Revisiting The Homeland Generation (Part 2 Of 2)

August 12, 2015 | By Neil Howe

This editorial originally appeared in Forbes.

Below is the second half of a two-part FAQ discussing entertainment trends within the Homeland Generation and how today’s youngsters will set themselves apart from Millennials. Read part one here.

A child plays with a Dora The Explorer kitchen. (Credit: Bloomberg/Patrick T. Fallon)

What are Homelanders doing outside of the classroom?

Homelanders have plenty of entertainment options to choose from. From DVRs to streaming services, these kids have no concept of waiting until a certain time for their favorite show to come on television. Even first-wave Millennials still remember having to wait until Barney & Friends was finished to watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. All Homelanders have to do, however, is pick up a tablet.

In today’s screened and streamed world, parents are closely monitoring what their kids watch, flocking to kid-friendly platforms like Netflix Kids and YouTube Kids that promise age-appropriate content. Through these platforms, parents can pre-set profiles for kids-only content and restrict the amount of time their kids can watch a show before the app locks them out.

And it’s not just apps: There has also been a proliferation of kid-friendly devices as well. The Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition, for instance, allows parents to set usage limits and educational goals. When children reach their daily limit, the device powers off so kids can move on to other activities—no more, “Five more minutes, Mom!”

What are kids watching on these platforms?

Many are simply streaming TV shows kids would previously view on television. Nick Jr., Disney Jr., and PBS Kids all have apps that allow kids to watch full episodes of their favorite programs, along with games and clips of their favorite music videos and shorts.

Some kids are going straight to YouTube, which hosts channels filled with kid-friendly content. Not only does YouTube host popular TV series and channels (like Sesame StreetMother Goose Club, and Super Simple Songs) but it also features videos prepackaged for kids—literally. DisneyCollectorBR, the second-most viewed YouTube channel of 2014, is dedicated entirely to an unseen woman opening packages of children’s toys and narrating the process in a soothing voice. Other top “unboxing” channels like BluToysDisneyCarToys, and SurpriseToys were also in the top 100 most-watched videos last year.

Not only are Homelanders drawn to these prepackaged experiences, but they also have no problem with adults openly creating content designed for them. Yes, adults create content for kids all the time. But when you read Dr. Seuss, you don’t see Dr. Seuss jumping out from the pages and explaining the story to the young reader.

How else is the content changing?

Unlike Nickelodeon’s “kids-only zone” of the ‘80s, strong families are omnipresent in kids’ programming today. In PBS’s Sid the Science Kid, both of Sid’s parents sing songs to teach concepts to their son and his friends. In PBS’s Dinosaur Train, Mr. and Mrs. Pteranodon may not always be around when the train makes its educational stops, but they are there to supervise Buddy and his three siblings while in transit nevertheless.

And it’s not just the immediate family taking a starring role. As more kids live with their grandparents, it’s not farfetched that in the upcoming Disney seriesElena of Avalorboth grandparents assist the young princess as she makes decisions affecting the entire kingdom. Family has also expanded to include more complex family structures, such as blended and adoptive families.

What other themes do you see?

In general, the virtue that is most stressed is being nice and being a skilled compromiser and mediator. Take Disney’s Sheriff Callie’s Wild West. The series takes place in a small town called Nice and Friendly Corners, where Sheriff Callie works with her friends to teach the townsfolk to get along with each other to make the town “the friendliest in the West.”

Are there any other Homelander-specific trends?

Over the last three decades, kids’ programing has distanced itself from reality. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, late-wave Xers were watching cartoons and sitcoms that confronted the audience with difficult and painful real-world situations like bullying, divorce, and substance abuse. But the reigning idea today is that Homelanders are innocent and should be kept away from the unthinkable—not introduced to it.

Nowhere is reality more distant than today’s programming for kids. The fantasy realms that Homelander TV characters inhabit are not unlike those of the Silent Generation’s characters. While the Silent Generation weathered the Great Depression in their childhood with Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood, the Homeland Generation has gotten through the Great Recession with shows like Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time that take place in an almost dreamlike world.

Are Homelanders just Millennials all over again?

In some ways, yes, they represent a culmination of Millennial trends. But as they pick up the thread of these trends, Homelanders are emerging with a different persona that is remarkably distinct from that of Millennials. For example, the Millennial focus on collaboration and friendship is transforming into an emphasis on niceness and being in tune with other people’s emotions. As Homelanders’ childhoods are filled with magical spaces to explore their feelings, they will likely develop a greater capacity for introspection later in life.

As they move through life, they will also continue to wait on older people’s cues. While many already complain that Millennials lack initiative, Homelanders will take this a step further. And unlike Millennials, well-behaved Homelanders will set out to identify success not just by achievement, but by how much they please others.

In the long run, some may be disappointed to see Millennials’ macro-level, world-changing confidence replaced by Homelanders’ narrow focus on making sure their own lives are in order. On the other hand, we may welcome the fact that Homelanders will be much more grounded and productively engaged than Millennials are today. But of course, this future is still a long way off: For now, these thoughts are hardly on the minds of a group of kids who are still listening to bedtime stories before they go to sleep.

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