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The Family GPS

Understanding today's families is a primary goal for Nickelodeon's research team, and the study of the family unit raises a plethora of questions. What defines today's family? What constitutes a family now? How is it different from the past? What brings families closer together or pulls them apart? What do parent and grandparent relationships look like to kids? We're striving to provide the answers in this edition of Kaleidoscope by delving into our Family GPS study, which, in partnership with Harris Interactive, examines the internal and external factors affecting the family and the influence exerted by generations past.
February 2, 2010

Understanding today’s families is a primary goal for Nickelodeon’s research team, and the study of the family unit raises a plethora of questions. What defines today’s family? What constitutes a family now? How is it different from the past? What brings families closer together or pulls them apart? What do parent and grandparent relationships look like to kids? We’re striving to provide the answers in this edition of Kaleidoscope by delving into our Family GPS study, which, in partnership with Harris Interactive, examines the internal and external factors affecting the family and the influence exerted by generations past.

To understand the family fully, it’s important to look at the role of the three generations that underpin it – kids, parents and grandparents. Kids are growing up in a much more diverse world than their predecessors. In fact, US kids are more diverse than any other age segment, and within the next 20 years, non-Hispanic Caucasians will no longer make up the majority of the country’s population.

The composition of today’s family is also very diverse. Currently, approximately two-thirds of kids live in two-parent households, one-quarter live in single-parent households and roughly 13% live in a home without a parent and are being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. In terms of roles, Mom is the center of the family universe – she is CEO and Dad is happy about that. Mom is the first person kids go to for a hug, for advice and to discuss relationships. Dad, meanwhile, is known in the household as the fun parent and is more emotionally connected to his kids than generations of fathers before him. Additionally, it’s time to throw out any tired notions about grandparents. This generation isn’t old, feeble or stuck in the past like those of yesteryear. The average age of grandparents is 65, and Baby Boomers are fast moving into the grandparent bracket, with the average age of first-timers currently sitting at 48. Grandparents are also plugged in technologically and are an integral part of the family structure – 60% live within 30 minutes of their grandchildren and 40% see them at least once a week, making grandparents very present figures in their kids’ and grandkids’ lives.

In many ways, the idea of family has long been defined by the term Generation Gap and embodied by an image of the clueless, out-of-touch parent who has no idea what is going on in their kids’ lives. This was in line with their kids who had no interest in sharing things with their parents. As a result, interests, hobbies and activities of kids and parents in previous generations diverged. In the past 10 years, however, families have seen and experienced things that have helped to close this gap and contribute to their connectedness.

Shared interests are on the rise, coalescing frequently around technology, which serves to unite families rather than divide them as it did in the past. Devices like the iPod have revolutionized the way families learn about and share music, while social media platforms, such as Facebook and MySpace, now serve as entry points for kids and parents to exchange content and connect. Many also happily gather around the Nintendo Wii, which has brought gaming into the mainstream. This evolution in shared interests and activities leads us to believe that the Generation Gap, as we know it, has closed up. The family dynamic has changed in such a way that the Generation Gap is no longer relevant – Family Fusion, as we’ve dubbed it, is the next step in the evolution of families.

Crucial to understanding Family Fusion is looking at how the notion of family closeness is interpreted. While this isn’t a new idea, it’s never been more important. According to kids, 88% said they ‘feel close’ to their parent(s), 76% said they ‘feel close’ to their sibling(s), 56% said they ‘feel close’ to their grandparent(s), and 42% ‘feel close’ to their aunt(s)/uncle(s) – a trend getting stronger with each generation.

To that end, spending time together is a priority. We found that the top-three family activities are hanging out and talking (83%), watching TV (79%) and listening to music (63%). Parents who participate in these shared activities with their kids at least a few times a week are more likely to feel much closer to their children than parents who engage in these activities with their kids less often. Furthermore, the magnitude of shared tastes continues to grow across the three generations. Six out of 10 kids share similar tastes in movies with their parents, and the majority of families share tastes in TV and music. Shared video game interests across three generations of boys have doubled from 18% to 36%, while 40% of kids we spoke to say they have similar tastes in style and fashion to their parents. Notably, recession-era shopping has moms asking ‘Is this outfit something my daughter and I can share?’

The story of Family Fusion would not be complete without addressing an apparent shift in attitudes involving social acceptance and tolerance. The younger the generation, the more accepting it is of behavior once perceived as outside of societal norms. A full 71% of kids and parents, for example, agree it’s okay for couples to live together before marriage. Majorities across all three generations (88% of kids, 82% of parents, and 70% of grandparents) believe interracial marriage is okay, but grandparents are still more than twice as likely as their grandchildren to feel marriage should only occur between two people of the same race (30% vs. 12%). When it comes to same-sex couples raising children, kids show the least resistance to the idea. Finally, kids (75%) are more likely than parents (66%) and grandparents (59%) to agree with their parents’ overall belief systems.

Having taken this closer examination of how the term Generation Gap has been eclipsed by Family Fusion when it comes to today’s crop of kids, parents and grandparents, Nickelodeon will commit to looking towards the future – what the next generation of kids looks like and how relationships between kids and parents will evolve.

This concludes our report on the evolving dynamics of today’s families. We will continue our study of family by launching the third wave of Family GPS this fall. In the April issue of KidScreen, Kaleidoscope will explore humor with kids and teens. For more information, contact Kaleidoscope@nick.com

(Source: Nickelodeon Family GPS, 2009; Harris Interactive, 2009. Quant sample size: N = 2,000 kids and parents, 1,000 grandparents.)

In an effort to keep you in touch with our audience and give a voice to our consumers, the Brand and Consumer Insights Department at Nickelodeon Kids & Family has created Nickelodeon Kaleidoscope. Every month, Kaleidoscope will capture key areas of interest across the kid and family cultural landscape, provide an understanding of attitudes and behaviors, and report on trends and buzz.

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