Digital natives

Cute little boy in headphones watching something on laptop at home

Today’s kids are growing up in a digital universe with all the power at their fingertips. We already know that the digital world is an enchanting place for kids – but it can also be a dangerous one. Cyberbullying, exposure to unrealistic images, fake news, sexual content, violent imagery…It’s a risky landscape to navigate and could have a detrimental effect on kids’ mental health.

A few weeks ago, YouTube hit the headlines for streaming a video by influential tween icon, Logan Paul. The video showed footage of what appeared to be a dead body in a location, referred to as ‘Suicide Forest’. Shockingly, not only did the video make it through the YouTube filters (receiving 6.3 million views!) but it also made it through to the top trending videos list.

And a few months ago, YouTube caused another storm for allowing violent and offensive content to slip through the net. This time it wasn’t just for the main channel but also YouTube Kids a standalone app built specifically for children and child-friendly entertainment.

It’s not only inappropriate content that is a concern. We see, from our studies, that girls as young as six are not only conscious of their body shape but tend to be unhappy with it. We’ve no doubt this is being exacerbated by the proliferation of videos and imagery they are viewing.

With the staggering growth and penetration of smartphone and tablet ownership by children, media viewing and active, digital participation has become individual and child-led. It is often unmonitored by a responsible adult. This has, not surprisingly, created tension and concern among parents, teachers, and the government with regards to how safe or appropriate the virtual environment is for young people. There’s been considerable investment in education with interventions to help safeguard children but it’s clear this isn’t working hard enough and that the problem stems from children’s homes. Last year, hype on social media led to many children watching an 18-rated, suicide fantasy series called 13 Reasons Why. By the time schools and parents had found out, it was too late. It proves that access to inappropriate content is easy and highlights the lack of involvement parents have in knowing what their kids are getting up to.

A YouGov survey from 2015 found that British parents were reluctant to have conversations with their children about what they’re up to online – waiting until children turned nine to tackle online safety, despite 91% of eight-year olds accessing the internet once a week. Since then, we’ve seen brands such as O2 and EE open the dialogue to support parents with online protection. 02 have partnered with the NSPCC to offer free online resources and workshops in schools whilst EE are also providing parents and children with tips to stay safe online. This comes after 40% of parents reported that they do not consider online safety when buying technology gifts for their children.

teenager with tablet while lying on the floor in the room

So why aren’t parents doing more?

Parents tell us that they feel disempowered and deskilled to monitor what their kids are doing online. A generational tech gap exists between kids and parents. However, whilst parents are aware of stealth tracking software to monitor their kids’ surfing and social media feeds, uptake of this is very low. A key reason for children’s online and autonomous independence stems from the fact that in many households, working parents are the norm and unable to be around as much. This has impacted on family dynamics. Parents are much more likely to expect help from their offspring around the home and in return are often rewarded with ‘screen time’. Modern parenting styles also skew towards a liberal approach of trusting their children to be responsible and behaving appropriately, especially as parents’ perceptions are that their kids are equipped to navigate online safely. And let’s not forget ‘pester power’ which is in force among hormonal tweens and teens. Tired parents find it hard to resist allowing kids to watch a video or get a social media campaign when persistently being nagged by their children – especially if they feel this will socially ostracise their kids in their social friendship circles.

Whilst we all know children under the age of 13 shouldn’t have a social media account, recent studies show that the truth is far from this. There’s a direct correlation with social media activity and smart phone ownership and in some markets, this is as young as seven years of age. But we can’t blame parents. Many social media platforms are unwilling to admit to an underage user base and squirm their way out of being responsible for this invisible cohort. However, pressure from government, children’s charities, parent and school forums is finally starting to have an effect. Facebook currently has 4,500 moderators and last year announced plans to hire more. Even before Logan Paul’s dramatic fall from grace, YouTube announced similar plans to hire thousands of new moderators.

The media giant is now said to be making changes to the way it moderates content, with a greater focus on footage that might violate their policies whilst further developing advanced learning technology to automatically flag content for removal. It will be interesting to see how future safeguards to protect young people will emerge – especially given the technical skill & knowledge, online giants must have within their reach.

But we also must be careful that support for kids doesn’t mean removing their digital access or being too stringent on restricting their online/social media activity, as there are many benefits about growing up digital and is after all, the world they will be working and communicating within, for years to come.

Teacher and kids lying on floor using digital tablet in library at elementary school

We hear from kids, parents, and teachers about the benefits digital access has brought to learning and education and enhancing children’s creativity and problem-solving skills. In this information age, kids have a genuine thirst for knowledge and the boundaries between learning and play have blurred into ‘edutainment’.  Social media platforms are helping kids understand the importance of growing diverse networks and will put them in good stead in the future and they tap into these for career and leisure purposes.  

Growing independence is also helping them learn to self-regulate their behaviour and abide by their own standards of what’s right and fair.

They are a generation of kids who have greater awareness of what’s going on in the world and are deeply moved by the negative impact that man is having on the planet and want to change this. Access to personal technology has also helped them develop new and far reaching friendships. We’ve heard from families about how connected they feel with each other through chatting on social media platforms, allowing continual, intermittent exchanges about what’s going on in their life or troubling them.

The government’s Internet Safety Strategy consultation came to an end last month. It will be interesting to see how we find a way to balance the benefits of children being online or on social media with safeguarding them more effectively.

Lesley Salem, head of Razor Kids appeared as a panelist at the 2018 MRS Kids & Youth Research Conference, exploring ‘the role of research in protecting and empowering young people online’. If you have an idea on how your organisation could get more involved in sharing significant trends around children’s online safety or could have an impact on policy, we’d love to hear from you.

*References*

Buzzfeed – reactions to Logan Paul
Buzzfeed – parents’ reactions to Logan Paul 
Mashable – YouTube changes
The Guardian – YouTube accused
Polygon – YouTube
Campaign – O2 and NSPCC
EE – staying safe online
EE – press release
The Guardian – moderating social media
The Telegraph – moderators allowed Logan Paul video





 

Same same but different

‘Imagine you’re doing a weekly shop of supermarket own brand products.

At checkout, you’re allowed to exchange just one product for a branded label. Which would you pick?’

Last week we hosted a wonderful work experience student who asked us this question on her last day. It created quite the discussion amongst us – including whether we think Generation Z* are less brand loyal than Millennials…and I’ve been mulling this over ever since she left.

Now I have to admit that I only know a small handful of Gen Z’s. And the majority of my research has focused on Millennials and their predecessors, so I feel a little out of touch with this cohort!

What I can glean (and I’ve more to learn), is that Gen Z are set to be a super-charged version of Millennials and will pose a greater challenge for brands to engage and retain.

I say super-charged Millennials because in a lot of ways Gen Z are looking for the same things – only, seemingly, amplified tenfold! For instance, they choose brands that are authentic, they want fast and friction-free customer service across channels, they favour experiences over possessions, they’re driven by content that engages and entertains, and they feel empowered to create change in the world.

However, there are two fundamental differences (no doubt there’ll be more!) that mean brands will have to work harder and find new ways to market to these consumers to stay relevant:

1. Gen Z are the first true digital natives. They’ve grown up (almost from the get-go) with easy and immediate access to the internet and it’s become an integral part of how they live their lives. They’re addicted to tech. I’d argue that this means they’re:

  • Exposed to a wider variety of brands – which will likely engender a natural promiscuity in buying behaviour. Thus making it harder to generate loyalty.
  • Likely to tune out of lot of advertising and focus on what feels relevant to them. The rise of influencer marketing is a clear reaction to the demand from consumers – and most likely much of this cohort – for relevant, credible content that feels more authentic (even if it’s not!). And this is only likely to continue.
  • More focused on the present and judging brands on what they see and hear in the moment; placing less stock in brand heritage.
  • Looking to connect with brands that help them develop their own online image and enable them to connect with others through content and experiences.

2. They’ve grown up in the aftermath of the recession. They’re facing the prospect of huge university loans and a seemingly impenetrable housing market, which will no doubt make them more budget conscious. Brands will have to work much harder for a share of wallet.

So generating loyalty among Gen Z is definitely a challenge and brands will have to stay ahead in the marketing game to stand out from the crowd. Indeed, Gen Z is less motivated by loyalty programmes than Millennials, which means some brands may have to take a fresh approach to building loyalty with this generation.

However, it is clearly not an impossible feat. You only have to look at user numbers for Snapchat and Instagram or the success of brands like Nike and Forever 21 with this generation to see that loyalty is achievable.  The question is what are those brands doing exactly and how are they doing it? It’s time more brands tried to find out.  

*There are never clear cut dates for generations so, for arguments sake, let’s assume that we’re talking about anyone born between 1995 – 2012

Digital assistance for life

‘She’s changed our lives for the better.’
‘I don’t know how we ever managed without her.’
‘She’s driving me mad!’
‘She doesn’t listen to me.’
‘I had to pull the plug on her.’

Yep. We’re in that new year/January wasteland where most of us are probably adjusting to the snazzy new gadgets we received for Christmas. (Or pets. At least one of the above sentences refers to a dog.) After playing with them during the holidays, it’s now time to settle them into our regular day-to-day routines.

No prizes for guessing what kind of gadget I’m referring to. The top app on Christmas day for Android and iPhone was Amazon’s Alexa app. While that doesn’t reveal specific device sales figures, it’s a strong indicator that smart speakers/digital assistants were the winning gifts for Christmas 2017. Other brands are, of course, available.

Having watched my friends over the past year adjust to having a virtual assistant in the home, I’ve noted several things – including:

  • How incredibly useful they are.
  • How IMMEDIATELY useful they become.
  • They have a bare minimum of settings.
  • They can do so much.
  • They adjust to accents.
  • They solve arguments.
  • My friends’ children ask these devices for everything – including food.
  • They don’t always work as planned.
  • They can do SO MUCH.

I, personally, don’t own one yet. I’m not even brave enough to install a smart thermostat at home. In fact, I’m one of those annoying people who would unplug everything if I could possibly get away with it. (I’m an anxious person – you get the idea…) BUT I’m intrigued to see how others go about their daily lives with them. As a sort of ‘laggard’, I talk to the early adopters and make my decisions based on their experiences. It’s for the best. Technological advances come so ridiculously quickly that most devices are considered out of date by the time I’m ready to buy in.

The other factor (which really doesn’t help my anxiety levels) is the privacy issue. Yes, Google knows everything I’ve ever asked it/written in Gmail/searched on YouTube. Facebook monitors me, Messenger listens to my conversations, and my phone has GPS. I’ve grudgingly learned to live with the price we pay for convenience – and I can switch them off around me when I feel like it. Having a device in the home listening to my conversations however is (currently) too far a stretch for me – even if it does have a mute button. I daresay I’ll change my mind further down the line but, right now, I live in a tiny flat and don’t have to stumble too far to switch the radio or a light on.

So if 2017 was the year that voice recognition hit the big time, what should we expect in 2018? More functions beyond the living room and kitchen for sure. Sleep technology is bound to be the next big thing. Your smart watch might be able to measure the quality of your sleep today, but how about app-enhanced beds for us and our pets tomorrow? Or bathroom solutions to control the length of our showers and water temperature? These can’t be too far away. In fact, I’m sure they already exist – I’m just too lazy to ask Google to verify. And I’ll be inundated with targeted ads for all sorts of tech wizardry if I do.  

Point is, it won’t be too long before the majority of our day-to-day tasks can’t happen without digital assistance.

What would make me cave in? Stuart Heritage summed things up in a way I can relate to:

‘You know how your heart sinks when you go to a shop and accidentally spend slightly more than £30, because it means you have to forego contactless payment in favour of manually entering your pin number with your fat cow hands like some sort of gormless circus monkey? That’s how it felt when I returned the Echo and reverted to digging out my phone, opening an app, typing some words, scrolling through choices and pressing play on my dumb anachronism of a Sonos. What had once been magical had suddenly become a chore.’

(If you liked that, give his whole article a read.)

While the tech isn’t suited to me (just yet), I’m genuinely excited to see how it will enhance the lives of the elderly and those with limited mobility. There’s a world of voice-controlled possibilities out there.