COVID-19: New data on social norms for families

Mallory Peak's headshot on white background.

Mallory Peak
Senior Account Director

Apr 27, 2020

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Data on our interpersonal lives and family dynamics can be scarce, but it is essential in impacting behavior in meaningful ways. Understanding these dynamics helps us better connect with our audiences, whether we are influencing good behavior or driving purchasing decisions.

DH is a proud member of IPREX, a global network of communication agencies. This month, we partnered with our friends at Marketing for Change to field the IPREX Parent Normal survey. The survey asked 1,519 parents and other caregivers across the U.S.about their own behaviors, their children’s behavior and their perception of what other parents do.

The findings produced what is perhaps the first statistical portrait of American parenting during COVID-19. What moved our team was the increase in family connection, which we know can support positive behavior across the board, from education to health to public safety. We also saw findings that were worrying, that we want to get in front of as communicators.

Here are a few of those findings:

Families are spending more quality time together – and participating in healthy activities.

  • Almost two out of three (64%) parents say they are eating and watching entertainment together more as family than before the coronavirus.
  • More than half are also cooking at home together (57%) and playing board games together (52%) more.
  • About half the parents (48%) say they are going on walks or runs more often with their family.
  • Four in 10 parents say they are having more meaningful conversations as a family (42%), and roughly the same amount are watching the news together more often (39%)

Responses to COVID-19 are being enforced by parents, but there is room for improvement.

  • In the past three weeks, over three-quarters of parents have told their children over 5 about both washing hands regularly and keeping six feet from others to avoid spreading germs.
  • Nearly two out of three parents are barring their children from playing with children who don’t live with them. Almost a third of parents (31%) have gone so far as to limit their children to their own home and yard.
  • Nevertheless, a large share of children — about a third — were still playing the same amount or even more with children outside their home. The biggest factor here is the parent’s parenting style, with authoritative parents — those who jointly make rules with their children — having the most success at this form of distancing.

Parents are feeling the pressure of isolation and fear, which directly impacts the safety of children in their homes.

  • Nearly one out of three parents of children under 13 (30%) say they find themselves disciplining their children more, including adding new rules, being stricter, yelling, imposing time-outs and withholding things.
  • One in four (27%) of those parents are spanking more.
  • Parents in places where schools and daycare centers had more recently closed were more likely to be disciplining more — potentially an indication of the challenges parents face as children initially spend more time at home.
  • Even as two-thirds of parents (65%) spend more time with their children, 57% report spending less time with their friends.
  • Two out of five (38%) say they are feeling down or depressed more often, compared with 17% who say they feel that less often.
  • One out of five parents (22%) reported buying a gun for their home in the past month. The bulk of these same parents (83%) also talked to their children about gun safety in that same period.

Good behavior is growing in many areas that may carry over longterm.

  • Despite the intense pressure of this time, parents report increasing health activities. While 58% report spending more time on computers and smartphones, 41% of parents are exercising more and 37% are spending more time outdoors.
  • Being home can also mean being more environmentally conscious. Roughly one in three parents say they are recycling more (31%) and conserving energy more (33%), and nearly one in four are composting food waste more (24%). But a third are also using more disposable plastics (34%).
  • Though lower-income and middle-income families report giving less or the same amount to charity, 31% of parents with incomes above $100,000 said they were giving more to charities since the coronavirus.

One of the benefits of understanding shifting social norms is that there is always the opportunity to build and grow positive behavior. This is especially important when preventing violence or harm. Focusing on positive behavior, and how to encourage more of it, is the key to driving change. Moving from a place of profound empathy for the challenges we face and the ability to cope with them can empower people to be better.

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What you say. How you respond. It matters.

Our experienced communicators, media relations team, content producers and creative team are here to help. Contact our senior leadership directly via phone and email.

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