Kid Insight

How a shared trauma may shape a generation

Their world has shrunk, their education is disrupted, and young people are anxious right now—but positive change follows times of crisis, and the kids will be alright.
October 28, 2020

“Unprecedented.” It’s a simple word to describe what has been a very (very!) complicated 2020. In a good year, most kids content takes 18 months to get to screen. That means creators today are looking at a 2022 release for a recently greenlit series. But how does one plan for two years down the line when the present is unprecedented?

From the “silent generation” influenced by a pair of world wars, to a prosperous “baby boom” that spoke of nothing but promise and potential, to the launch of the internet and all that entailed—few global events have the power to collectively shape a generation. But for today’s Gen Alphas and Gen Zs, COVID-19 is likely to be one of those defining experiences.

So how can the industry plan for a post-pandemic future? To start, you have to talk to your audience today. Experts from Disney, MarketCast Kids and Dubit went right to the source, checking in with families about how their lives have changed in order to discern which new trends and habits are likely to have staying power. There’s still time to sign up for our Kids of 2022 virtual keynote series for even more future-focused audience intel.

By: Johanna Faigelman

Not since the generation that grew up during the Depression and the Second World War (known as the Silent Generation) has a group of kids faced a truly global, collective trauma close to the scale of what Gen Alpha is facing today. In stark contrast to Millennials, who created the gig economy and prided themselves on not seeking the job security of previous generations, today’s kids are more likely to grow up searching for stability and the opportunity to save for an uncertain future, much like their Silent Generation predecessors.

This shift in values is already coming to the surface in our Culture Check interviews, where kids under 10 are expressing anxiety and insecurity about their family’s financial futures, and their own as well. This comes as kids are being exposed (at times unintentionally) to their parents’ job insecurity and  money woes during lockdown. The issue is compounded by the fact that children are experiencing  unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety in this pandemic, brought on by isolation, economic uncertainty and parental anxiety/stress.

Connected freedom

Although parents worried about their kids’ safety pre-pandemic, there appeared to be an unwritten understanding that children should be able to  freely express themselves and explore the world around them; to feel, touch, play and explore…and maybe get a little dirty in the process. Freedom to explore unfettered is one of our most culturally valued aspects of childhood. In the current lockdown, the big, exciting world that can be explored has shrunk—often to the confines of a small apartment—and fears around contagion have interrupted the learning process.

Kids will eventually be released from the current strict constraints and allowed to explore the world around them, albeit in an altered fashion. Over the next few years, Millennial parents, already big  embracers of tracking their own health metrics through various apps, may come to rely on wearable tracking devices to help them gauge their child’s health status and risk of exposure to contagions prior to releasing them for “free play” in less secure environments.

Smarty Pants’ Beand Love Study was fielded in July 2020 with a nationally representative sample of 5,795 US kids and tweens ages six to 12.

Lessons learned

In our interviews, kids shared that they were worried they have not been “getting any smarter” during the pandemic, not only because of delays to or suspension of the school year, but also due to their lack of direct exposure and interaction with their peers, who “inspire them to be better and think differently.”

As the world slowly opens up again, a higher degree of priority will be placed on spending time with friends in person. Kids are hardwired to seek out direct contact with their peers to gain key social skills vital to childhood development, including developing self-esteem, managing conflict and navigating developmental experiences. However, there will inevitably be some degree of lasting impact from the social deprivation created by this pandemic, and only time will tell if the net benefit is negative (delayed social development such as loss of confidence) or positive (the necessity of being more self-reliant leading to the development of important life skills such as flexibility, resilience and critical thinking).

It’s not all doom and gloom. Positive cultural change often emerges following times of crisis. The Renaissance followed the end of the Black Plague, The Occupy movement followed the 2008 financial crash, and WWI brought on the women’s suffrage movement. The current pandemic has accelerated several societal trends already in motion, including  the move to remote services, the reduction in com- panies’ physical footprints as they shifted to work  from home, and the move towards an appreciation of shopping local. These trends, in conjunction with a new appreciation for more fundamental human needs and a desire for security, might create a more loyal audience for content and assets that strike the right chord moving forward.

Culture Check is Human Branding’s ongoing global research initiative that investigates the impact of cultural shifts on generational cohorts through an anthropological lens using a blend of dozens of in-depth ethnographic interviews, hundreds of hours of academic research, and ongoing global trendspotting. Johanna Faigelman is a cultural anthropologist and CEO of Human Branding.

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

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