Why parents want their kids to fail: learnings from the MRS Kids and Youth Conference

A couple of weeks ago, FreshMinds was invited to speak at the Market Research Society’s Kids and Youth Research Conference about a recent project for BARB (the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board). This was exciting as the project plunged us into the lives and attitudes of teens and young adults (an area we’ve done a great deal of work in recently). We were interested not only to share the findings of our research, but to hear more about young people’s lives from others in our industry. So what did we find out? Here are three key learnings from the MRS’s Kids and Youth Research Conference.

Parents want their children to fail

In her fascinating presentation about preschoolers, Anna Noel Taylor from Viacom pointed out how parents around the world have gone from shielding their children from the outside world, to wanting to expose them to potential failure to help them grow.

91% of parents are worried about their offspring’s future, and perhaps rightly so: two thirds of children growing up today will work in jobs that don’t yet exist. That’s a scary reality to grow up with! As a result, parents understand that they must equip their children with lifelong soft skills and are looking for safe spaces and occasions to let their children experiment, fail, and grow without much supervision. In fact, 74% believe their children should learn primarily through their own experiences.

The Conscientious Generation is eager to be involved in research provided they’re treated as peers

Similarly, one of the key themes of the conference when it came to teens and young adults was the importance of treating them as the adults they are. This is the generation that smokes and drinks much less than their older siblings, and who see hard work as the way to a rewarding life. It exasperates them when they are misunderstood and spoken down to by adults.

Harriet Penrose and Emma Partridge gave a captivating presentation about their project to engage teens in the future of Essex Water. Rather than doing focus groups with teens about a complex and boring subject, Essex Water ran a competition in 50 schools and created a “non-executive board” of teenagers who worked for a month on the problems faced by the company to great success. The mutual benefit to the participants as well as to the client was key in the success of this project, and it’s something we also highlighted in our presentation: young adults are very keen to get involved in research, just make sure you involve them and communicate to them as peers and let them know how much their voice is valued, and why.

Innovation in research methodology will help us get ever closer to this demographic

A lot of the presentations (including our own) made strong cases for the importance of using tech and other innovative research methods to get ever closer to this complex demographic. Whilst we spoke about our combined use of vlogs, Skype interviews and a placebo app, other presentations had put GoPros on toddlers and “raided” the bedrooms of teenage girls. This not only immerses stakeholders into the lives of young people, but also lets us complement claimed behaviour by witnessing real behaviour.

It is a brave new world these children and teens are facing, and it is crucial that we as researchers keep innovating to keep up with this lively bunch. In the words of Grace & Grace, YouTube vloggers present at the conference and asked about which of their videos work best: “Try new stuff that nobody else has done. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t – but that’s where we get the most clicks.”