Section 3: Empowered parents?

"I mean my friend’s kid, it’s her birthday next week and she’s on and on and on about an iPad. Because all her friends have got them... so it’s tough because you want your kid to have what everybody else has got, but then sometimes you just can’t do it."

Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union

It is not just young people who need to be empowered to respond to the commercial world around them, it is parents too.

Only half (51%) of parents feel equipped to manage the commercial world. (26)

The parents we spoke to in our interviews felt that they bore the ultimate responsibility for the protection of their children from the effects of the commercial world. These effects were largely seen as an inevitable consequence of modernity.

However, we found that in 2013 more parents than in 2010 felt that they have little control over their children’s use of social networking, video games, television, films, magazines and the internet.

Whilst we saw a small increase from 57% to 62% of parents who feel that they have some/a lot of control over their children’s use of social networking sites, at the same time there was a larger increase of 11 percentage points from 24% to 35% of parents who feel that they have little or no control over the content that their children view on these sites.

This could be due to the way that young people often access these sites – on the go - and also perhaps due to the rate of technological change, which not all parents feel they can keep up with. Indeed, the research seems to back this up with an additional question in the 2013 survey revealing that parents feel that they have the least control over mobile phone use.

In the qualitative research, parents made a strong link between commercialisation and technology and conflate the two, often citing which technological devices their children and young people use when asked about the impact of commercialisation.

"I feel equipped for traditional marketing and advertising. When it comes to technology there are some apps which I’d never even heard of, like Kik, which are developing new language and ways of communicating which parents can't be involved in. That’s a worry for me."

Mothers’ Union Member UK 

It was also made clear that time spent using technology is an important area for parental control. Where parents are taking steps to protect their children from the impact of the commercial world, they are often doing so by limiting the amount of time they allow their children to use technology.

"We do have limits on things, and we judge it on a fairness basis. If I see that he’s been on his iPad for too long, I’ll say okay, time to give that are stand do something else, so he usually goes, ‘Can I watch TV?’ ‘No, let’s do something non - electronic’, so I think my personal opinion is that there is an over abundance of electronic interaction which, again, it has been documented as impacting on people’s social skills."

Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union

The portability of communications devices may also play into a feeling of lack of parental control, and could pose a dilemma for parents, particularly where they are not able to directly supervise their child’s activity.

"Well, I can hear [my younger son] sometimes watching on You Tube something which I don’t like, a lot of laughs, scream[s]... I try to stop him but I can see he still loves it. Sometimes I can’t stop it, or maybe I’m not strict enough."

Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union

The prevalence and impact of technology was also a consistent concern among the parents interviewed, particularly in terms of being aware of exactly who their children interact with, and having some say over this. This was a particular concern of parents we spoke to whose children play video games: while parents of younger children felt that they can put limits in place as to who their children talk to online via these games, parents with older children perhaps felt that they have less control over this:

"Yes, you can [speak to people through games on the iPad], but my mum and dad won’t let me have social media so I can’t connect with my friends."

Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union

Commercialisation is all around us. In asking parents what influences their children:

"The whole music video thing terrifies me... especially with having a girl... They just grow up so, so quickly. ... I think they’re just overtly sexual. They all are. They’re just, yes, they don’t need to be but the way they dance; the way they dress.... It’s women primarily... their fan base are young girls, and it’s just terrifying."

Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union

Hopes for the Future:

In considering what parents want for their children, particularly with regards to the commercial pressures around them, our research revealed that parents want to equip their children to be confident and ‘their own people’.

"As they grow up to... be their own person and not follow the crowd or think, get influenced by all these things that we’re trying for them not to get influenced by. That they can see that’s not a good idea, or just not to be too caught up in the whole how you look, the whole consumerism ... just to be their own person... and not follow the crowd. Be brave, strong and confident enough."

Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union

Ensuring parents are resilient:

Despite parents not feeling confident in managing the commercial world, they do feel they have a role to play with their children.

"Parents need to take charge of their children and be responsible for them and not leave it all up to the teachers and the police... Parents need to show them how to be grown-ups when the time comes ... they (children) need to understand that actions have consequences and you need to take responsibility for your actions."

Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union (27)

"Well, I really do agree that childhood has been commercialised quite a lot and it’s up to the parents to a point to try and sort of protect the child from that."

Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union


(26) Source: ComRes for Mothers’ Union

(27) Mothers’ Union member comment in response to question: To what extent, if at all do you feel equipped to deal with the impact of the commercial world on your child/children/grandchild/grandchildren?