daily Insight

How Toddlers Are Creating New Media Consumption Habits

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How Toddlers Are Creating New Media Consumption Habits

When technology was mostly analog, toddlers weren’t able to use it independently. The controls and interfaces of televisions, desktop computers, and VCRs weren't kid-friendly enough. As a result, while kids could communicate favorites and preferences, parents had a much bigger influence on what toddlers watched because they were always involved in the process.

Now that technology is more accessible, toddlers are making their own media choices. Tablets are so easy to use, they have democratized access to media. The interface is visual, so kids can make choices without knowing how to read. And touching an icon or thumbnail image doesn’t require fine motor skills. The upshot: toddlers can swipe before they can wipe!

During field research at consumers’ homes, we see one-year-olds choosing YouTube videos. We see three-year-olds playing Minecraft and five-year-olds choosing filters on Snapchat. Though such applications aren't made for consumers this young, kids can access them anyway. They can't read the word "Snapchat," but they know what the icon looks like. All it takes is a tap.

Today’s toddlers are so savvy, we've seen them fix technical problems—like enabling wi-fi—so they can maneuver their way to their favorite games and applications.

A Tablet All Their Own

For many kids, the tablet has supplanted the security blanket or Teddy bear, offering comfort and being dragged along wherever they go.

For many kids, the tablet has supplanted the security blanket or Teddy bear, offering comfort and being dragged along wherever they go.

Some tablets are passed down from other family members, and some are bought directly for the child. Regardless of how they got their little hands on a device, toddlers are typically given free rein to use it. They know exactly where devices are kept (typically within reach, even if they have to open mom’s purse to get it), and most parents don’t set parameters for their kids' tablet use. While some families use “walled gardens” like YouTube Kids or Netflix Kids, which put forward only kid-friendly content, kids are pretty good at self-regulating the content they watch. Usually, they'll click away from a video that they know isn't meant for them.

Why tablets and not TV? Mostly because of usability. TV remotes are more forbidding for all kids, with their abstruse words, lettering and tiny buttons—tapping a screen is much easier. Toddlers can't yet read or type, so they can't use the guide or search to find shows. And the TV is the family's shared device, while kids see the tablet as their own, which is very empowering.

And there is tons of great stuff for toddlers to find, with effective algorithms to help them do so. Many videos feature real kids unboxing toys or demonstrating play, giving kids ideas for their own play. Scripted shows feature toddler-friendly visuals, simple stories, and catchy music. And wonderful characters cross formats to capture kids’ attention—kids can see Elmo on YouTube, on TV, and on toy store shelves.

Benefits for Brands and Kids Alike

Today's kids start their media consumption lives on tablets. They'll have no bias toward network TV, well-known streaming companies, or smaller players. Enterprising companies can stake a claim early by meeting kids where they are, providing digital content that kids can watch and play on a tablet. Marketing helps, of course, but tablets play into kids’ natural curiosities and foster exploration, giving newcomers a chance.

Today's kids start their media consumption lives on tablets. They'll have no bias toward network TV, well-known streaming companies, or smaller players.

While some parents might not like to see their toddler burying his or her head in a tablet for hours at a time, parents also see the benefits, both in terms of getting their own stuff done and providing information and entertainment for their kids. Tablets can give kids a sense of ownership, and help them get in touch with modern technology so they are on par with peers.

Today's toddlers are autonomous media consumers. Like the latchkey kid of the 1980s, the toddlers of the 2010s are a new audience. This is a revolutionary change—and it offers opportunities to aid child development that content creators and brands are just starting to understand.

What “The Emoji Movie” Got Right That Critics Missed

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What The Emoji Movie Got Right That Critics Missed

If we take the critics’ word for it, The Emoji Movie was a bona fide flop. Garnering a rare 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes from the top critics, the film was inspiration for vitriolic, venomous prose like “boldly boring” (The Village Voice) and “one giant ad for apps” (The New Republic). A discerning adult could not deny the shallow storyline, glorification of screen time, and brazen product placement. And yet, the film has grossed a respectable $216 million globally as of this writing, with more earnings expected from the recent digital release.

So why the disconnect?

While film reviewers make a career of analyzing and writing about the art form and the industry, they do not, as a rule, have a background in child development. They tend to review films based on artistic merit, without an accurate understanding of how kids may interpret and receive the film, which is the measure that most families use to decide whether to see it. The critics, by and large, missed the many ways makers of The Emoji Movie clearly hit the target with kids.

Critics tend to review films based on artistic merit, without an accurate understanding of how kids may interpret and receive the film, which is the measure that most families use.

Here’s what The Emoji Movie did right, and why:

  1. The cell phone setting. Mobile technology is aspirational for kids, making the setting already on point. Using a phone is considered a privilege and a grown-up one at that. Getting one’s own phone is a rite of passage for kids these days — one that is looked forward to and appreciated because it helps kids lean into their growing social identities while still getting to play and be creative.

  2. Relatable themes. While arguably the storyline inThe Emoji Movie could have been more cohesive or original, the themes presented in the relationships and story conflicts hit home for most kids. Those elements include being there for friends, trying to prove yourself to your parents, concerns about fitting in with peers, and making mistakes diving into grown-up things before you’re ready.

  3. Visual storytelling. Kids absorb information visually first, so a story that tells itself first in pictures packs a greater punch with them than those that rely solely on dialogue. This movie has the requisite number of physical action scenes and visual jokes, including menacing bots, a roller coaster, and spit takes. [Bonus: physical humor travels well too, which helps foster international success.]

  4. Kid-known brands. While many adults question the appropriateness of product placement in kids’ content, if you look at the use of brand names purely from a kid POV, you see recognizable, cool companies, including YouTube, Candy Crush, Spotify, Just Dance, and Twitter. Kids would likely be excited to see these apps featured and be able to understand the jokes and plot points relating to them.

  5. A happy ending. For little kids, who are just getting a sense of how the world works — what’s fair, what’s right and wrong — a sad or unjust ending can feel like a violation of everything they know and a blow to their confidence in learning what they should be aspiring to. As such, kids under age 10 tend to feel most satisfied when everything is tied up in a neat, positive bow at the end of a story, as it does in The Emoji Movie. While kids 10 and up (and parents, of course), may appreciate a more complex or cathartic ending, they don’t mind a happy ending either. Win-win.

  6. The vibrant look. While cute, colorful animation is not differentiating in the kids’ space, it’s still very appealing to kids, especially younger ones. And The Emoji Movie has no shortage of neon colors and rounded edges.

  7. Humor for parents. As expected in films directed at kids these days, the filmmakers throw in occasional jokes that are meant as a wink toward parents, without distracting from the kids’ storyline. Case in point: Sir Patrick Stewart plays the poop emoji.

But no Insight Kids blog post would be complete without advice for how the film could have better met the developmental needs of kids. Here’s where The Emoji Movie missed the mark:

  1. Too much verbiage. Essential exposition elements are explained in long passages of voice over but never depicted visually. Some of these passages even include sophisticated tech-speak where kids won’t understand the vocabulary. This means that major plot points and sources of tension would likely be missed entirely by the majority of the kid audience.

  2. Verbal puns. This film is full of them. Little kids won’t get them, and they are difficult to translate internationally.

  3. Sophisticated tech references. Plot points relating to the cloud, hacking, or Dropbox will confuse kids, especially younger ones, who are still gaining digital fluency.

  4. Overly sophisticated premise. The complexity of the plot is perhaps the biggest challenge of the film, from a child-development perspective. The main conflict of the story is around the idea that a face emoji needs to stay “meh,” meaning maintain a consistent blasé expression or risk destruction of his world as he knows it. But the film plays both sides, presenting emotions as both good (what the main character wants) and bad (leading to potential doom). On top of that, since kids are so literal, the visuals are downright perplexing — though you can’t see it on his face, Meh is freaking out! Unfortunately, what we’re left with regarding the stakes is confusion rather than emotional resonance.

The complexity of the plot is perhaps the biggest challenge of the film, from a child development perspective.

The lesson here?

Understanding child development should be cost-of-entry for any kid-targeted content. What’s funny or relevant to adults may not work for kids and vice versa. Reviewers need to start understanding their young audiences before weighing in on whether a film is worth seeing. And creators need to keep kids at the center of any family movie strategy and understand that parents are doing the same. Ultimately, that’s what sells tickets and earns that thumbs up emoji from kids.

Study: Essential Insights on How Parents Around the Globe Overlap … and Diverge

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Essential Insights on How Parents Around the Globe Overlap… and Diverge

Ever wonder how families make decisions, and whether parents or kids really control how kids spend their time and how parents spend their money? Insight Strategy Group recently completed a study among 1,200 parents of kids ages 2-11 in the U.S., Germany, and China to compare and contrast attitudes and behaviors around family dynamics and purchase decisions. The results reveal surprising similarities as well as important differences.

Global similarities make strategy development easy for brands. But every society has its nuances and quirks, and knowing the areas where markets tend to diverge is the first step in developing an effective strategy. Investigations into cultural norms, parent personality, local economics, and environmental factors like weather and safety can uncover the best ways to reach target audiences. In addition, understanding the attitudes and behaviors of both the majority in each population as well as substantial minorities can help you identify your ideal targets, in case you have an offering with potential for passionate niche appeal.

In China and the U.S., targeting kids may be enough, but in countries like Germany where ads have less of an impact, you also need to get parents on your side.

How Chinese, German, and U.S. Parents Are Similar

A Parent’s Job

Parents in all three countries describe themselves similarly—as “nurturing,” “protective,” and “supportive.” And frankly, we have yet to travel to a country where parents’ attitudes differ in terms of how they see their role. Heck, if apes could talk, they’d probably say the same. While parents may go about achieving these goals differently, even within countries, their overarching responsibility is making sure their kids are safe and happy, and to set them on the path to success, however that may be defined.

Kid Influence on Purchases

Parents agree that their kids get input on family purchase decisions, large and small. Even when parents are the ones swiping the credit card—maintaining the illusion of purchase control—it's their kids' wishes that guide what they buy. Keeping the kids happy is easier for parents than tough love. In addition, parents feel that giving kids a say is empowering—when their child can voice an opinion, that’s considered a developmental milestone that parents want to encourage.

Even when parents are the ones swiping the credit card—maintaining the illusion of purchase control—it's their kids' wishes that guide what they buy.

An overwhelming majority of parents agree that their kids can persuade them to buy small-ticket items like groceries or toys. But kids’ needs are prioritized even for big-ticket items where parents feel a stronger obligation to weigh in. For example, of the five most important factors in influencing where families choose to go for vacations, four relate to keeping kids engaged and happy: “accommodation options that are family-friendly,” “activities that parents and kids can enjoy together,” "a safe environment where kids are free to explore,” and “activities or attractions kids will love.” (Price makes a showing at #3.)

Gender Attitudes

Another similarity across markets is the momentum toward gender equality. In all three markets, the study found, more than half of parents encourage their children to play with toys that are traditionally for the opposite gender. And the majority of parents also believe that the approaches used to raise girls and boys should be the same. While that’s not everyone, similar stats across markets imply that a global attitudinal shift seems to be emerging that is worth paying attention to.

How the Markets Diverge

How Families Make Decisions

Basically, if kids want input, they are granted it. But kid interest in family decisions varies by market. On average, Chinese parents are most likely to agree that their child "is really interested in taking part in purchase decisions for our family," at 88 percent, compared to 65 percent in Germany and 61 percent in the U.S.

 In China and the U.S., targeting kids may be enough, but in countries like Germany where ads have less of an impact, you also need to get parents on your side.

As for behaviors, the study shows that kids in the U.S. and China are extremely likely to request things they see in ads, at 90 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Germany trails at 69 percent. This shows that in China and the U.S., targeting kids may be enough, but in countries like Germany where ads have less of an impact, you also need to get parents on your side.

How Kids Spend Their Time

When it comes to how kids spend their time, while all parents agree that play is important both to help kids relax and have fun as well as to learn and grow, markets differ on which way the scale tips and therefore which activities parents encourage during their kids’ leisure time. While most parents globally say they prefer educational activities and media, the degree to which parents really push their kids to choose educational pursuits over others varies by country. Culture strongly influences this diversion.

In China, where a large population makes professional success more competitive, "Play to Win" is a foundational attitude among parents. Parents don’t want their kids just to do well, they want them to be #1. 84 percent of Chinese parents say they "strongly agree" with the statement: "It's important that my child be the best at something," far outpacing the other markets. As a result, Chinese kids spend more time than kids in the other markets reading and engaging with educational content, as well as participating in individual learning activities like music lessons, tutoring sessions, and flashcards. Chinese kids have the highest access to e-readers, and reading crops up as the #1 most frequent leisure-time activity.

For U.S. parents, "Follow Your Passions" is a guiding principle. There is less push for playtime to be a learning experience, and more of a sense that playtime is for free exploration and relaxation. Unsurprisingly, U.S. kids over-index in screen activities, including watching TV, movies, and clips; using the web; and playing video games and apps. They have the highest access to video game consoles, and parents list playing with licensed toys as their kids #1 most frequent activity.

German parents have a more collective expectation for their kids: "Do Your Part." Only 35 percent of German parents "strongly agree" with the statement: "It's important that my child be the best at something." And only 16 percent "strongly agree" that: "I trust that my child will make the right decisions on his/her own." German kids spend less time comparatively on screens and over-index in play dates with friends and playing outside.

So What to Do?

Consider the Global Truths

  • Appeal to the universal role that parents see for themselves: nurturers, protectors, supporters

  • Follow the growing trend toward gender inclusivity and equality that parents are embracing for their kids

  • Remember that kids have influence on purchases large and small, especially in categories they take a larger interest in

  • Show both parents and kids that you will make kids happy, since parents prioritize kids’ needs

Understand Local Nuances for Each Market You Target

  • Reflect and appeal to local parents’ goals for their kids, whether those lean toward personal fulfilment, personal achievement, or collective participation

  • Understand the balance of power when it comes to decisions, so you know who to try to reach in marketing (Can you just go for kids, or must you also convince parents?)

  • Consider that you may want to target a niche but passionate minority in a particular market, vs. the majority

Keep Tabs on the Rapidly Evolving Changes

  • Track changes in cultural norms, economic dynamics, parental preferences, and environmental factors
  • Stay on top of trends, both globally and locally
  • Continually evaluate the influence of technology on your category and your marketing opportunities, to fuel product development and communications efforts
  • Note the influence of new competitors on consumer perceptions and behaviors

If you want any further details on parents and family dynamics, especially for particular categories, please reach out.

How Entertainment Brands Turn Kids Into Superfans

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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?

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5,127,666,603.

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:

INFORM:

  • 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

EMPOWER:

  • 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?

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‘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?

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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