Kid Insight

Viacom study shows shift away from helicopter parenting

Presented today at Kidscreen Summit, new preschool research from Viacom Insights reveals that overprotective parenting is on the way out as learning from technology increases.
February 15, 2017

Call it iPhone independence: A new study from Viacom’s global consumer insights division has found that preschoolers are becoming increasingly self-sufficient, largely due to a slight decrease in helicopter parenting and a rise in learning through mobile devices and technology.

Little Big Kids: Preschoolers Ready For Life, officially presented by Viacom’s global consumer insights SVP, Christian Kurz, at Kidscreen Summit in Miami today, surveyed 6,500 families of preschoolers ages two to five across 12 countries—the US, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Russia, the Philippines, South Africa, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Insights were gathered through a number of methods including digital diaries, an online survey, in-home ethnographies and a GoPro point-of-view experiment where preschoolers were outfitted with cameras to capture their daily play, exploration and learning patterns.

The biggest takeaway from the research, according to Kurz, is a movement slightly away from a more sheltered style of parenting to an ideology wherein parents prepare preschoolers for life in an uncertain world. This is accomplished, in many cases, by exposing kids to a variety of experiences.

“Parents don’t know what they’re preparing their kids for, but they need tools to help them cope with whatever life may throw their way. And helicopter parenting isn’t necessarily seen as the best way to do this anymore,” says Kurz. “Instead, what we’re seeing is parents are getting their kids ready for life through experiences and controlled risk taking.”

The study found that 75% of parents believe children should learn through their own experiences, while 68% think one of the most important developmental opportunities for preschoolers is learning to do things for themselves.

In fact, 70% of parents say they always listen to their child’s opinion before making decisions that affect them, like what’s for dinner or whether the family moves to a different city.

“Additionally, the top two reasons parents send their two- to five-year-olds to preschool are centered on peer-to-peer development,” says Kurz. “And within this, learning through play is still very much prioritized. In fact, 72% of parents say they believe their preschoolers learn best through play. The same percentage believes that learning through play is even more important than traditional learning at this age.”

As for the impact of technology on today’s preschoolers, the research found that 64% of parents agree it’s important for their kids to keep up with tech developments.

“This is particularly relevant…because three quarters of the jobs that today’s preschoolers are going to be working in do not yet exist,” says Kurz.

Looking at mobile device access and usage, 65% of preschoolers have access to a tablet, with which they interact an average of 1.3 hours per day.

Globally, preschoolers spend about 14 hours per week on devices, although time spent varies dramatically by region. For instance, the US has the highest per week usage at 25 hours, while Germany posts the lowest at six hours.

However, while parents are accepting of their kids’ technological needs, 61% worry about their children coming across inappropriate content online, and 53% believe that too much time spent on devices can interfere with learning and development.

Nearly 80%, in fact, say they limit the amount of time their child spends on devices.

“Overall, though, the perceived benefit of technology outweighs these concerns, with 52% of parents saying their kids use tablets for educational content—a number that rises to 67% in the Philippines,” says Kurz.

“One of the mothers of one of the preschoolers we met there was incredibly proud because her daughter learned how to count to 10 and learned her ABCs in both Filipino and English from her tablet.”

According to the study, 61% of parents think technology is making their kids smarter.

More information about Little Big Kids and Viacom Insights can be found here.

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at


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