Who decides what's right or wrong, allowed or forbidden, included or excluded? In most homes, the answer is mom. Moms of young children play a big role in what is deemed appropriate and acceptable for her family. But what are the criteria mom uses to decide what is in or out? With unprecedented access to information and to each other, this generation of moms is empowered, connected, informed and establishing its own sets of rules for families.
When kids seek permission, they usually ask mom. But these days, the things to which she is saying "yes," might be surprising. For example, if you are not yet 13 years old, joining a social network is still against the site's policy. Yet, 32% of 9-12 year olds report typically visiting social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Now, these kids are not sneaking on to these sites without their moms' permission. In fact, 84% of these kids' moms are "friends" with their child on the sites. You may be asking yourself, "Why would moms allow their children to obviously and deliberately break the rules?"
The answer may point to a larger societal trend that could have tremendous implications for marketers. Could it be that this generation of moms has learned to rely primarily on their own assessment and instincts rather than depending on the dictates of institutions on which previous generations depended? Have the purported "facts" vacillated so many times that this cohort learned that there really is no "right" answer and decisions are always relative?
Let's think about the defining events today's moms of young children witnessed. They grew up watching the institutions their parents trusted let them down. From the government (terrorist attacks, political scandals, food/product recalls, school shootings) and corporations (Enron, Exxon Valdez, BP oil spill, layoffs) to financial institutions (Bernie Madoff, et. al., the sub-prime mortgage crisis) and even religious organizations, this generation learned hard lessons about trust and control.
That is, they saw they had little control and institutions were not worthy of their trust. However, they maintained hope that the one institution that would not disappoint them and one area where they could still exert some influence and control was the family. What was clear to this generation of moms was that they can and should be the final arbiters of what is right for their families. Decisions are now based on sources of information this mom-consumer personally assesses.
This is the new "momsumer." When it comes to evaluating social networking for her child, mom feels empowered to judge the merits of those sites outside of the institutional age recommendations. Finding the sites fit the lifestyle needs of today's kids and tweens, she allows them to join. In addition, she "friends" her children on these sites and monitors their communications herself.
This momsumer pattern is exhibited in other parts of kids' media world, as well. For example, 81% of boys aged 9-12 years old, who play video games are allowed to play T-rated games, if they play with a parent. In fact, 51% of boys aged 9-12 years old, who play video games are allowed to play M-Rated games with a parent. Games are rated T, if the content is deemed appropriate for players over age 13 and an M rating is given if the content is most appropriate for players aged 17 years old and older.
The same phenomenon emerges with motion pictures. Seven in ten kids aged 6-12 are allowed to see a PG-13 rated movie, if they go with a parent, while about one out of five boys are allowed to watch R-rated movies with a parent.
With momsumers overriding traditional content guidelines, the selection set of products and services obtainable by kids is ever-expanding. So what does this mean for marketers of all goods and services? It is imperative to understand how your products hold up against the momsumers' evaluation. Who in her family really uses or advocates for your service?
Is it a part of her potential selection set? Will you teach her that your messaging over promises and under delivers or will your communications be verified as she personally evaluates your brand? Staying close to your consumers has never been more important as momsumers tailor their families' experience with your products and services in ways that you may not have anticipated. Understanding these customized interactions can help grow your brand and expand your business.
And what will the impact of these momsumers be on this generation of kids? Are we raising a cohort of rule breakers, who will only want to follow their own regulations? Well, that depends. Just like Kohlberg's assessment of moral reasoning, it is not the action that matters as much as the rationale for that action. Moms should detail for their children the reason they are overriding the standards and those institutional rules.
So, are you ready? Here they come.