How the pandemic continues to impact the lives of parents
It’s been 18 months since the pandemic changed the world and the lives of billions of people forever – and perhaps no stratum of society felt the impact more acutely than parents with young and school-age children. With schools closing – and most other public spaces closed, too – parents had to don multiple hats and strike a balance between work and kids, acting as teachers and playmates to keep their children learning and entertained.
In a report earlier this year, we identified this parent-teacher-playmate cohort as a distinct group that had changed its digital behaviors as a result of the pandemic. And, while schools have reopened in many parts of the world and life is returning to something closer to normal, the changes in behavior brought about by the pandemic continue to impact the digital habits of parents and children today.
Lockdown changed parents’ schedules
When looking at the behavioral changes brought about by the year of lockdowns, changes in media consumption patterns show how parents modified their schedules to make time for their kids.
But those changes weren’t just limited to digital domains: the disruption in daily routines also impacted other facets of their lives like how they shop, what they eat, what activities they do and so on. This transformation didn’t happen overnight but was rather a gradual process.
TV consumption and weekday gaming both witnessed a massive surge (almost a 70% increase compared to pre-pandemic levels) in households with kids, indicating very few parents started with a plan. But as parents realized that this would not be a short-term disruption, they started to strike a balance between education and entertainment. Schedules were set, tasks were assigned and TV times were limited. We can see this in the normalization of TV and gaming consumption in the months that followed.
While some parents used traditional modes of learning, others looked at virtual education platforms and tools to help their kids keep learning through disrupted school years. Activity across educational domains and apps increased by 60-80% compared to pre-pandemic activity, with a peak being observed in August – October 2020. The heroic efforts made by schools to keep students engaged in virtual classrooms reduced some of the load on parents, which we can see as the peak levels off – but the use of education apps and domains remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.
It’s also notable that we saw a shift from traditional TV viewing at the start of the pandemic towards OTT platforms with content and apps appropriate for kids as lockdowns extended, a trend we expect to continue in the post-pandemic world.
The added focus on home-schooling kids meant that parents had to shift their schedules to make time to look after their children.
At the start of the pandemic, most parents used the mornings to focus on their kids before getting to their working-from-home in the afternoon. This meant that most parents worked later than they normally would, as we can see by the 13% increase in user activity across business-related domains post-6pm on weekdays through June-October 2020.
But as parents adjusted to the new normal, they were more able to balance family time across mornings and evenings, and returning the weekends to more traditional ‘work free events’ – traffic on business-related domains on weekends went down by 7% after October 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Parent-teacher-playmates need tech assistance
Technology has been a huge help for PTPs, providing them with much-needed assistance in keeping their children engaged. With the pandemic still definitely not over and children being a vulnerable segment, schools and parents are exploring hybrid approaches to delivering learning in a safe environment, assembling toolkits for efficient home-learning that can either supplement classroom learning or prepare for the worst-case scenarios of further school closures.
In countries like the US and the UK, where schools have largely returned to in-person learning, the demand for traditional school supplies like clothes and apparel, stationery and sports and musical instruments are seeing a considerable rise compared to last year (though still 15% lower than 2019 levels).
Irrespective of whether learning is happening at home or in school, there is an increased demand for technology platforms (tablets, laptops, and accessories) among students that can connect them to their peers and teachers. Despite stressed household incomes and reduced non-essential spending last year, there was a massive surge in interest for laptops and tablets for kids. Those that missed out on the sales last year are likely to use the back-to-school and holiday shopping sales events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday to look for tech that can help their kids with virtual learning.
Parents have changed the way they shop
Lockdowns have put severe pressure on the incomes and savings of middle-class households with two-fifths of middle and lower-middle-income households seeing a decline in income, broadening the income disparity that already existed in the society. This stress on household income forced parents to rethink their monthly budgets and adopt alternate shopping habits.
Online shopping grew rapidly among households with kids, with 60% of such households either exploring online shopping or doing a larger proportion of their shopping online. Parents were also more likely to switch brands and compare products before buying. Spending on essentials grew – and is still growing – substantially more in households with children than childless households, while non-essential spending has taken a hit among a third of households with a child under 18.
Even with things beginning to return to normal, these changes in shopping habits are continuing to impact PTP shopping behaviors, with four-fifths saying they are likely to continue with these new shopping habits going forward.
Undoubtedly, with a faster than expected economic recovery and large-scale vaccination, we expect a return in-store for essentials and improved consumer spending on non-essential items. But, households with children will still be more likely to continue buying products online and conducting pre-shopping research online.
Parents are ready for a break
The pandemic has taken a serious toll on the physical and mental well-being of parents as much as children. Despite 60% of parents making efforts to work on their and their children’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, ‘pandemic fatigue’ has certainly set in, with some accepting the risks associated with the pandemic as part of their lives.
Be it attending live sporting events or watching the movies, parents are one of the most likely segments to say they are eager to return to offline activities that were an integral part of their pre-pandemic lives.
Travel is another area which parents are looking forward to more than other segments. Half of the households with children are looking to travel in the next six months (a much higher proportion compared to those without kids). Among those looking to travel, domestic travel destinations are likely to be more popular in most regions, though British and German audiences are more likely to travel abroad. Most holidays being planned range from one to two weeks, with most families looking to travel between multiple destinations during the trip.
After a year of disruption, with things slowly getting back to normal, PTPs are a group most anxiously looking forward to getting their lives back on track. But, while we may witness the resurgence of certain pre-pandemic behaviors, the habits adopted over the last year are likely to consciously or subconsciously impact the lives of parents the world over in the post-pandemic world.