FEATURE10 August 2017

Ambition anxiety

Features Mobile Technology Trends Youth

Millennial parents are conflicted; they're ambitious for their children but anxious about the impact of their encouragement of them to use digital technology, says Mark Bagnall of Basis Research.

Millennial parent crop

Before millennials exit stage left and give way to Gen Z, we take another look at them, not as a footloose and fancy-free demographic, but within the binds of parenthood.

In a wide-scale quantitative study across the UK and US, Basis set out to answer three key questions:

  1. Do millennial parents hold onto the traits and characteristics that supposedly typify the millennial cohort or do they transition into a homogenous ‘parent’ group? 
  2. If they do hold onto ‘millennial’ traits, how does this affect their parenting style?
  3. And, what are the implications for brand owners?

It’s important to note that there are two polarising views as to what constitutes a millennial. ‘Millennials Rising’ suggests they are hard-working, altruistic, community builders, while ‘Generation Me’ points to them being self-confident, narcissistic, with a strong sense of entitlement. These views aren’t debated here but they were considered in our analysis.

On balance, we found that millennials are different to Gen X parents.

Generation Me

Of the two typologies, they lean towards ‘Generation Me’. Less liberal, less optimistic, and less likely to believe they can make a difference.

More Digital

They’re more likely to share theirs and their children’s lives on social media, and they’ll use more digital and social media to seek out parenting advice. Gen X parents, on the other hand, seek advice from their partners and family members.

They allow their children extended access to mobile devices and from an earlier age. Three times as many millennial parents let their 4-7 year olds have access to smartphones for four hours or more per day, and twice as many believe that children under seven years old should own a smartphone. More of them are allowing their 8-11 year olds on social media – the legislated age is 13 and over. 

Driven by Ambition 

They’re also more ambitious and this ambition is extended to their children. They're more keen that their children play sport competitively, learn a foreign language, play a musical instrument, earn lots of money, and get married.

These results are insightful, but what we uncovered next was more surprising. One might assume that these millennial parents are comfortable with the additional freedoms they afford their children, but this is not the case. They seem to be a cohort of conflicted parents.

Conflicted parents

Their ambition for their children spills over into anxiety. And although they allow their children on social media for longer and at an earlier age, they also worry more about the impact it has.

It’s a similar story when it comes to digital technologies; they allow access but have heightened concerns about the consequences.  

There are, therefore, two opportunity routes for brand owners:

  1. Millennial parents are trying to balance a range of anxieties, ambitions and modern-life trends such as increased usage of technology and social media. Brands that help them achieve this balance will do well – helping them straddle the conflicting demands of letting kids be kids, helping them set their children on the path to success, and allaying their fears over technology and social media usage.
  2. Reassurance is a key emotional need for this group of conflicted parents. This is potentially rich territory for brands that have the right credibility and trust, reassuring millennial parents that it’s ok not to achieve everything all the time.

Footnote: we know that to define a consumer segment purely based on demographic boundaries is short-sighted, so we also ran an attitudinal and lifestyle segmentation across all parents. This segmentation identified a more extreme version of the conflicted parent as discussed above; mostly millennials but not all!

Mark Bagnall is head of innovation at Basis