FaceTime & Millennials: The Future Of Parenting And, Well, Marketing

Parents of Gen Xers used to let youngsters run outside and play the day away unsupervised. Then you had helicopter parents rigorously scheduling their kids’ free time and shadowing them through it all. Now, Millennials are becoming parents. And while they want to provide their kids more unstructured playtime than their Boomer parents afforded them, that helicopter connection seems to be reappearing with a social media technology assist: FaceTime.  This is swiftly becoming a core Millennial parenting tool and a behavior marketers must understand.

Parenting from afar

Whether Millennial parents are relying on daycare, a nanny, or after-school programs for their children, they’re utilizing video chatting apps while at work or on the road to stay connected with their children. This trend is so prevalent daycares have found it necessary to schedule and limit this interaction to one or two periods per day.



Virtual babysitting defines virtual babysitting as “supervising a child via FaceTime.” For the Motherlode feature in the New York Times, writer Jennifer Saranow Schultz covered the trend in the spring of 2015. Jennifer noted: 

“…more and more parents of young children are hitting upon using video-calling apps, such as FaceTime and Skype, as handy child care helpers ... they’re enlisting family and friends to watch the little ones via video for short periods of time, so they can be more productive around the house, focus on a task like cooking dinner or run out of the room for a few minutes. In other words, for those of us who don’t have relatives living close by who can be called upon for last-minute help, technology is a great fill-in…”

Engaging relatives living far away 

Also in spring 2015, a MediaPost survey reported one-third of Millennial moms use FaceTime to deepen relationships between their kids and grandparents. But there may be even a more selfish reason. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media commented in a New York Times article, “The Facetime Babysitter,” Millennial parents’ habit of FaceTiming grandparents is a symptom of their “incessant need to perfect every moment of parenting.”  After recent first-hand experience, I’ve coined this behavior the Chinook Effect after the large tandem rotor helicopter.

This summer, throughout our neighborhood, I observed Millennial families. I would watch Millennial parents engaging with their children, while also holding a tablet or smartphone facing the child. This behavior would go on for 20+ minutes. And consistently on the screen from family to family, was grandma or grandpa. This is the Chinook Effect, a boomer grandparent helicoptering via social technology and in partnership with their child – the dual rotors.

What is the significance of this shift for marketers?

FaceTime may become the next medium to allow advertising to become part of the user experience. Skype already advertises and so do IM platforms like Facebook Messenger. Brands will need to carefully understand how and when Millennial parents are using these platforms to make their ads relevant and unobtrusive.

Millennial parents will also expect brands to empathize with them and accurately represent parenting from afar, virtual babysitting and the Chinook Effect. 

The same MediaPost survey mentioned previously also reported one-third of Boomer grandparents contribute to enrichment investments for their grandkids. And 80% of Millennials rely on their parents’ recommendations on purchases. Combine that with the Chinook Effect and your target is no longer just the Millennial parent. It’s also grandparents. Apply this dual rotor strategy to your marketing plan when targeting Millennial parents.

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