OPINION2 December 2013

What we learned at the MRS Kids and Youth Summit

Opinion Youth

From overcoming disconnects to discovering the meaning of thaasophobia. Camino Insight’s Deborah Simmons presents highlights from last week’s MRS Intelligence Summit.


If there was a common theme that ran through the MRS Kids and Youth Summit last week, it was the idea of ‘disconnects’ – in both our personal and professional lives.

Let’s start with the personal. In ‘How well do parents know their kids?’, Lou Ellerton of The Value Engineers referenced a recent quantitative study which found that, beyond the age of seven, the knowledge gap between parents and children widens. This is attributed to children ‘protecting’ their parents by holding back select information. As researchers, this suggests that relying solely on parents to give us accurate accounts of their children’s attitudes and behaviours can be hazardous.

Ellerton also highlighted how, during research, younger respondents are more likely than most to tell us what they think we want to hear – partly because, as researchers, we represent authority figures.

“We need to acknowledge that these disconnects exist, and be able to recognise when, where and why they are most likely to occur”

Ellerton had also observed how guilt can play a significant role in causing disconnects between the stated and actual behaviours of mums. She gave the example of finding processed baby foods dominating the cupboards of mums who’d previously said they almost exclusively fed their children homemade meals.

One audience member posed the question: “So, if parents lie and children tell you what you want to hear, how do you get to the truth?”

Throughout the day, speakers suggested solutions to this very problem. Firstly, it was agreed that we need to acknowledge that these disconnects exist, and be able to recognise when, where and why they are most likely to occur. Secondly, we need to devise measures to minimise the impact these disconnects have on our understanding of any given issue.

Encouragingly, there was evidence to show that approaches in kids and youth research are continually evolving, and we are already seeing more tools that allow us to:

  1. Lessen our reliance on parents as interpreters and have more conversations with children and young adults
  2. Set up more collaborative, informal situations in which to hold discussions, such as ‘dinner table debates’
  3. Encourage peer-to-peer interviewing to take the ‘authority figure’ out of the equation
  4. Place greater emphasis on observational techniques, such as social media analysis
  5. Design approaches that tap into children’s preference to communicate via visual stimulus, e.g. app-enabled mood diaries that ‘keep our finger on the emotional thermometer’

By the close of the conference, I felt optimistic about our continued commitment as researchers to capturing more truths and to stay connected to the children and young people in our society.

‘Killing boredom’

Discovering new words and expressions is, to me, one of life’s small pleasures. It was during Joeri Van den Bergh’s engaging session – ‘Get close to youth: How Be Viacom is connecting with millennials’ – that I found a new favourite: thaasophobia.

Google tells me that it means ‘an abnormal fear or dislike of being idle’, (something I can relate to, although I never had the right word to describe it until now).

Thaasophobia is deemed particularly relevant to digital natives, who, unlike previous generations, have grown up with the world’s information at their fingertips. Van den Bergh surmised that being constantly connected means thaasophobia is, for millennials, a thirst that requires continual quenching.

Brands such as Vine, Snapchat and Instagram have realised the opportunity this presents; a desire for ‘Harder, faster, better, stronger’ communications.

Earlier this year, Van den Bergh told us, Virgin Media launched a competition on Vine, Twitter’s video-sharing app, which encouraged people to submit their best six-second ‘Happy Accident’, videos: a theme linked to an ongoing Virgin television campaign in which people deliberately destroy their phones so they can transfer to Virgin Mobile’s plan.

A piece by Daniel Hajek for NPR quotes Ron Faris, Virgin Mobile’s marketing director, as saying: “It’s flirting… You’re flirting with your prospect and it’s as transient as the passing bus that has an ad for a summer blockbuster that captures your attention and then it leaves.”

The contest drew such an overwhelming response that the best Vine videos are due to feature in Virgin Media’s next television campaign.

Deborah Simmons is founder of Camino Insight