How 2012 Parenting Trends Affect Spending

Moms control a huge sector of consumer spending, and understanding these trends will have big implications for your biz.
Co-Founder, Brazen Careerist
January 06, 2012

It’s hard to predict which ideas will take hold during the year, but here are three that are on the cusp of going mainstream. Ask yourself what the implications are for your business if they happen.

Mothers control a huge sector of consumer spending, so parenting trends affect business in a huge way. Here are three trends that are bound to shift this spending in the near future.

Homeschooling goes mainstream

The number of parents who are homeschooling for religious reasons is plummeting. Today, most families that homeschool have two parents with college degrees. Parents recognize that schools will not be fixed in the near future, and that’s what matters for the kids in school now.

School reformers are almost unanimous in advocating child-directed customized learning. We hear this in many sectors, from public school administrators in New York City to the principals of the most expensive private schools in the country.

Teaching to a test has little impact on students. Teaching 30 kids the same thing is not good for any of the kids. The structure of school is geared toward developing good factory workers who can memorize rules and follow the crowd. But the Internet age of knowledge-based workers who synthesize data makes this kind of schooling anachronistic.

Public schools cannot afford to educate kids in a customized way. It’s expensive. It means each kid does something a little different. It means a teacher has to guide a different lesson plan for each kid. That's impossible in the classroom sizes we have today. And the schools that are set up for customized education are charging $40,000 a year.

So, for now, if you want child-directed customized learning, you can either pay exorbitant tuition or homeschool your kids. Homeschooling will go mainstream in the next few years, and the shift in household spending will be huge.

Nature vs. nurture debate is closed

As parents, we are invested in the idea that what we do matters. But it turns out that what parents do doesn’t matter very much. An important book came out at the end of 2011 that got very little play in the media: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, by Bryan Caplan.

The title should have been The Argument for Why Nothing You Do As a Parent Matters. This book is a compendium of evidence from a wide range of university studies that show that once a child's basic needs are met, parents cannot affect how their kids turn out.

Here’s an example of the reach of this evidence: The age that boys first have sex is determined genetically. You cannot influence it by talking to the kid, or preaching to the kid, or whatever. The evidence is astounding. But it is also disheartening. What, then, are parents doing?

Parents can affect how much kids appreciate them as adults. As this research gains public attention, we'll see a shift in spending toward experiences that parents and kids can have together. We don’t need to spend money on trying to shape the child if the child's shape is already determined. Instead, we'll spend money to help the child connect with the parent in a meaningful way that will last their whole lives. That relationship is all we can influence, as much as we wish it to be otherwise.

Unorganized sports

Skateboarding used to be a counter-culture sport. Towns across America ban skateboarders in the center of town because they ruin public property. Who wants crowds of young boys careening at high speeds in an area where people are supposed to feel safe and happy spending their money?

Things have changed. There are skateboarding overnight camps in middle America touting values like hard work and friendship.

The X Games have brought respectability to solo sports. Sporting activities no longer need to be structured or sanctioned by schools. As Generation X gained control of city governments, skate parks have popped up in cities all over the U.S. As Gen X started controlling the spending for ski resorts, snowboarding became a standard offering. And some sports, like doubles beach volleyball, have even edged into the Olympics.

At the same time, Generation Z is poised to be independent, counter-culture and non-hierarchical, all the things that Generation Y is not. It makes sense: Baby boomers raised Gen Y to compete on teams and be winners. Generation X is raising Generation Z to be their own person, ignore the flow and do what feels right.

Organized sports will look old-fashioned and boring. We'll celebrate the athletes who are self-directed and independent, and who operate independently of an organized team.