Wednesday, March 30, 2011

postheadericon Slow Parenting

Recently, three major news outlets (iVillage, The Daily Beast, and The New York Times Magazine) featured articles on a ‘new’ parenting technique – RIE.  RIE, short for Resources for Infant Educarers (and pronounced “wry”) is an increasingly hot parenting methodology in Hollywood, embraced by Tobey Maguire, Jamie Lee Curtis, and other celebrity parents.  This approach to infant care isn’t new (it has been around since the 1970s) but the fact that it is receiving increased media attention (along with it’s growing numbers of celebrity clientele) is indicative that there is something interesting bubbling beneath the surface.

Essentially, RIE embraces the baby’s pace – it encourages slow, thoughtful parenting without the use of electronic toys, Baby Einstein videos, and hyper-indulgent helicopter parenting techniques. Babies are encouraged to play with simple toys (wood boxes, jars, spoons) and to explore the world around them at their own pace.  Parents are encouraged (and taught) via facilitators in parenting classes to respect their children, use diapering and feeding times as opportunities for engagement, and to try and understand the reasons behind their children’s crying (vs. popping in binky in a quest for fast silence).   Babies are to be left alone, watched but undisturbed, when playing contentedly, and parents and children are encouraged to slow down – an endless round of scheduled classes and play-dates are not a part of the program.

This ‘less is more’ parenting philosophy isn’t unique – in fact, it takes much from the Montessori movement, with its emphasis on respecting the child, following the child’s pace, and surrounding the child with simple toys that lead to self-discovery.  And the Waldorf/Steiner schools likewise emphasize discovery of nature, using simple toys made from natural materials, and discouraging television or other technological teaching tools. 

So why is RIE getting so much media attention now? 

Much like the Slow Food Movement, and the more recent resurgence of Urban Chicken Coops/Femivore trends, RIE parenting is striking a chord, and represents an emerging trend toward “slow parenting”.  It embraces the values and pace of a simpler time, with a strong emphasis on authenticity, back to basics, and nature. These macro trends are emerging in many different facets of life, beyond food and media, and the renewed focus on RIE is just another example of how an amorphous sounding trend like “authenticity” can impact a sector of the market.

For those marketing products to children, it is another clear example of how parenting is fracturing – with Baby Einstein parents on one end, and Wooden Spoon parents on the other.  What does this mean to marketers?  For those marketing to children, language addressing the needs of these “slow parents” could be incorporated into products and packaging, or at least understood and leveraged when appropriate.  Products that tap into this mindset already abound (Radio Flyer’s resurgence is clearly a byproduct of the retro/authenticity movement), but there is certainly room for more. 

As parents search for authentic moments with their children, opportunities will exist to focus on simple, ‘heritage’ products. If the next ‘new’ thing can be branded “too fast” for babies, it may allow older, legacy brands a bit of a chance to re-emerge. RIE’s popularity may signal an opportunity for those marketing to parents to change their tone, to a less competitive mindset, with a more philosophical and thoughtful approach.

For general marketers, this is part of a larger movement.  Other sectors would be wise to watch for a consumer shift to authenticity closely.  Retail, Banking, Beauty/Health, and Real Estate might all benefit from some truth in advertising – and the refreshing ‘anti-consumerism’ of RIE parenting is bound to spill over into other aspects of society.

Back to basics
For some, worries about the aftereffects of technology, the instability of the economy, and an inability to sustain the hectic pace of life in the new millennium have brought on feelings of insecurity, and a related focus on getting back to the basics.  This desire crosses many categories -- RIE is just a small example of how that trend/dynamic plays out in the parenting sector.

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Samantha Muldoon
Marketing consultant with over 20 years of brand strategy, advertising and marketing experience. Areas of professional expertise include brand strategy development, insight generation, trend analysis/perspective and global brand equity management. Currently, I live in Minneapolis with my family, where I write and consult with agencies, corporations and non-profits on customer insights and strategy.
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