May 15, 2012

In honor of Father’s Day, Euro RSCG Worldwide teamed with Market Probe International to survey 1,000 dads across the United States. We wanted to better understand how digital electronics, the Internet, and social media are affecting how men parent and to get their perspective on how digital childhoods are affecting their kids.

Every Euro RSCG survey includes an algorithm that enables us to identify the “Prosumers” within the sample—those leading-edge influencers who are shaping trends and markets. For the purposes of this survey, we will refer to Prosumers as “Digital Dads,” for this respondent base clearly shows the degree to which Prosumer dads are embracing digital tools—and using them in their parenting—ahead of the mainstream. Our sample was made up of 14 percent Prosumers and 86 percent mainstream consumers (“Average Joes”).

Both Digital Dads and Average Joes recognize and value the potential benefit of their children using the Internet—though both groups worry how it might harm them, too. The striking difference is how Digital Dads and Average Joes digitally connect:

Are Kids Getting Smarter? Dads Think So: Seventy-six percent of Digital Dads and 63 percent of Average Joes think new technologies and greater access to information are making their kids smarter. Around the same percentages (76 percent Digital Dads, 68 percent Average Joes) think kids who grow up without Internet access at home are at a disadvantage.

Split Decision on When to Upgrade: Given the perceived impact of new technologies, how important is it that their own children have the most up-to-date digital tools? Nearly half of Digital Dads (48 percent) say it’s important to them that their kids have the latest and greatest in high tech, while just 24 percent say they can go without. But the situation is reversed among Average Joes, only a quarter of whom think their kids need the newest tools and models, while 40 percent say they don’t.

Digital Downsides: While the vast majority of dads surveyed (84 percent of Digital Dads and 67 percent of Average Joes) think digital technologies will have a “mostly positive” impact on their children’s formative years, they do recognize some negative repercussions, with the mainstream dads being most concerned: Around 7 in 10 Average Joes (vs. around 6 in 10 Digital Dads) worry that new technologies are too much of a distraction for their kids and are impairing their ability to communicate face to face. Seventy-seven percent of Average Joes and 64 percent of Digital Dads also worry that digital communication is making the current generation of young people less proficient in the English language. A lot of teachers would agree.

Step Away from the iPad: Though digitally savvy dads embrace the good things that come with new technologies, they’re also more acutely aware that too much digital tethering can be bad for their kids. Six in 10 Digital Dads (and half of Average Joes) make it a point to limit the amount of time their kids spend online. Forty-two percent of Digital Dads and 31 percent of Average Joes shoo their children outside to play.

Make Way for the Daddy Bloggers: For all the media coverage of Mommy Bloggers, one might assume it’s an exclusively female club. On the contrary: Two-thirds of Digital Dads (and one-third of Average Joes) have posted a photo of their children on a social media site, and more than half of Digital Dads (52 percent) and 20 percent of Average Joes have written about a parenting experience online via a blog, Facebook, or another site. Nearly 1 in 5 Digital Dads (17 percent) have even gone online or used an app to track their baby’s development.

Digital Dads Rule the (Tech) Roost: In general, who’s more digitally savvy: today’s dads or the average 15-year-old? It depends whom you’re asking: Sixty-two percent of Digital Dads say they’re more tech savvy than the average 15-year-old, while fewer than 10 percent give props to the teens. Average Joes are far less confident in their tech skills: Only 36 percent think they’re more digitally savvy than the average high school freshman, while 42 percent know their skills don’t quite match up. These very different levels of confidence in their use of technology are reflected throughout the survey responses.

Father Knows Best (But Only When Connected to Social Media): However did Jim Anderson manage the hijinks of Wally and the Beaver without his Facebook buds? Fifty-seven percent of Digital Dads and 32 percent of Average Joes believe digital connectivity makes it easier to be a parent. This likely is due to the fact that the Internet offers quick-and-easy access to other parents and a wealth of information and advice. Nearly two-thirds of Digital Dads (64 percent) have connected with other parents online, as have 25 percent of Average Joes. And 55 percent of Digital Dads (vs. nearly a third of Average Joes) have actively looked for parenting advice online. These days, it’s not just moms who want to know the best way to remove a splinter, tick, or marble from a toddler’s ear…

Big Daddy’s Watching: More than three-quarters of Digital Dads (77 percent) and 57 percent of Average Joes are connected to their kids via social media and keep an eye on their interactions on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other sites. (Teens beware: Only 15 percent of dads surveyed would consider that an invasion of privacy.) Forty-two percent of Digital Dads and 29 percent of Average Joes have tracked their children’s web-browsing histories. Some dads go even further: Twelve percent have tracked their children’s whereabouts by means of a GPS device on the child’s phone, and the same percentage admit to having hacked their children’s email or social media accounts.

The Family That Tweets Together…: Despite all their kiddy surveillance, Digital Dads think new technologies are helping to reduce the distance between themselves and their offspring. Forty-three percent of Digital Dads (vs. just 27 percent of Average Joes) believe digital technology and entertainment are creating a stronger bond between parents and their teens. Tellingly, a majority of Average Joes (56 percent, compared with 43 percent of Digital Dads) think new technologies are creating more of a divide between the generations. The new generation gap may be less about music, religion, and politics than about one’s comfort in the digital sphere.

“Fathers, now more than ever, need to play their traditional roles of protecting, supporting and guiding their kids in digital and social media,” says Tom Morton, Chief Strategy Officer, New York and Co-Chief Strategy Officer, North America. “Social media is now providing new ways to engage with your family, and also is bringing families closer together,” added Morton.

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