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Viewpoint: The importance of being earnest

KI’s co-founder Gary Pope on why being serious and sincere about making great content for kids doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining. It means we care.

It was Oscar Wilde that first made earnestness something of a satirical punchbag. Striking the balance between being serious and sincere has never been a particularly easy thing to do, but I’ve certainly enjoyed giving it a good thumping every now and then.

There is, however, a time when being serious and sincere is just what is needed. And I wonder if, right now, in this period of massive change and instability, earnestness is exactly what’s required.

The youngest parents of preschoolers today are what some call Gen Z and most are what we call Millennials. That’s anyone born between 1980 and 2010 to you and me. Whether an entire generation can be labelled by traits identified through a survey or the technological advances of their epoch is a debate for another time, but these labels do give us focus – so let’s roll with it for now.

Apparently each group is very different and they have a healthy cynicism for the other, but there’s one thing that binds them. They each tell us that ‘authenticity’ is more important than any other value. ‘Legit’ some say. ‘Keeping it real’, I think we used to call it.

I’m going to put to the side that both are riddled with climate anxiety, spend 10 hours a day on their phones and are dealing with a shifting fiscal landscape that would be enough to make even their great grandparents – those of The Greatest Generation – wring their hands with woe. In so many ways young parents today, be they Gen Z or Millennials, are properly up shits-creek without an iPaddle.

But it’s not all bad.

This is the first generation of parents that have fully developed as what Marc Prensky called Digital Natives. They understand the good, the bad and the ugly of the new digital reality. And one very good thing that seems to have fallen out of this techno-literacy, is that they’re the first generation that are effectively able to moderate their children’s digital consumption. And in the wild west of the internet this can only be welcomed.

One of the ways that they appear to be acting on this capability, beyond actually knowing how to use the parental controls, is co-consuming. They are watching (TV), listening (to podcasts) and playing (video games) with their children. And when using new technologies as babysitters (as we all do), they want to know that it is safe. Linear TV is not quite dead yet because parents trust that a real schedule from a real TV station, that can’t be clicked or tapped out of, will deliver quality, curated content without the fear of little Johnny or Bethany stumbling across beheadings, bombings or bums.

Great preschool content is global. Because children all hit exactly the same developmental markers – albeit at slightly differing times and different contexts – children under 7 anywhere in the world can enjoy the same preschool content. Great preschool content resonates at a developmental level. And this is true until the children begin to really establish their own identity and their immediate culture takes over from biology as the main driver of development.

Notwithstanding their vaguely sexist phrasing, Ignatius Loyola, Aristotle and St Thomas Acquinas have all been credited with saying “give me the child until the age of seven and I will show you the man”. But educators, and us as practitioners in the preschool industry, know this to be true. A child’s most important years are the first years and in this age of media saturation it is imperative that quality media is fully accessible to all children. Always.

Preschool content has the power to massively impact the future. And if you’re thinking preschool content, the chances are you’re thinking Bluey. I’m not going to wax lyrical about Bluey for too long.

But…

Watch the episode about cricket. It’s a global favourite. Kids would be really hard pressed to actually, really, follow it, but it doesn’t matter because it’s Bluey and they love it. Bluey is as much for the parents as it is for the kids. Actually, I think it’s written for parents first, but that’s another conversation. Whatever the reality, there is no denying that this is a fundamental part of its genius. Parents want to co-view and here’s a show they actually can because it is authentic.

Authentic for the children, authentic for the parents and perhaps most importantly, authentic for this moment in time.

It reflects all aspects of preschool family life with humour, courage and without pretence. And those clever people in the licensing/brand/marketing/PR department have done a damn fine job of making sure that every touch point is treated with care and thought.

But Bluey’s impact has a wider significance that most have missed. Bluey and Bingo have raised the content bar so high that this show is forcing others to think harder and create better. And that can only be a good thing. Tartrazine fueled nursery rhyme nonsense is not going to cut it any more. Authentic stories that reflect the lives of the people watching is.

As the world slides further down the geopolitical toilet made by old men driven only by their inflated need to be adored, there is a little spark of hope that the industry we work in, one that really cares about the future of the children in our care, is doing its bit to develop stories, products and services that make a positive difference.

Being serious and sincere about making great content for kids doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. It means we care. The importance of being earnest in the development of content for the most important people in the world to consume has never been greater.

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