Parents who think they are punishing their children by sending them to their rooms will have to think again – children love their bedrooms, and actually enjoy spending time there.
And, according to new research from McCann Junior, McCann-Erickson’s dedicated children’s unit which launches this week, many parents would be surprised – and even horrified – to know what their children do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, which are now so well-equipped with hi-tech gadgets that they have become “media and communications centres”, allowing children an unprecedented level of control over their television viewing and Internet activity.
Katharine Hannah, senior planning director, McCann Junior, says: “For children aged between seven and 11, being ‘sent to your room’ is no punishment. Maybe for their parents bedrooms were sterile and boring environments, but children of today see them as activity centres. Computers and televisions have become gateways to a fantasy world.”
McCann Junior conducted qualitative research with three different age groups: five- and six-year-olds, seven- to-nine-year-olds and ten- and 11-year-olds. In addition to the focus groups, children were given disposable cameras and asked to take pictures of their bedrooms, their schools, their favourite foods and anything else they chose.
The findings underlined just how important bedrooms were as places where children had control and felt “cocooned” from the outside world. For marketers, the research suggests that advertising should focus on the bedroom, rather than the outdoors or school.
Many parents are apparently quite happy about the amount of time their children spend in their bedrooms, because they believe their children are safer there than if they were out on the streets.
However, they may well be exposed to influences their parents do not approve of. Hannah says: “A lot of children are watching South Park, for example. But they’re not doing it at 11pm when their parents might hear – they’re recording it and watching it at 5pm when their parents think they’re watching Home and Away.”
And one of the most popular videos for seven- to 11-year-old girls turns out to be The Full Monty. “They’re getting a copy from their friend’s older sister, and they love it,” says Hannah. This suggests that the TV viewing watershed has become largely irrelevant, Hannah argues.
Parents worried that their children might be accessing porn sites can take heart from the fact that McCann Junior’s research did not find any significant use of the Internet to cruise adult sites.
Hannah admits, though, that this might have been different had the cut-off age been higher than 11.
In many ways, children are much more sophisticated users of the Internet than their parents, using the Web to search out information on topics which interest them.
The McCann Junior observations are qualitative, but they are backed up by quantitative data from the annual Youth TGI survey just published by BMRB. The survey shows that 57 per cent of seven- to ten-year-olds have a television in their room (up from 48 per cent four years ago), while just under 30 per cent of 11- to 14-year-olds have a video recorder in their bedrooms.
Youth TGI found that the percentage of seven- to ten-year-olds watching cable and satellite TV has more than doubled since 1994, and now stands at 70 per cent. This age group is also watching far more cable and satellite TV outside their own homes.
Other results from the Youth TGI survey suggest that the trend seen over the past 20 years, where children are buying music, clothing and sports equipment at increasingly younger ages has, if anything, accelerated. More than one in four seven- to 10-year-olds are buying magazines for themselves, while 48 per cent are buying music CDs and 61 per cent tapes. Four years ago, the figures were 23 per cent, 15 per cent and 51 per cent respectively.
Finally, seven- to 11-year-olds are catching up with their older siblings when it comes to listening to the radio, with 63 per cent now having one in their bedrooms.
But parents who worry that technology is causing their children to grow up too fast can take some comfort from McCann Junior’s research. It discovered that even the 11-year-olds are still relatively “young” in their tastes.
Hannah says: “Eleven-year-old girls were admitting, in a slightly ashamed way, that they still really liked the Spice Girls. And even 11-year-old boys, who were becoming more interested in football and other sports, admitted they still liked Sporty and Posh Spice.”