Toy giant Fisher-Price is seeking to reassure anxious parents that there is no right or wrong way to play, with a new campaign featuring the strapline ‘Discover your way’.
The campaign, which includes TV and social media activity, is the result of extensive research that claims that parents feel that their baby is in a learning race. According to the research, parents are increasingly anxious they are not spending enough time playing with their children and are frightened to give them the space necessary to develop.
According to Fisher-Price, which released the survey in partnership with parenting website MadeForMums, a new generation of anxious parents believe the more one-to-one play they have with their child, the faster their child’s development. Therefore 66% of parents worry that they do not play enough with their children.
Dr David Whitebread, a senior lecture in psychology and education at the University of Cambridge specialising in cognitive psychologist and early years, says that the really big concern over the past decade is the relative loss of opportunities for children to engage in child-led play. He explains: "There is rigorous evidence that shows if you want a happy, healthy child that fulfils their potential then don’t deny them the opportunity and freedom to plat in their own way and learn naturally."
The baby race
Wendy Hill, brand activation director at Fisher Price, says that mums say they feel so much pressure for their babies to be in the "learning race". She adds: "We wanted to create a campaign that reassured them that allowing children to discover in their own way and to develop naturally was just as valuable."
With parents recording each developmental milestone on social media channels, the pressure on Millennial mothers is particularly acute.
With parents recording each developmental milestone on social media channels, the pressure on Millennial mothers is particularly acute. When social media shows only the edited highlights of the ups and downs of parenthood, many mothers are gripped with fear that they aren’t doing enough to aid their babies development.
"People show the best of their lives on social not what isn’t going well. The fact that everything is so immediate brings it’s own pressure," adds Hill.
According to Hill Millennial Mums view the web as their "frenemy", in that there is so much information available it can be overwhelming. "Every child is different but there is a great pressure on parents they feel they are in a developmental race but what we are saying is that it is fine to give them the space to develop at their own pace."
In pursuit of balance
Alongside the new campaign, Fisher-Price has unveiled a new technology powering its Laugh & Learn toys that feature content that updates with a child’s age. The Smart Stage function is the result of long-term research into how children play. In comparisons of family life in 2003 and 2013, research found that while parents and children still enjoy role play as much as they did 10 years ago, they are now much-more reliant on content.
Ten years ago parents did not have smartphones or iPads, but, in an era where steaming content is ubiquitous, the expectations and demand for content amongst both parents and children has changed.
However, even in the midst of huge technological advancements the fundamentals of play remain consistent. According to Fisher Price’s Hill, the desire for physical play is still phenomenal. "Simple toys like stacking blocks are still essential but one of the challenges that parents have is finding the balance between new technology and physical play," she says.
Certainly the advent of new technology has brought with it an avalanche of new concerns among parents who are not only anxious that their children have too much screen time, but also that they will somehow fall behind if they don’t get enough exposure.
When more play took place outside children played with different age groups. You can’t do that on a social network.
"There is some evidence that some of the better software is beneficial to development, but it is always a matter of degree," says Dr Whitebread. "The big question is if a child is dedicating three hours a day to screen time what is it that they aren’t doing?"
He adds: "Human beings have evolved to pick up social cues in real life, they only learn from playing with kids in real life. When more play took place outside children played with different age groups. You can’t do that on a social network."
The world children are growing into is changing irrevocably, but the fundamentals of play and the sheer uncomplicated joy of discovery is remarkably consistent. A fact Fisher-Price believes should reassure anxious Millennial parents.