Speaking at ITV’s ‘Family Planning’ event, Mintel’s Senior Trends Consultant Richard Cope reveals new research which shows parents believe family ties in the UK have reached a new low, with many struggling to find the time or money to spend on family activities.

Mintel’s research shows that over half (57%) of parents* say that families are not as close as they used to be and while three in five (61%) say that parents today don’t get to spend as much time with their children as in the past, over half (54%) say that household budgets prevent them from doing as many activities with their children as they would like to.

Currently, when it comes to ‘family time’, it’s around the table and television where families in Britain are most likely to bond. Two thirds (66%) of parents say that eating dinner at home is quality time, while 50% say that it is a bonding experience. However, it seems that the experience is far from a stress-free one, as less than a quarter (23%) say that eating dinner together at home is relaxing.

Instead, it’s in front of the box where families are most likely to unwind. Over three in five (62%) parents say that watching TV together as a family is relaxing and almost half (47%) of mums say watching TV brings their whole family together.

Less than a quarter of parents say that eating dinner together at home is relaxing

Speaking at ITV’s ‘Family Planning’ event Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel, said:

“Today’s parents are more attentive, but feel time starved and more distant than past generations. While eating dinner together as a family is seen as being ‘quality time’ and a bonding experience, so too is watching television, but where it comes top is in helping families relax - relaxation is something that almost two thirds of respondent associate with TV viewing.”

Furthermore, Mintel research finds that families who eat together around a table are less likely to struggle to eat healthily. Three in five (59%) families who do not eat at the table agree that it is hard to ensure children always eat healthily, compared to just 52% of families who eat at the table.

While today, 22% of families do not eat together, it seems that it is parents who are most likely to plump for supper on the sofa. Of families who eat separately to one another, just 27% of children eat on the sofa compared to almost half (47%) of parents who say they do so.

What’s more, Mintel research finds that parents are among the first in Britain to turn to comfort food and alcohol to help with their stress levels. While approaching two thirds (64%) of parents with children aged 5 and under say they sometimes struggle to find the time to eat as healthily as they would like to, over a third (37%) say they have eaten comfort food to tackle work stress in the last 12 months and 30% have drunk alcohol to cope with the stress.

“It’s a case of ‘As I say but not as I do’ with parents practicing the bad eating habits they preach against – and that goes for things like social media usage too. There’s an opportunity for brands to help families slow down, cook and bond together and this can extend to outdoor activities in the form of growing food as well.” Richard comments.

While watching television and eating dinner as a family leads in bonding experiences, Mintel research finds that UK parents, and dads in particular, are not afraid to also buy their children’s affections. Two in five (41%) parents with children aged seven to 15 say that buying things for their children is a way to bond, rising to almost half (48%) of dads. What’s more, 32% say they buy things for their children to encourage them to behave, rising to 35% of dads.

But while it’s dads who are more likely to buy things for their children to bond or behave, it seems it’s mums who bear the brunt of pester power. Approaching half (45%) of mums say they feel like their children are constantly asking to buy things for them, compared to 39% of dads.

While many parents may be wrapped around their children’s’ finger it seems few are concerned, as just one in three (32%) say they worry they are spoiling their children.

And it seems the majority of young Brits are lured by a label as over half (55%) of parents say that their children often ask for things by brand name, rising to 64% of children with three or more siblings. Mintel research finds that children aged 11 and 13 are the most brand aware, with 61% of parents with children at this age saying their offspring often ask for things by brand name.

“Fathers are much more likely to view shopping with their kids as a bonding occasion. This opens up possibilities for retailers and brands to challenge gender stereotypes and introduce more experiences geared towards fathers and their daughters and sons. We’ve seen several US campaigns promote usage of their products as a bonding bridge between father and child, and the same potential exists here in the UK for retailers.” Richard comments.

Finally, while three in five (59%) mums say that when they are not around their children are most likely to occupy themselves by watching TV, few feel guilty, as less than three in 10 (27%) mums say that a ‘good mother’ is one who limits the time her children spend with technology. Instead, 51% of mums say that a ‘good mother’ is one who makes sure her family eats meals together and 45% agree it’s a mother who limits her children’s junk food and sugar intake.

“Parents are looking for a bit of balance and going offline needs to be made cool and credible. Media brands can reassure and inspire analogue and outdoor activities and exploration and offer guidance on the analogue alternatives in travel, music, sport and reading, whilst positioning digital downtime and exercise as quality family bonding time – as parents need it too.” Richard concludes.

*UK adults with children aged 0-18 in the household

Press review copies of the research and interviews with Senior Trends Consultant Richard Cope are available on request from the press office.

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