Why P&G Changed the Tone of Its Ads This Year

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The industry giant's Olympic themed ad shows children in various states of descent. Tumbling on the hardwood floor in diaper-clad bottoms. Balancing their bodies down the ski slope. Hitting the ice in the skating rink. Seeing their Olympic ambitions get crushed on the ice. We see kids crying from bruises, from shivering cold and from disappointment. Moms wiping tears and pulling them back up. The producer of the global brand called Pampers seems to suggest that it is falling, not pampering, that makes us stronger. This might not seem very sensational, but it is in fact a 180-degree turn from its 2010 Olympic ad, which reminded parents about the vulnerability of children and our urges to protect them long into adulthood. This shift is no coincidence.

The “proud sponsor of moms” is riding a new trend called Resilience Parenting. Resilience parenting is the culmination of various reactions to the crippling over-parenting trends of the last two decades. It is the backlash building momentum against a 24-hour news cycle that feeds new parents a steady diet of panic and worry while undermining the reality of everyday statistics. Juicy anecdotes have marinated parents’ fears to the point where a trip to the playground has become a Herculean task. But the pendulum is swinging back. I guess we finally got tired of the boy who cried wolf.

Why P&G Changed the Tone of Its Ads This Year
Credit: stevendepolo.

Overprotecting children is risky business! We know we have come full circle when the entertainment value of wacky overbearing helicopter parents surpasses the wacky fear stories that used to feed their angst. Instead of stories of child endangerment and neglect, we are getting books like All Joy and No Fun, and a plethora of new research that tells us that meddling too much is as dangerous as not intervening at all. Like when we contribute to our children’s sedative lifestyles by reducing their access to the outdoors for the sake of protecting them. Or when we compromise immune system development by waging wars on every germ in our children’s vicinity. Or when we allow tight schedules and extra-curricular activities bite off the chunks of unstructured time our children sorely need to learn divergent thinking and social behavior. It turns out that too much intervention comes with a whole new set of risks, and we are finally waking up to this reality.

Today’s toddlers will face an unprecedented level of ‘wicked problems,’ and tumbling over it is not one of them. Compared to millennials who were born into the economic boom of the ‘90s, our youngest generation is growing up in the shadow of the greatest recession since the 1930s. The child poverty rate is creeping close to 25 percent. These kids should not be told the world is their oyster when clearly it is not. What the next generation needs to develop is enough grit and resilience to adjust to a merciless world where the gainfully employed may become a broke couch surfer overnight.

Resilience parents are not insensitive, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrap type jerks who send their kids out to hunt squirrels to roast on the fire when they are hungry. But they are no more likely to prevent inevitable falls or give their kids trophies just for showing up than they are willing to bake them pies in the sky. Resilience parents don’t seek success by preventing their children' failure, but by embracing failure as a necessary step toward future success. Resilience parents are less concerned with a perfect report card and more interested in their children’s grit, perseverance and flexibility in the face of change or challenge. Resilience parents believe that quite often, less is more.

And finally, it’s about parents being people too. This is why All Joy, but No Fun writer Jennifer Senior can ask what effects children have on their parents rather than vice versa without being accused of heresy -- which she might have had her book been published at the height of the child oriented self-esteem movement only a few years ago.

So next time somebody snubs you for failing to zealously intervene in every inconsequential nuance of your child’s life, know that you are much hipper than the slacker-label that might await you. Indeed you are raising a child that can stand on her own two feet. And get back up after a fall.

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