In parenting news, 2015 was all about free-range kids, Scandinavian child rearing, and screen-time flamewars. 2016 will be all about the rise of millennial parents, caregiver rights, and the positive influence of technology on kids’ lives.
Like all other types of news, parenting headlines are dominated by trends and fads. Yesterday’s latchkey kids are today’s screen time addicts. Buzzwords like “dad bod” and “tiger mom” come and go.
But these trends aren’t necessarily shallow. They reflect the hopes and fears of our diverse culture.
Based on data from our site, Google Trends, sentiment research, and our experience as news curators, here are ten parenting topics that will dominate headlines and newsfeeds in 2016.
1. Debate About Outdated Family Polices in the US
The United States has the worst family leave policies among developed nations.
These policies push working parents onto a tightrope. Tip one way, neglect your children. Tip the other, fall behind and lose out at work.
In the US, maternity leave is only protected for 12 weeks. And those limited protections don’t apply to many low-income women. That’s partly because the US is the only developed nation without paid maternity leave policies. This despite the fact that 96% of single mothers say paid leave is the workplace reform that would help them the most.
The US also has zero mandated paternity leave. (Again, unlike most developed nations.) There’s ample evidence of positive outcomes for fathers and the family when dads can spend more time with their kids, especially when they’re babies.
Read: Amanda Levinson’s review of “Unfinished Business”
In 2015, publicity around Anne-Marie Slaughter’s best-selling book “Unfinished Business” put a new focus on caregiver rights. In 2016, expect much a louder debate about how our laws limit working parents and harm families. The presidential election will play a large part in this, but we also see more and more parent-focused media outlets carrying the banner on this story.
2. Automation & Our Kids’ Future Job Market
Here’s a scary statistic: 47 percent of jobs in the United States could be automated within “a decade or two.”
That’s precisely when our kids will enter the workforce and start families of their own.
As noted on the NASDAQ site, “Historically, technology has created more efficiency, productivity and even higher living standards.”
Read: “A World Without Work” from the Atlantic.
But the exponential pace and sophistication of automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, and deep learning mean that we’re entering a new era in job displacement. Both white and blue collar jobs are at risk.
In 2016, many more parents and teachers will comprehend this reality. Expect a lively conversation about how we might prepare kids for a job market in extreme flux.
3. Respect for Kids’ Digital Privacy and Rights
81 percent of Millennials (who make up 90 percent of all new parents) have shared a photo of their kid on social media. But Forbes reports that those same millennial parents are rapidly becoming more concerned about digital privacy. These concerns spike after parenthood.
Read: Protecting Kids Digital Privacy from NPR
For example, when Facebook launched Scrapbook to help parents share photos of their kids, it was rejected as a ploy to create digital identities for kids.
Parents are starting to take their kid’s digital identities seriously. It’s a new responsibility of parenthood.
Read more about digital privacy and safety for kids on Common Sense Media.
4. The Nuances of Screen Time
Parents (and teachers and grandparents and, well, just about everyone) are concerned about the impact of screen time on kids’ healthy development. The topic is usually portrayed in absolute terms, pro or con.
Articles like “Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children” scare and scold parents who let their kids use screens while other articles argue that “Our Kids Aren’t Using Too Much Tech. They’re Not Using Enough.”
The reality is that most parents believe screen time is beneficial in moderation. Parents know that most kids need to use computers and smartphones to play a role in our economy. They also know that too much of anything is bad.
On the internet, extreme opinions get clicks. “Moderation” doesn’t go viral. But in 2016, expect the screen time extremists to fade.
5. The Economic Necessity and Societal Benefit of Encouraging Curiosity in Kids
Curiosity is trending as educators and business leaders advocate for its utility and strategic importance.
Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Curiosity has long been dismissed as a minor soft-skill.
Read “Why Imagination and Curiosity Matter More Than Ever” in the Wall Street Journal.
However, as computers take over information processing, and as we increasingly rely on Google for storing knowledge, the human value of curiosity becomes critical to economic success.
Empathy, imagination, creativity, and innovation are tightly connected to curiosity. They are also signature human traits that (so far) can’t be reduced to computer code.
6. Despite Massive Student Debt, Fewer Doubts About the Value of a Four-Year Degree
One of the biggest issues in education from 2015 will carry over into 2016: student debt.
Millennial parents (90 percent of all new parents) are the ones most saddled with this debt. It’s crushing their ability to save money, invest money, and buy first homes.
Read: Student Debt is Worse Than You Expect in the New York Times.
For years, it’s been trendy to doubt the value of a four-year degree. And it’s true that, for Millennials, the pay gap between college graduates and those with a high school diploma is smaller than for past generations.
However, that same data also shows that the gap is still quite large: Millennials with a college degree earn $17,000 more than those with a high school diploma on average.
In 2016, expect many headlines like “The Rising Cost of not Going to College” as fresh emphasis is placed on the quantifiable benefits of a four-year degree.
Other educational trends for 2016:
- Less attention on the Common Core.
- Emphasis on racial equality for teachers.
- Push to get kids active at the start of the school day.
- More outdoor schools in the US
7. Everyone Will Understand That New Parents = Millennial Parents
Millennials get a bad rap — depicted as entitled, coddled and narcissistic. They’re also seen as tolerant, civic-minded and entrepreneurial.
They’re the biggest generation in US history. They make up the largest share of the American workforce. Millennials are dealing with low incomes and poverty more than previous generations, but they’re still an economic powerhouse.
Advertisers have been intensely focused on Millennial parents for years. That’s because:
- They account for 90 percent of the 1.5 million new mothers in the US.
- There are now more than 22 million millennials parents.
- One in five moms is a millennial.
- Millennials have 10,000 babies per day
Millennial values will shape the following generation, just as boomers shaped Generation X.
In 2016, there will be a lively national conversation about what, exactly, that means. There are some hints. For example, Millennial parents share parenting more equally through the traditional division of work and home responsibilities persists (Read “Millennial Moms Still Run Households.”) And 50 percent of Millennials purposefully purchase gender-neutral toys.
In 2015, Time ran a feature called Help! My Parents Are Millennials (paywall). Expect many more stories about how Millennials are raising their kids and how that might shape the future of America.
8. Minimalism as a Family Lifestyle Choice
Driven by some of the trends mentioned above, the wider cultural interest in minimalism will resonate as a lifestyle choice for families.
A minimalist family lifestyle has less clutter, fewer possessions, more shared family experiences, a lighter schedule, and is guided by a less-is-more parenting approach.
Kids fashion will even be affected by this trend, as companies like Primary grow rapidly by offering simple, unbranded essentials at reasonable prices.
We’ve seen this trend grow over the past year on this site, as some of our most popular articles were about the Marie Kondo method and Minimalism: A Key to Mental Health as a New Parent.
9. A Return to Tactile Experiences
As the novelty of our digital devices wears off, parents and kids are finding novelty and joy in real goods. Print books (especially used books) board games and arty coloring books were super popular in 2015. This will only accelerate in 2016.
The popularity of app, internet and AI-enabled toys like BB-8 and Osmo represent a version of this trend (even though the creepy Hello Barbie doll was hacked).
10. Decline of Team Sports – Especially Baseball and Football
Almost all team sports for kids are losing popularity. Not only will this continue in 2016, but a widespread conversation will ignite on the matter.
Read “Why Is Baseball Losing Children” in the Wall Street Journal.
However, expect an uptick in team sports participation in another few years, as millennial parents bring back the tradition. (Just like they brought back PBR.)
There are about 30 people in the world today who came from a genetically engineered embryo. Researchers in China have modified the DNA of human embryos. Quartz reports that gene therapy is making genetically engineered humans acceptable. In the UK, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Agency (HFEA) determined that modifying human mitochondrial genes in humans embryos were both safe and sometimes desirable for fighting disease.
In 2016, more people will become aware of the reality of gene therapy. Genetic enhancements to humans are still some time away — but they are on the horizon. Your kids might choose your grandchildren’s eye color, skin tone, and more.
Read more: Engineering the Perfect Baby from MIT Technology Review