KidThink: What Today’s Kids are Thinking about how much influence their kids have on their purchasing decisions

To help us keep up-to-date with what's happening with kids, we've asked Kid Think Inc., a youth marketing consulting group, to investigate and report back to us on a wide range of issues in kids' lives. Since today's kids spend so...
September 1, 1996

To help us keep up-to-date with what’s happening with kids, we’ve asked Kid Think Inc., a youth marketing consulting group, to investigate and report back to us on a wide range of issues in kids’ lives. Since today’s kids spend so much time on-line, Kid Think will be talking to kids via Live Wire, Today’s Families Online, a proprietary panel of 600 on-line families across the United States.

Both Kid Think and Live Wire are divisions of Griffin Bacal, a New York communications agency specializing in the youth and family markets. If you have any questions or have subjects you’d like to see Kid Think cover, call Bob Horne at 212-337-6410 (live

This month, Live Wire went on-line to talk with parents about how much influence their kids have on their purchasing decisions.

- What we found:

Recent research has shown that kids are having more and more influence on family purchasing decisions in everything from buying a car to ordering a pizza. We accessed our Live Wire families to get an idea of which purchases in families are influenced by kids and which are not.

Parents are very conscious of the changing attitudes towards child-rearing over the second half of the century. The parents we spoke with felt that their kids have more say in family purchase decisions than they did when they were children. None of their parents in the 1960s asked whether the obligatory cross-country road trip should include Yellowstone Park or the Grand Canyon. Today’s parents, however, feel they are more enlightened about child-rearing and attempt to build their kids’ ‘self-esteem’ by including them in the decision-making process. It’s all very egalitarian.

However, don’t for one minute think that parents have become a bunch of pushovers! Parents are sneaky with their semantics, and they are walking a fine line between opinions and decisions. Today’s parents will entertain their kids’ opinions, but the final decision is theirs alone.

The key is that kids aren’t necessarily influencing decisions so much as simply having their voices heard. So while a mom and dad may let their child have his or her say on what color of car to get, the child won’t necessarily have a say in the overall car purchase decision.

- What parents said:

‘I see these decisions as part of their education, plus parents these days see their kids as real people instead of quasi-pets like in the 1950s when I was growing up.’

‘I think these days we realize that the family is more of a unit. The children are parts of that unit, and deserve a certain amount of input.’

‘We ask our children because we value their opinion and want them to be happy with our family purchase.’

Instead of succumbing to the whims of their kids, parents are carefully teaching important lessons such as respect, compromise, economics, communication and independence. Here is how some parents and kids integrate the important lessons of communication:

‘I generally allow my kids to influence small purchases and less significant aspects. . . . I feel that it is important for the kids to have some say in family business. . . . Our family is extremely communicative. I couldn’t imagine their opinion not being heard-whether I like it or not!’

‘Our 12-year-old had an opinion on the truck my husband bought-she hated it. She sings the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies when she has to ride in it.’

Some Live Wire respondents had different ideas about which family purchases warrant a kid’s definitive decision:

‘They had the right to veto the house, and had done so several times before we bought this one. They got to pick between central air conditioning and a hot tub ([we] only [had a] budget for one).’

‘Bedding and bedroom things involve each of them, because while I had definite ideas about what I wanted, the bedrooms are theirs . . . and they have LOTS of say in that.’

When thinking of specific purchasing categories that involve the family, here’s how the parents weighed the kid influence:

Car: ‘They might have some input, but they are not mature enough-or maybe I just don’t have the patience on this choice-to weigh all the variables like maintenance and insurance costs, which I consider.’

Dining out: ‘Recently, we wanted to go out to eat, and my husband and I wanted Thai and the kids wanted hamburgers. We finally agreed on something totally different: Chinese to please all of us.’

Clothing Brands: ‘Yikes . . . sometimes their opinions win out, but mostly we downplay the whole brand-name thing.’

Stereo: ‘We recently purchased a stereo as a gift for our daughter and asked our son his opinion. He wanted a unit that was too large for her bedroom, then suggested a portable CD player, which we agreed upon and purchased. She was very happy with it.’

Vacation: ‘This is usually a family decision. We have found that everyone enjoys the vacation more if they are involved in the planning process.’

Sports Equipment: ‘If it is for a team sport, we purchase whatever he likes. If it is for his enjoyment, he makes the purchase himself (for example, rollerblades or a lacrosse stick). When we said we would not purchase the lacrosse stick, he decided it wasn’t worth his money.’

Computer: ‘We did ask our children. They wanted power and peripherals. We agreed, and bought a Gateway in 1995.’

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