Parenting has shifted. The first generation of truly digital-native parents are now bringing their own values, needs and experiences to the difficult job of raising kids in 2023. Front and center for them is making sure that digital literacy is added to those core skills that every young human needs in order to thrive.
Parents are more engaged; digitization is democratizing access to knowledge; and the nations that put a premium on this knowledge are where parents seem most at ease with their newfound digital nativity.
Change is happening
Children need nutritious media to get the most value from their screen time—this has never been up for debate. But if we’re honest, dollars often trump nutrition. The golden age of children’s media has come under attack from the expectations of an investor community hunting for the next on-demand hit.
Markets adapt when consumers voice their demand for change. Late last year, after working on a number of international client projects, we started to register a sea change. No society stands still when its foundations are rocked like they were by the pandemic. And so, armed with more than just a hunch, we decided to dig deeper and see what it’s like to be a family in 2023.
In January, we spoke with 5,043 families—and a total of 20,147 family members—from 10 countries around the world. We asked them about parenting, fandom, happiness, the future, and their attitudes, wants and needs from the media they consume.
The bulk of the parents of four- to 13-year-olds we talked to are, broadly speaking, ages 18 to 43 (Gen Z and Gen Y). They are also the first generation of parents in history who are fully aware of both the benefits and failings of digital society. It’s this awareness that is driving the change in how our children consume and take advantage of the digital world they have been born into.
Access with strings very much attached
The study made it clear that children’s access to digital media is even more expansive than we previously thought—and that much of the time they spend consuming content is without a parent looking over their shoulder.
Whether this is good or bad depends on how you see things, of course. Either way, it means we have a collective responsibility to ensure that as much nutritious content as possible finds its way onto those devices. After all, never before in the history of humanity has so much content been in the (very small) hands of so many.
We asked the families which of the following nine commonplace devices their children have access to—smartphones, tablets, laptops/PCs, smartwatches, generic smartspeakers, age-appropriate smartspeakers (e.g. Echo Dot Kids), handheld game consoles, stationary game consoles and e-readers.
Nearly a third—28% of all children ages four to 13 in our sample—had access to and used all nine of these devices. Perhaps even more tellingly, nearly three-quarters of respondents had access to and used five or more of them.
For the family in 2023, device access and use is not as connected to age as it has been in the past. The number of devices accessed is broadly consistent throughout the three age bands that we explored in the study.
It’s interesting that the two nations with the highest levels of device access (seven or more) are India at 64% and Brazil at 58%. Both are massively populous nations in the southern hemisphere, each with a surging middle class and a hunger for the future.
Oh, and by the way, these are also the two highest-indexing countries in the world when it comes to the importance they place on parenting—82% of Indian parents say that parenting is the most important job there is, and 89% of Brazilian parents feel the same.
These are not easygoing parents. They truly, madly, deeply want the very best for their children, and they’re welcoming technology as one way to facilitate that.
Parents are embracing media responsibility
Of all the things that parents want from children’s media, positive role models rank as the most important globally (albeit with a degree of disparity). And once again, the countries that index the highest on this fundamental are in the southern hemisphere. (Is there a pattern emerging here?)
Leading the way are Nigeria (78%), India (61%) and Mexico (58%), while France (37%), South Korea (38%) and Germany (43%) rank far below them—seemingly not quite as concerned as their materially less advantaged counterparts about the impact that media can have.
Percentage of parents who strongly agree that screen-based media should provide opportunities to watch/play and have fun together.
Active engagement: A family affair
The study clearly showed that families want to spend more time together. Co-viewing is increasingly important and is actively sought by nearly half the parents we spoke to.
Globally, 47% of them ranked the term, “Opportunities for me and my child to watch/play together and both have fun” as the second most important aspect of children’s media. (The percentages specific to each of the 10 countries surveyed can be seen in the graph to the left). Even more interestingly, 74% of parents say they do this for at least half of the time they spend with their children.
If we cross-reference this data with the parental attitudes data, we see further evidence that parents in the southern hemisphere take their responsibilities very seriously. The three countries that thought the shared experience of content was most important are also the three in which parents report working the hardest to improve their competence as parents: Brazil at 85%, Nigeria at 89% and Mexico at 86%.
Parents’ motivations to do things together with their children can be seen in the variety of content that is consumed together.
Of course, some channels are more suitable for co-viewing than others, but nonetheless, this indicates that parents have acknowledged their children are digitally engaged, and value this as an opportunity for quality family time.
The rise of audio entertainment is also interesting. While families aren’t as frequently engaged in this media as other types, when they are, it’s more likely that they will do so as a family. Yes, some of that is listening to the radio; but audio books and smartspeakers are increasingly the norm—59% of the families we surveyed have a generic smartspeaker in the home, and 50% have a child-specific smartspeaker.
Digital democratization, device access and a hunger for nutritious content are causing a shift in parenting that will—if we listen carefully and provide for these needs—start to address some of the less celebratory aspects of children’s media that have been on the rise over these last few years. And with any luck, that will mean that the golden age of children’s media can be revived once more.