and well-constructed questions to extract these insights. Luckily, kids make that job pretty easy (and fun!) for us. Kids, just by being kids, make great respondents because they think literally and speak frankly. We trust their expertise with the peace of mind that we’re capturing their truths because:

  • They don’t bring preconceptions with them – they haven’t quite figured out yet the way things should or shouldn’t be done, so they’re not limited in their ideas
  • They’re easily flattered – unlike adults, kids don’t think of themselves as experts, and are empowered to think further when their ideas are validated and nurtured
  • They’re not grounded in reality – A walking iPad? A doll that braids kids’ hair? Everything is a possibility to them, and an insight to us
  • They’re straightforward – they’ll flat out tell you whether they like something or not, without layering in any fluff (it’s up to us to dig deeper!)

By getting on their level and asking questions in ways they understand, we’re giving kids the power to make their voices heard, and in the process making them feel validated and excited that their ideas matter. And we as moderators feel fulfilled in capturing kid truths, confident that our clients are getting actionable insights to improve their businesses.

Molly Austin is a Senior Analyst with InsightKids, a division of Insight Strategy Group.

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