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Millennial Connections: Parents Talk, ZERO TO THREE Listens

Kathy Kinsner, Senior Manager, Parenting Resources, and Rebecca Parlakian, Senior Director of Programs

Growing up as the world moved from dial-up to wi-fi, today’s Millennial parents are experiencing the joys and challenges of child-rearing with a smartphone in hand. As savvy information consumers with easy access to websites and mobile apps, parents have a nearly infinite number of sources at their fingertips. But this tide of information—websites, blogs, videos, and digital content—is leaving parents overwhelmed and not sure who to trust with their child development questions, according to ZERO TO THREE’s 2016 Tuning In survey.

Earlier this year, we set out to learn more by taking a deep dive into where caregivers turn for information about parenting, what topics they seek information about, and what sources they trust most (and least). Thanks to a partnership with the Bezos Family Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, and the Overdeck Family Foundation, the results of Millennial Connections are in. Here’s what we learned from the national survey of 1,002 parents:

Where do parents turn for information about parenting and child development? Parents of young children were most likely to seek child-rearing information from someone who knows their family personally, and immediate family (spouses, partners, their own parents) was number one. Other members of their social network (including extended family and friends) came in as the third and fourth sources parents turn with questions. Pediatric health care providers were ranked second, trusted nearly as much as immediate family. Parents see their child’s health care provider as not just someone to answer questions about physical health, but also about the experience of parenting more generally. But it’s also no surprise that millennial parents seek a range of parenting information online, telling us they place higher trust placed in “science-based” parenting websites as compared to parenting information found on social media.

Are online or in-person sources of information more likely to spur parents to action? We found that parents consult online and in-person sources about equally. Interestingly, parents tell us that both sources are likely to spur them to seek out more information from an expert or try a different parenting strategy.

On what topics do parents seek advice? Information about developmental milestones is the number one topic parents have questions about. Parents are hungry for age-based information about what skills and abilities to expect, when. About two thirds of parents surveyed also sought information on nutrition and language/communication skills. Rounding out the top five were managing challenging behavior and identifying effective discipline strategies—always on the minds of new parents.

If you’re working with families, check out ZERO TO THREE’s parent-friendly guide to developmental milestones, Your Child’s Development, as well as developmental milestones from HealthySteps, aligned to the well-child visit schedule.

What approaches can organizations take to increase parents’ trust?

  • Connect with family members. Friends and family are big resources in the care of little kids, and children under 5 are as likely to be in the care of a grandparent as in formal child care. Personal connections like these are the most-consulted, most-trusted sources of information, according to the parents in our survey. Learn more about how to support the grandparents you work with at zerotothree.org/grandparents.
  • Partner with a range of organizations that serve parents: health-care providers, early childhood educators, and government agencies such as home visiting or nutrition services. Health-care providers ranked with immediate family members in parents’ frequency of use and high level of trust. Families reported high levels of trust (on average, 80%) in other infant-family professionals (such as teachers, child care providers, home visitors, parent educators), though usage rates reflected the fact that access to these programs vary based on community.
  • Be online, but not only online. Access to online resources is nearly universal. Creating online resources is a cost-effective first step to getting the word out about parenting topics that matter most. But it shouldn’t be the last step. Science-based online resources are highly trusted, but about one fourth of surveyed parents (those with the lowest incomes and education levels) reported never using them.
  • Seek out parents in the places they go frequently and trust most. For example, our survey suggests African-American and Latino parents are more likely to use mobile parenting apps than white parents, and also more likely to turn to their houses of worship with parenting questions.
  • Tell authentic stories. Nearly two thirds of parents surveyed were more likely to trust parenting advice that included stories and struggles of real families.

As always, we’re grateful to the parents who took the time to participate in our survey and to the partners who made it possible. Knowing what parents are struggling with and where they are turning for guidance helps us, and other organizations engaged in this work, figure out how to best meet the needs of time-crunched-but-connected Millennial parents. Learn more at zerotothree.org/millennial-connections.

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