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kid and mom

Increasingly, the back-to-school list includes as many “must-nots” as “must-haves.” These restrictions range from a ban on candy to limits on chips and a veto on peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish (scrap that shrimp sandwich, mom!). Even at schools that don’t require uniforms, dress codes have become increasingly strict. Depending on age of child, schools have prohibited everything from colors that could be interpreted as gang-related to t-shirts with words of any sort on them. Some schools are urging parents to forego the juice box for a refillable water bottle. At some private schools—and even some public ones—parents can expect to see that all or some characters can’t appear on backpacks or t-shirts. And, of course, technology that might be deemed permissible at home is often forbidden on school grounds.  

This might suggest that the back-to-school shopping trip is more rule-driven than ever. It certainly suggests that it’s a little less fun trip for many kids.

But will parents also miss a bit of the magic of selecting the perfect backpack or the peer-approved outfit? Based on what we know at YouthBeat about today’s moms and dads, and on what our C+R Shopper Insights expert, Terrie Wendricks, has seen in stores and online, they might.

Unlike parents of the past, today’s parents are perfectly fine with kid “asks.” They value their kids’, tweens’ and teens’ opinions like no cohort that came before, and see their children’s requests as keys to understanding their culture, in general, and their personal passions specifically. Having grown up with popular culture more prevalent in their lives, Millennial Moms and Dads, in particular, are more likely to share their kids’ interests in properties and characters. And with an increasing convergence around the content they consume, parents are more likely to side with their kids’, tweens’ and teens’ desire to express themselves through their affinities.

Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in the retail environment where parents and kids seem to find more to agree over than to argue about! Terrie told us, “Today’s parents seek to ensure their children have their own ‘moments,’ especially in social situations like school, but today’s kids also recognize the reasons for parental restrictions across a wide variety of categories.”

So what happens when schools shun the very items that parents are happy to provide? Parents find other reasons to buy. So this back-to-school season, and for more to come, we predict that the out-of-school shopping list will be as important as the in-school one. Of course, with many families continuing to stick to the kinds of tightened budgets that they adopted during the down economy of the past few years (despite some evidence that families are returning to their traditional retail options over “band-aids” like dollar stores), the necessities are a priority. But if your product or brand is no longer on that list, we think there’s still hope for you…

  1. Position your product or offering as essential to “after school.”
  2. Forego messages about success and readiness, the domain of those in-school products, and instead speak to parents’ belief in the importance of play.
  3. Leverage parents’ nostalgia for characters that they grew up with, and that might provide their offspring with the kind of out-of-school enjoyment that parents can recall—Ninja Turtles, anyone?
  4. Remind parents that the fall “reset” doesn’t just involve the re-establishment of serious routines—it can also be a time to plan for fun!
  5. Remember that out-of-school offerings have permission to be packaged differently—think family size and shareable versus lunchbox friendly.