Over the past twelve months British life has faced untold disruption as we’ve learned to adapt and deal with a global pandemic. Families, of all shapes and sizes, were thrown even closer together on 23rd March 2020 as the UK locked down for the first time.
Spending an increased amount of time in each other’s company has led to families pressing reset on, and revaluating, previously chaotic lifestyles. As a result, there has been an acceleration in the evolution of the modern British family.
It’s true to say that pre-pandemic change was brewing. 21st century families have become more democratic units. They are engaging more and holding important conversations around their shared or personal desires, hopes and fears. Both adults and children are now wielding the decision-making power - from the technology we use to eco-friendly and ethically sourced products we buy.
It's vital that brands understand and adapt to this ever-evolving family dynamic. A radical step-change by brands is needed. They must redefine their expectations and representation of the family unit if they want to remain relevant consumers. If not, they risk being left behind, or worse will become extinct.
In response to this, some of our brilliant minds at Wavemaker have come together, with News UK to investigate the change. In this new study we address this ever-evolving world and explore the changing dynamics of the modern British family and delve a little deeper into five key elements: a lifestyle reset that’s led to Growth and Betterment; the new Rhythm of family life; the Life Conversations in the 21st; a shift in the Influence dynamic; and finally, family Hopes and Fears in a post-pandemic world.
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By Ben Levy
We like structure. We like rhythm. It helps manage and minimise uncertainty.
As children routine gives us a feeling of safety. As adults, it gives us a feeling of purpose. We’re guided by the lunar rhythms, our moods are influenced by the seasons and we create idiosyncratic patterns across days, weeks, months, and years. Imagine if every day, week, and year was a completely blank piece of paper. Chaos!
As marketeers we must understand this rhythm. How our brands fit into family life. How our activity can influence behaviour. To understand the context and the cohesion.
We plan around dinner time and
the weekly grocery shop.
We build schedules around
the morning school run and
the commute home.
We run our playful Easter promotions and tear-inducing Christmas campaigns every year, without fail.
Back to home
Out with the old (roles), in with the new
Times Reader, News UK Family research
In 2021 Q1, 49% of employees in the UK were working from home at least once a week. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, most people see a hybrid future beyond Covid-19. For family life, this means many daily and weekly schedules have been through significant change. In many circumstances, families have benefitted from the greater flexibility. Hybrid work will continue to facilitate a more varied and balanced routine than before. Work will fit around their life as much as life has to fit around their work.
News UK’s family research project showed 56% of families have become closer since the start of the pandemic, and more than a third now making more decisions as a family unit than they were before. Across the family we have seen roles and responsibilities being shared out in new and interesting ways. Dads taking on a more active role in doing housework and childcare. Mums leading the weekly family workout, and kids getting creative in the kitchen.
There is a real threat that we will fall back in line with outdated stereotypes. That we will revert to old roles and habits. But in the tailwinds of good intentions and new behaviour, brands can play an important role as champions of change. Whether through overt messaging and campaigning, e.g. Ariel’s “Share the Load” campaign in India. Or through innovative product design, such as easy to use meal kits like Gousto enabling kids to lead the charge at dinner time. We should be encouraging a more progressive, evenly distributed and undoubtably possible new normal.
There has been so much change to daily family life. And whilst we go through this interesting period of blended life, merging new traditions, roles and schedules into more familiar patterns, brands can be an important voice in leading the conversation and behaviours we want to make a part of the new normal.
The children have taken on more responsibility: reducing reliance on me to organise them, making meals for family, buying their own toiletries and clothes.
of employees in the UK were working from home at least once a week
of families have become closer since the start of the pandemic
Claire, Qual Interview
Perhaps the most interesting area for brands may be when we investigate between the wide and narrow. Here we get to understand the nuances and differences in cultures and communities that make up modern Britain.
Over the last 30 years we have been going through a big change in society. In 1990 61% of the British adult population identified as being Christian. By 2018, that figure was down to 38% and falling year on year. Both non-religious (36% to 52%) and non-Christian (3% to 9%) have grown in significance as cohorts in British society.
Alongside this shift into a more culturally rich and diverse nation, moments of celebration, joy and happiness are increasing in number too. Different communities have different rhythms, dictated by the families that live within them. In May, fireworks for Eid will light up the skies of Bradford. In November, Leicester will be awash with light and colour to celebrate Diwali, closely followed by the eight days of gift giving for Hannukah in Barnet, North London.
It’s about the memories and doing things…about relationships and spending time with people and family.
For brands targeting families this may seem relatively obvious. But it provides a huge opportunity to drive incremental growth. We know breaking purchase habits and behaviour are far more likely to occur around important life events, changes in life stage and moments of reflection, in some categories up to three times more likely.
At a broader scale Christmas and Easter are still important moments, as they align to school holidays, usefully chunking down the year and forming an overarching societal structure. But when you speak to families, the reason why these times are important to them are not really because of religious significance. These moments are talked about in the same breath as summer camping trips, watching live sporting events such as Wimbledon and Nan and Grandad’s birthday celebrations.
They are the moments that families cherish. They help form a Memory Bank of Happiness. Especially important in more challenging times, where families can dip into the bank and see positive times ahead. Many brands have found success attaching themselves to the ‘traditional’ celebratory moments in our families lives. But they are cluttered, busy, and difficult to cut through. Identifying more ownable moments, through interests, events, partners, and passion points can give brands a way to build stronger relationships with their audiences, and competitive advantage over the rest of the category.
The perceptions and associations that families, and the communities they are a part of, continue to prioritise those memory inducing moments. Successful brands have always built strong ‘mental availability’, meaning they are memorable and salient. Brands who want to strengthen that mental availability, build positive associations and memory structures, and perhaps gain a place in the Memory Bank of Happiness, should look beyond the obvious and expand their own cultural calendars to be reflective of the communities and audiences they serve.
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Targeting families at the start of a new school year can provide competitive advantage for brands aiming to drive switching to their product or service. For FMCG brands such as Danone, launching a new SKU, and trying to switch consumers from the competitor brand and product, September could be a highly fruitful time.
Help support and showcase the new norms rather than revert to old stereotypes. A supermarket brand could target this family audience with meal ideas and inspiration aimed at kids rather than mums. An automotive brand could champion equality amongst parents by showing a Mum and Dad fighting over the keys in the morning to do the school run (and enjoying the drive in the process).
Interrogate the communities that lie within. Identify the opportunities to connect with them. Share and celebrate the moments that matter. Re-look and review your marketing calendar. Consider how your brand can play a role in a more diverse set of celebratory moments. For kids toy brands such as L.O.L Surprise! Hannukah and Diwali provide additional gifting opportunities alongside Christmas.
The rhythm of family life is complicated. Some of it is predictable and structured. Some of it is messy and manic. But it has never been more interesting than right now. The short-term shock of a global pandemic, combined with the long-term changing face of Britain made up of many diverse communities and cultures. For brands this creates a bounty of opportunity. To create relevant communications, experiences, products, and services that help navigate this new landscape. To break free from category norms and challenge last year’s marketing plan. In search of interesting ways to grow.
The structural certainty
Although on 23rd March 2020, chaos arrived. Rhythm went awry and patterns were spoilt. Our daily, weekly, monthly, and now yearly habits and routine addled and broken at first were soon reshaped and reinvented. Some of this change will fade away, some will stick. But which critical areas of rhythm will provide the biggest opportunity for brands?
For most British families, school is the most important external influence on dictating the rhythm of life. It creates a consistent structure for 10+ years. With a degree of certainty, families know the school year will play out in a consistent pattern year in, year out. With the predictable term times providing more manageable ‘chunks’ to plan more specific and personal schedules around.
Families see the start of a school year as having far more significance to them
than the start of a new calendar year. September is for many people the reset moment, not January.
We experienced when the lockdowns ended, just how important school life is for the whole of society. It demonstrates normal life and is a signal for people with or without children of their own, and with or without children at school. The patterns of the school calendar have wider effects beyond school age children – and go deeper than just trying to book a summer holiday.
The start of a school year is more like that [in terms of a fresh start] rather than the actual calendar year.
Be conscious of
your audiences’ daily
The time that falls between the gaps can become valuable. Think about where they are and who they are with. Drivetime radio or large outdoor could be the trigger at the optimum time to help them talk about tricky subjects such as mental health, money, or exercise. On regular travel routes or time slots, brand narratives could evolve and play out seeding the message over time. For brands who want to be part of the conversation be there to trigger the conversation at the right moment.
For some the extended family are integral to who’s having these conversations
Grandparents cropped up more than once when we were talking to families about who teens have life conversations with. For some teens the one generation removed is a far more comfortable and open place for these trickier bigger conversations.
When it’s all about the trigger moment, less about an appointment to chat
Many parents don’t plan life conversations, they just occur with the right trigger. Parents told us that a planned big and frank conversation is too pressured and too difficult to have. The more successful conversations stem from them being just part of the flow of conversation woven into the fabric of family life.
He fobs me off a lot. I’ll go into his bedroom and try and have a chat with him and I get shoved off the bed, or “go away I’m doing this, I’m doing the other”.
Debby, Qual Interview
Another key moment for life conversations is when driving with only one child as the passenger. This was cited as an opportune moment for both parties to broach more sensitive conversations. The side by side no eye contact approach was deemed a safe place to talk and often external stimulus on the journey was the spark to the conversation. For the same reasons, walking and jogging with a teen was also seen as a safe space.
Dinner time is the time that we're nearly always all around the table. It's almost like anything and everything goes, whatever someone throws into the conversation mix.
Parents told us of times which are ripe for triggering life conversations. The dinner table still is the key time for families to get together for family debates and lively discussion - as a side thought do also consider who has made dinner. More than once we heard about older teens who have taken up cooking duties during lockdown whilst parents worked, and this is a contribution that teens intended to keep.
How brands can be part of these new life conversations
Food remains a conversation starter
Mealtimes are still key opportunities for family conversations, consider what the new OXO moment could be for helping parents with conversations at mealtimes. Or finds a route that actively helps bring families together with food.
the power of the extended family
It’s probably time to rethink where the relationship with a brand starts. For example, what role do grandparents have on choice of savings accounts or financial plans for their grandchildren? Can a brand be a gateway for conversation between grandparents and grandchildren? In Sweden, McDonalds reinvented the classic Happy Meal for seniors. Instead of the traditional kids’ toy, they received a hand drawn creation from their grandchildren to help grandparents and their grandchildren connect during self-isolation.
Equip parents with knowledge and confidence
Some topics are easier to broach than others, some just fit into daily lives much more easily like diet and exercise whilst others are more sensitive like mental health and money. By equipping parents with the confidence to talk they can take
control of the topic and be the trusted voice.
Thus, drowning out any wrong misguided messages that can air so often on online platforms and amongst friendship groups.
By Kathryn Saxon
Children do not come with a manual and there’s no formal training for parents. When it comes to having ‘those’ difficult life conversations, understanding how to broach sensitive topics can be a minefield. Parents have to admit that they don’t always have all the answers. This is especially difficult when the life conversations are in an active, hot seat moment. It’s these important moments where a parent needs to be ‘on’ and their skills are put to the test.
It really shines a light on the fact that many parents are not merely ongoing role models which their children learn from nearly all the time. For the lucky ones, they are also seen by their children as mentors and non-ending sources of knowledge.
Suzanne, Qual Interview
I want her to know the facts before she launches into something... I don’t know whether I’m right, but I know she listens to me.
Diet and sugar is the new evil vs. smoking drinking and alcohol
So, what subject matter dominates life conversations? Who owns them and when do they happen? Is there anything we can identify that has changed over time?
In the 1980’s, many of the first life conversations between parents and children stemmed from a phrase on everyone's lips ‘Just Say No'. It echoed an anti-drugs message delivered by Nancy Regan, the US First Lady at the time, but was made popular in the UK by the teen TV soap, Grange Hill.
Fast forward to today and these children of the 1980’s are now parents tackling conversations with their own offspring. Today we have more questions being asked on more complex issues brought on in part by the role of platforms, such as social media and internet sites highlighting themes that raise further questions and then provide answers either rightly or wrongly. Added to this is the fact that more opinions are being sought beyond close friends and family.
When we asked parents what ‘life conversations’ were being had with their teens - the list was endless. There were several subjects that came up on a regular basis and were named as top areas of concern, including bullying, homosexuality, relationships, diet, happiness, and future plans. Notable was the absence of spontaneous mentions about smoking, alcohol, and drug abuse. Perhaps the latter are areas of less concern with this generation drinking less than previous and smoking at 13% penetration and a notable absence (especially in the pandemic) of the 1990’s headline grabbing fatalities of young people from drugs.
A song released by the cast reached number five in the charts and remained in the Top 100 for five weeks. It delivered a clear message, telling listeners to ‘Just Say No’ to drugs. Culture often pushed the questions, and they rose from a limited number of programmes with a captivated mass audience. Drugs, drink, and smoking were arguably the root of many parents’ nightmares and the topic of most life conversations at the time.
The focus of today’s government public health messaging is very different to that of the 1980’s. This appears to be reflected in the conversations parents are having with their teens. With obesity levels at an all-time high - one in five children classed as obese at age 11 and 37% of those 16-24 overweight or obese - diet and in particular sugar, has become the new enemy and arguably the grim reaper at the doors of our children.
Our survey data shows substance conversations are much rarer than other life conversations, with 37% of parents stating they have not spoken to their teen about taking drugs, drinking alcohol or smoking. This is in stark contrast to just 10% who have not had any recent conversations about their teens exercise habits and only 13% of parents have not spoken about their teens diet and eating habits. In fact, diet and eating habit conversations are frequent with over 60% of parents surveyed agreeing they’ve had three or more recent conversations about both diet and eating habits.
of parents state they have not spoken to their teen about taking substances
of parents have had three or more recent conversations about diet and eating habits
An economic picture which is colouring conversations
Job prospects and future career plans is another common topic of life conversation amongst families, with 42% of parents surveyed agreed they had discussed career and jobs more than five-times recently. These conversations are often triggered by the pressure felt within parent social circles as other parents reveal they’ve ‘done’ more in this space such as checking out colleges or career paths. This leaves some parents with a feeling they are ‘behind’ which spurs them to act and broach the conversation with their teen.
Despite worries about career prospects, only 48% of parents had managed three or more conversations about money and finance. This indicates that there is a lack of trigger moments and /or weaker confidence or knowledge to initiate this topic of conversation by either party. Many seemed to know it’s a thing they need to talk about but felt ill equipped practically, as much as emotionally, to deal with it.
Indeed, when we asked parents about these topics of conversation, they wished they’d had with their parents when they were a teen, one of the key themes that resonated with them was money. A stigma around money still seems to exist for many then - 40 years on.
The stigma around mental health has broken down but it’s still a difficult subject
Somewhat surprisingly our survey of parents shows that whilst parents know mental health is important, few know how to have the conversation with their children. Unsurprisingly, it was one of the subjects they wished their own parents had discussed with them but only a half of parents have discussed mental health three times or more, indicating there’s an issue around knowing how to broach or talk about this area or they are lacking a trigger moment.
By Emily Rich
In the past children were supposed to be seen, but not heard. Invisible and pliant they were passive within the family dynamic. Now, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century a dramatic shift has emerged. Children are now leading climate change movements, influencing government policies and writing novels. A natural extension of this increased participation in society, is that children are also wielding far more influence within the home. From technology purchases to eco-friendly product recommendations, children have never been more vocal, and parents are listening to them more.
For much of the 20th century parents appeared to be the main controlling influence within the family unit. In fact, children’s input towards family purchasing decisions often amounted to little more than circling toys in the Argos catalogue. Order was hierarchical with children firmly at the bottom of the pecking order.
My parents regarded their house as theirs, not the families.
News UK Research respondent
They are constantly online and aware of opportunities which I never was. I never even considered the possibility that I might influence my parents. My children are totally comfortable making suggestions.
But, as we celebrated a new millennium, we also started to witness shifts in the flow of family influence, largely facilitated by the democratisation of information. At the dawn of the millennium only 25% of UK households were online, by 2020 this figure was at 96% (Statista, 2021). This explosion in access to information over the last twenty years has allowed children and young adults the confidence to gather information and form opinions. And those opinions are being heard clearly within families, with influence becoming increasingly decentralised and multi-directional.
I didn't get much say in anything when I was a child.
In a far cry from the last decades of the 20th century, children are now driving product trial, tech and cultural behaviours and inputting into everyday household decisions from streaming services to food purchases. Our research with News UK saw parents discussing the wide range of influence their children have, from day-to-day household shopping through to car and house purchases. The data shows nearly three quarters of parents acknowledge their children have influence on household purchases with a whopping 71% also saying they ask their children’s opinion on things purchased solely for themselves. In short, never have children had so much influence within family life.
of UK households were online at the dawn of the millennium
of UK households were online by 2020
From pester to planning-power
News UK Respondent
Purchasing decisions have become about online and not in person as I don't think we have gone shopping as a family since about February.
There’s been a steady increase in online shopping occasions, which has been accelerated by the pandemic, to represent 16% of Britain’s grocery market (Reuters, Feb 2021). This increase is even more pronounced in family households where 43% of parents of under-16s report to be shopping online more now.
Whether or not Ocado CEO, Tim Steiner is wholly correct in his assertion that ‘there’s no going back’, there’s no doubt we’ve witnessed significant change in both the mechanics of household influence on grocery purchasing, and how that influence is wielded.
A third of our research parents said their children were most likely to suggest a new food or drink to try. But this very definitely isn’t about pester power. Instead, it’s rooted in increased family democracy, with children playing a bigger and more influential role in both meal planning and grocery purchasing. With more time at home over the last year families reported children taking on more household responsibility, ‘making meals for the family’ and ‘buying their own toiletries and clothes online’. A recurrent theme was increased child involvement in the planning of family meals, for example one respondent described working with
her child in ‘(agreeing) menus and ordering online shopping to match these.’
With a recent report showing a 65% increase in children having a lot of influence over grocery shopping (The Insights People, 2020) if even some of this behaviour sticks post-pandemic it opens clear opportunities for brands to further this empowerment. It will facilitate new ways of planning for family meals and grocery purchases involving the whole family.
Rebels with a definite cause: younger generations are activists in the homes
Suzanne 49, Qual interview, in a HH with husband, Rodney 49, Tamieka, 17
Famed for being less likely to rebel in the traditional sense of sex, drugs and rock and roll, Gen Z and the emerging Gen Alpha are more likely to be found pestering their parents to be more eco-friendly or tackling societal issues than to let them stay out all night.
Empowered to have a voice and use it far earlier on, a quarter of children have encouraged their parents to switch to products that are better for the planet. One in five aged 5-9 has already been on a march or protest for something they care about. (WARC, 2020, Beano Insights)
Our research with News UK found 66% of parents had had family conversations about environmental issues at least once in the last three months, with at least a third discussing three or more times.
I think this generation now seem more aware of things that perhaps I wasn't when growing up. She's 17 now and she's finding her voice. I think that this generation, they’ve probably set more goals for themselves.
And these discussions are starting to translate to tangible behaviour change. Although not yet ubiquitous, parents are noting their children have recommended environmentally friendly products to them. We also know that children and young adults are not afraid to veto brands that don’t meet their ethical standards as powerhouses such as Boohoo and Pepsi can attest to.
They have good ideas on environmentally friendly products which I probably wasn't aware of at their age.
Understand children’s elevated importance and make connections with tomorrow’s purchasers, today.
As the children of today grow older, and more empowered,
we can expect their influence over household decisions
and purchases to grow. With brand decisions and alliances forming at a younger age, brands need to act to form these connections now not in 10 years’ time.
Families are no longer cookie-cutter coming in all shapes and sizes, from large multi-generational to two person households with influences flexing within. For instance, with almost 3 million single parent households in the UK the marked increase in children’s influence on household purchasing seen has clear and significant implications. Brands need to consider different family style needs and tailor their comms accordingly.
Recognise that families today come in many forms and adapt comms accordingly.
For many categories, particularly tech and entertainment, although parents hold the purse strings, it would be remiss of advertisers not to consider the significant influence children are wielding. Could your product comms more overtly feature child protagonists as Ikea did in its The Wonderful Everyday Hooray! Execution? What’s certain is that brands need to ensure that Priming comms reach all those with influence in the purchase journey.
Consider broader family audiences in purchase journey Priming stages
Although children’s opinions regarding household purchasing decisions are of increasing importance, don’t fall into the trap of mocking or side-lining parents. This is about recognising shared purchasing decisions and empowerment, not explicitly targeting children, or trying to circumnavigate parents via pester power.
But it’s critical to ensure ethical considerations
The ‘woke’ generation have strong and vocal beliefs about eco and societal issues and are influencing parental purchases now. Categories and brands that may not have considered children’s views important need to work out how they – and their products and services – can meet these needs and demands.
Bake emerging generations’ principles into what you do
Lone Parent Families: a marked increase in joint parent-child decision making
This idea of a democracy, the move towards joint parent-child decision making is even more striking in lone parent families. In these families, our research with News UK showed parents ranking their children highest in having most influence over HH purchases. Strikingly in two-parent households’ children didn’t come second (behind partners) but ranked forth demonstrating the clearly heightened influence of children within lone parent families.
And this trend has been strengthened by living through the pandemic. 43% of single parent households agree they make more decisions together as a family now than before, compared to 32% of two parent families.
of single parent families make decisions together as a family
of two parent families make decisions together as a family
We discuss more things and I, as a parent, have become better at listening to my children. I consider their needs (and) include them more in the decision-making process about all family related matters. It has no doubt improved our relationship.
Tech Natives: Children are often the household tech experts and drivers of tech purchases
Claire, Qual interview, in a HH with husband and 3 children (10,10,15)
The digital age has proved a great leveller of influence within families. With over half of parents saying that they find the pace of new technology overwhelming (YouGov, 2021). It’s therefore no surprise that their digitally native children are helping them make informed choices, and often an unarguable case for a tech purchase.
In one of our qual groups, Claire told us about her 15-year-old son petitioning for a family Alexa. They already have an Alexa but, after seeing an advert on Amazon, he wants to upgrade to one with a screen, and had several reasons why this would be good for the family. Mum seems to be coming round to the idea!
If tech breaks, everyone goes to him (Dylan) and depending on his mood he’ll either fix it or tell you to go away!
This idea of children driving a serious amount of tech purchases within the house is demonstrated by the fact that families are amongst the most engaged tech buyers (Mintel’s Digital Trends, Sep 2019). They have higher personal ownership of devices compared to non-parents (Mintel, tech habits of gen x March 2019).
This means brands need to part with the idea of tech adopters primarily being single high earning young males. They must look to tap into this rich opportunity to engage with those, who even though they may not buy the tech, certainly influence its purchase.
By Emily Fairhead-Keen & Faye Longega
Understanding the hopes and fears for the future of both parents and teenagers
has never been more relevant in a landscape of profound change and uncertainty. Long held, more traditional parental concerns around further education, financial independence and job security remain true. But, the pandemic has added another layer of complexity as many parents worry about the longer-term impact on
their children’s future.
Teenagers take a shorter term and optimistic view of their future, focusing on their immediate next stage life steps and do not think too far forward into ‘grown up’ areas. Concerns for teenagers however, come in a different form, fuelled by high levels of knowledge and awareness of bigger picture, macro societal and political issues such as climate change, Brexit, and Black Lives Matter. Arguably they make sure they channel these concerns into actions and/or energies, for example, causes which motivate them and goals to work towards with hope.
Be the anchor
Parents see happiness and stability as going hand in hand. They are concerned by the housing market and careers, and they want their children to be secure and happy. Brands should focus what stability they can offer. For example, - finance brands could focus on savings accounts offering stability for their children as they start their careers, they could position savings account as mortgage starter accounts that are designed for parents who can help contribute to this over a longer period and in smaller increments.
What does this all mean for brands?
Reverse mentor the soft skills
Parents are concerned by the fact their children’s softer skills (whilst savvy at research) are being hindered by the overuse of technology. Touchpoint’s data shows young people spend more time on instant messaging services versus talking on the phone. Whilst brands have focussed on upskilling older people on technology e.g. Barclay’s Digital Eagles campaign, could a similar campaign be undertaken to upskill softer skills. For example, could a mobile provider company reward teenagers with extra data if they spend more time making phone calls.
The pandemic has reframed career aspirations, with science seeing a huge rise in interest. Government brands should capitalise on this and showcase the range of careers they have that can be linked to science for example medicine, teaching science or scientific research. This provides a further opportunity for brands to tackle diversity in such industries. Science, which has failed to capture the interest of females, has an opportunity to showcase the brilliant women involved in the fight against Covid-19, for example the female scientists in charge of developing the Oxford Astra Zeneca backgrounds. Brands who have science in their DNA (i.e. FMCGs) could look for ways to champion their science – and celebrate their audience scientists – greatest innovators etc.
Start/be the catalyst
Our research has found that values are aligned across generations, and the differences in views aren’t as extreme as they once were. However, parents are concerned about fake news and the fact their children’s lack of life experience means their views are black and white. Equally some teenagers feel their parents aren’t progressive enough. Therefore, brands should drive positive change by uniting families and encouraging conversations. How can brands start a debate within the family? How do they become the catalyst for conversations and debate?
I want Tom to have a job that is enjoyable, where he gets paid well but not at the expense of happiness. However, it is important that it is a long-term job, one that does not fold and that gives him security and financial stability.
A focus on mental health over the last few years has created a cohort of parents who take a less pressured view on their children’s future, shunning ‘ambition’ in favour of longer-term health. Hopes no longer rigid around professional prowess and pay grade but around softer metrics such as happiness.
Front and centre of parents’ priority is job enjoyment for their children, which sits above all else and takes precedence over any financial gains. This seems to be driven by an awareness of the link between job dissatisfaction and mental health along with some of their own negative experiences of working life.
Mental health is massive it has taken me 6 years to get help for my daughter.
Economic fears one day, hopes the next
The normal anxieties of the transition from secondary school onwards have certainly been magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, in the News UK survey, 89% of parents said they were either quite or very concerned about young people’s job prospects or future career.
Educating their children on financial acumen and the value of money seems high on parents’ agenda. In our survey, nearly 60% of parents had talked to their kids at least twice in the last three months about money.
Parents also realised first-hand the impact of economic uncertainty 41% of respondents said Covid-19 had already impacted their income, with 21% asserting that whilst it hadn’t currently, they expected it to in the future. For this reason, many parents we spoke to cite the (seemingly) deeply unstable economic outlook and surging youth unemployment as a reason to steer their children towards a university education - to wait out the gloomy financial environment, building their skillset in the meantime.
Parents also realised first-hand the impact of economic uncertainty 41% of respondents said Covid-19 had already impacted their income, with 21% asserting that whilst it hadn’t currently, they expected it to in the future. For this reason, many parents we spoke to cite the (seemingly) deeply unstable economic outlook and surging youth unemployment as a reason to steer their children towards a university education - to wait out the gloomy financial environment, building their skillset in the meantime.
That said, on one day we seemed to be predicting the worst recession since 1936, whereas a few months later economic news had more of a ‘glow’ and news of ‘bounces’ were abundant. Therefore, pessimism on one day should be treated with caution the next, especially in a world which is volatile and unpredictable.
The job market is going to be very poor over the next couple of years due to the recession, so she might as well stay in education until we come through the end of it.
of parents said they were concerned about young people’s job prospects or future career
of parents had talked to their kids at least twice in the last three months about money
If there is one-thing we could hope for our son is that he doesn’t go into adult life with a load of student debt.
For some, life’s autopilot moments (i.e. going to university) are being rethought
With tuition fees now at £9,250 a year, many families are worried about the prospect of £50,000 worth of debt after graduating. News UK research found, 76% of parents were either quite or very concerned about the cost of university, and you can see why.
At the same time, families are debating the relative worth of a university degree with growing evidence that the ‘graduate premium’ has been consistently falling. With Covid-19 having impacted 48% of our News UK readers’ incomes, this is more of a concern for parents than ever.
Arguably this is a world which is highly unpredictable and volatile, and parents get this. In some ways they fear it but the fact it can change in a day, means they are cognisant that their one-day fears might be hopes the next.
Hopes for a new generation of scientists
Due to the perceived destruction of certain industries during Covid-19, parents have been encouraging their teenagers to seek courses that will guide them to a more stable future. Rational choices are shifting away from creative and service sector and more towards the business sector, with the ability to work from home at the forefront of decisions.
According to the IDP, searches for courses in the computing and mathematical sciences subject area have increased their percentage in share of traffic. This may be explained by students having spent a year with intense reliance on computers and online technology, year 13 students may also have developed a greater appreciation of how important technology is, both now and in the future, heightening their awareness of the relative stability of computing technology as a future career.
According to The Guardian, growing numbers of young people are feeling inspired by the scientists they’ve watched on TV and read about online. A recent poll of 1,000 4-18 year-olds by the British Science Association found that 59% are more tempted by careers in science than they were prior to the pandemic. Celebrity scientist Brian Cox has even predicted that the pandemic will create “a new generation of scientists”.
Jasmine wanted to be a fashion designer, but because of Covid-19, I am steering her away from the creative world to have a firmer business grounding. Covid-19 has changed our priorities.
Fears for a generation of Avatars, able to function less well in the physical world
Families believe that technology has allowed their teenagers to be independent, hyper aware and savvy which will set them up well for the future. Our parents talked about their children’s ability to undertake their own research to make informed purchase decisions, transact online and monitor their finances through banking apps.
On the other hand, technology has seemingly prohibited their children having often important, real life conversations, especially with people of authority.
It is questionable to what extent the reality is children are just being children
and shy within the physical world (regardless of the virtual one). Is this just
the perception of parents who feel a distance to their children, quite naturally, they’re moving further from the laps, away from that base (and in fact working through how to manage the physical world, but fluent already in a virtual one which parents find harder to navigate).
My daughter is very entrepreneurially minded. She sells clothes on Depop to make money but gets nervous having to phone up to make a doctor’s appointment or ask advice in a shop.
Aligned morals and values
Despite generational gaps, morals and values amongst families tend to be broadly aligned with all family members sharing concerns about the environment and economy (although strong opinions are much more prevalent amongst older vs younger teenagers).
Most of the conversation surrounds the differences between the generations at equivalent ages with the widespread acknowledgement that teenagers nowadays have a greater level of awareness and interest in world issues and a more proactive ‘activist’ approach.
However, with this confidence comes a note of caution from parents that their teenagers hold very strong views which are often fuelled through social media
or fake news.
Parents are aware of the echo-chamber of social media (that said I’m sure
taking only one print title offered an analogue echo-chamber of sorts when
parents were younger).
Kids now are very switched on, definitely
compared to when I was growing up.
They watch the news and talk about politics.
Keep family time
Families may have started doing things for betterment, making positive behaviour changes that impacted health and the environment, but it’s important to note the driver for this behaviour was spending time together as a family. Brands need to be aware of this and focus on families being together as the motivator to get families to act, whether that be through exercise, cooking or baking.
A piece of education may provide a trigger, but positioning doing good around together time provides an emotional reason to continue. For example, a food brand could create recipes that are designed to be cooked together.
Organisations and brands have huge opportunity to help families keep up these good intentions
Find or create growth nudges
Keep it small and manageable. The behaviours that stuck throughout lockdown were the ones that were easy, whether that be spending 40 minutes walking, or playing a board game on a Sunday moment.
As one Mum told us “the big gestures don’t last – they soon get forgotten”. Instead, families were focussing on implementing small changes as the world returned to normal, such as cancelling individual Sunday morning swim lessons for a group swim or committing to always walking to school instead of getting back on the bus. Changes that would have a positive impact on their mental and physical health and the environment.
Focus on little nudges that can make a cumulative difference in the long term and keep healthy habits going. One idea for brands is to steal with pride Duolingo’s approach of creating a character, such as their owl that sends a nudge every day to continue with an activity
Supply and demand for collective family experiences through technology were on the rise pre-pandemic. The lockdowns have simply ensured this need is set to stay. In speaking to families, we heard how one Mum and her son’s lockdown purchase of a Nintendo Switch kept the family dancing together. Dancing for no reason also increased in Sport England’s research. Another scenario was a family using their Fitbits’ to track steps and monitor who was winning (or losing), keeping them all engaged and entertained.
This correlates with data from The Insights People who found that adoption of fitness watches had increased amongst children. They predicted that as normality returns “wellbeing, self-care and improving mental health could well become a daily focus for families”.
Brands should look at how tech and fun can be combined to promote positive behaviour changes, and how they can use technology to create focus on wellbeing habits. Radical partnerships between technology providers and brands provide a brilliant opportunity to bring this to life.
The Covid-19 outbreak, whilst catastrophic, created a moment of serendipity for families who realised that increased family time can invertedly lead to better habits and stronger units. These circumstances provide the opportunity for brands to support families to rekindle these betterment icons as the world returns to normal.
Full freedom is in touching distance now, and as time passes brands have the opportunity to rekindle nostalgic icons such as the daily walk and the family lunch, and utilise them to help families. It is imperative that the usual rules of behaviour change are applied, and that small nudges are combined with fun and together time to ensure the most impact.
Positive feedback loops
Simple pleasures of being outside and exercising whilst exploring the local community created further awareness of the impact of the environment and local community, and the role it can play on health. Wavemaker UK research found one Mum who noticed the positive impact lockdown had on her asthma as cars were on the road less. This made her consider walking more, discovering local places of sanctuary. The better the behaviour the better families felt, and the more this became a habit.
The desire to keep these good behaviours
Lockdown life has given families time to enjoy simple pleasures which make them feel good and they are keen to maintain them.
Sport England found that 62% of people intended to keep walking and cycling
more post lockdown. Our research found families planned to continue to walk,
cook and bake.
Whilst step change has occurred, as lockdown eases and diaries become more jam packed families may find themselves falling into old routines.
By Lisa Thompson
Whilst the pandemic shook the foundations of family life we’ve seen some positive behaviour changes, with evidence that families intend to maintain them. This is down to many changes being rooted pre-Covid-19.
Families were looking for a moment to slow down.
Families have always craved more ‘together time’ and dreamt of being able to slow down, but the business of the everyday never allowed families to address this. They were too busy “being run ragged with parties, clubs and activities”.
From the fundamental anchor of school to the peripheral distractions of social life around it, dance classes and football training, to playdates and parties. On the 23rd March 2020, they all stopped.
On top of children’s lives being disrupted, many parents were working from home or had been furloughed, forcing a collision of lives and a somewhat deconstructed family unit running at a frantic pace in different directions; emotionally and physically forced together.
This enforced pause enabled families to enjoy time together. Out of this enforced togetherness, families were able to make more enjoyable connections. They found ways to better themselves and grow, adopting better habits which they intend to keep.
Whilst it is important to assert that lockdown wasn’t a blissful utopia, research conducted by Wavemaker UK and News UK found that 56% of families felt closer during the pandemic and 76% said they enjoyed spending more time with their family. Whilst families were overarchingly desperate for holidays and events to return, families did not want to disregard the changes that had happened.
Ikea Home research found 44% wanted to continue to spend more time with their families after lockdown, and YouGov data found families were 33% more likely than the average adult to say they would miss elements of lockdown. In years to come, who knows, we might even be nostalgic for elements of it.
of families felt closer
during the pandemic
said they enjoyed spending more time with their family
Families are growing and bettering themselves, together
Exercising together - Sport England research found +4.3% increase in going for a walk amongst children, and an extra 1.2 million people cycled for leisure in 2020. In focus groups, families told us that they were coming together to exercise for health but also for fun.
Eating together - More families were coming together for mealtime and cooking from scratch. This growth was so prominent, Morrison’s launched a Family Cooking box in July 2020 after research demonstrated a growth in scratch cooking amongst families. During lockdown families spent an extra 33 minutes every day eating together, and 98% more time every day preparing food together.
News UK Research
We do more activity together, so most meal times, morning yoga. Less solitudinal activities.
Around a new pet - The lockdown pet proved a driver of together time, and of those that purchased their first pet during lockdown 56% had children at home.
Around a new pet
Learning new skills to boost connection - One app that saw a surge in demand during lockdown was Duolingo (a language learning app), and this wasn’t just used to fill the time. A report from Duolingo found there was an 83% increase in people listing culture and family as a motivation for learning a language in 2020 versus 2019. People took the chance to be able to better their connection with their family and culture.
These interactions were a series of pause buttons, which families were arguably looking for, to stand still, grow and better themselves
Learning new skills to boost connection
We’ve been exercising and cooking together. The kids decide the menu and then take turns to cook as the fancy takes them.
We re-introduced daily family dinners and involved the children in gardening activities. We gave them more freedom in designing and structuring the garden, which they loved.
Walking became a way for one Mum to connect with her teenage son and have hard conversations. In the focus groups, several Mums talked to us about how the walk allowed the chance to talk and get to know each other better. One Mum told us how she and her older son would have time walking along together to connect. The time together allowed for family members to feel more empathetic to each other.
We spend more time together. We are nicer to each other. We eat family meals together. We talk to each other, find out about each other’s days.
We discuss issues or scheduling as a family. Spending more time on common ground with interests we share just haven’t always had time for. More listening is done and empathy is used more frequently to another sibling’s situation.