Let 'em go at it!
Life is certainly a lot different for young children today. Exposure to the unpredictable world around them creates emotions that aren't really understood. Technology has permeated their everyday lives. Overhearing conversations or passing a device with news about violence, conflict, and animosity are pretty much unavoidable. It's too easy to question the world around them; even in their small sphere of contact. How are parents preparing them for their future?
Parenting is different as well. As with children, parent generational influences change. We live in a growing millennial aged parent era and moving quickly to the new Gen Z generation, all with slightly different ways they look at the world. Parent and family makeup has evolved from the nuclear family into single parent, step-parents, same-sex parents, and grandparents all raising children. All of them generationally different. The economics of today's world and its influence in raising children in this technology enriched world has impacted the way we are now seeing parents parenting.
Recently, I attended a talk given by Viacom's Nickelodeon research team. They reported on research fielded in 12 countries with 6500 families that have children 2-5. As has been the case throughout my career, cultures remain different, but the children and their development remain a lot alike. This study confirms this, but with a new look at priorities and emerging commonalities. Parents know that they need to prepare their children for jobs that don't exist today! A tall challenge and an uncomfortable one.
Confirmed by this research presentation; we have shifted from the "helicopter, bubble creating" parenting to one that allows a child to explore the boundaries a lot more. Exploring on their own is vital. Parents want to give their child flexibility of stimulus in order for them to develop their own path and letting it take them towards their unique future without fear of the unknown.
So, can product and entertainment help along this journey? Certainly, putting a child outside and saying, "Go at it." is not the safest way considering safety remains one of the biggest fears amongst parents. Watching anything on a digital device probably not either! Let's give them the opportunity to experience all sorts of things. Sharing in family chores lets them try on roles. There is room for product, if designed correctly, to help a child explore and question the world around them. A toy product can become the tool for experimentation and allows for important group play. That peer to peer conversation in play is so crucial in confidence building. Don't feel compelled to jump in and end a conflict so quickly. Those important negotiation tools will start to emerge. Product will help grow their vocabulary, tactile, and the ever-important storytelling skills. This study also reinforces that learning through play is considered more important than formal learning. That's a major shift in parenting.
Kid cool, mom approved was a design mantra while I was developing product at Fisher Price. It's still important, but just as important is listening to your young child's opinion before pushing something on them. That will give them confidence and a small sense of control; building confidence for the future. Saying no without reason really doesn't set the field for future negotiators and probably doesn't end well either!
Entertainment can also play a role in the new "try on" generation, by giving programs that encourage choices, exploration, and looking at failure as a necessary experience in learning. Episodes need to relate to today's world and its diverse makeup of people, continuing to have them be happy no matter what they decide and and questions to ask. I'll blog later on how entertainment has a big role in the future of children.
Being independent and having the ability to negotiate social situations a critical to advance ideas an create leaders. Open-ended play allow for creativity to flourish and the future will look for those that bring ideas to the table with great communication. Technology as second nature remains high on parents needs for their children, so the right activities and interactive tools need to be developed to take their imaginations into the new world. Do let them go at it.
Preparations are underway!