Can a child change the behavior of an adult?

About a month ago I posted this question to a social marketing list serve. Here were some of the responses. My question now is, do the adults sustain the behavior? Give us your thoughts in the comment section.

Nancy Lee (Nancyrlee@msn.com)
In Snohomish County, Wash., a campaign to influence parents to smoke outside their homes and cars included a packet of materials that children in a pilot school district took home. The students were in elementary and middle school. Included in the packet was: a pledge card for a smoke free home, with a place for the parent to sign AND, importantly, a place for the child to sign as a witness.

Six months after the campaign, a telephone survey of 500 households with kids in that school district indicated that about one in five parents who smoked around their kids changed their habits.

Almost one out of five people who currently smoke and remember seeing information about secondhand smoke from the Snohomish Health District (18%), changed something about smoking in the house or car as a result of seeing that information. In addition, some of the people who had allowed smoking inside their house or car, have indicated a change in that tolerance.

Aiden Truss (a.truss@ncc.org.uk)
Our partners at the National Consumer Council have done a lot of research on 'pester power' and marketing to children. You can find their materials here: http://www.ncc.org.uk/research_policy/childcons/index.php.

Bill Smith (BSMITH@aed.org)
This seems like the wrong question to me. I think the right question is - "Under what conditions have children been shown to influence behavior of parents?" As framed the question sounds like the look for another magic bullet. Everything we know about behavior change suggests:

Behaviors are different and therefore are affected by different factors. Some behavior may be more susceptible to child influence than others. The nature of the child parent relationship is probably important. The ability to sustain influence over time is probably important. I suspect we have some weak studies and a million personal experiences.

Hope this doesn't become another quick fix like "if children learn young they will maintain that behavior in later years." There is good evidence of the variability of this platitude in real life.

Dennis Embry (drpaxis@mac.com)
With the Safe Playing project, we tested two diffusion strategies in New Zealand and Australia. One involved children (ages 3-5) leading parents and the other was parent leading the child. The child to parent improved uptake by twice as many families.

The idea of how to do this came from my work with Sesame Street and the McDonald's Corp. We named this effect, the "Happy Meal Effect." Pretty much no adult craves to go to McDonalds, but the phrase "we need to get something to eat" in the car will cause the occupants in the back seat to say, "I want to go to McDonalds to get a Happy Meal."

Now, notice all the behavioral constructs of that. There are clear antecedents that can be modeled. There are reward probabilities for both parties. The child gets rewards in the box; parents get a negative reinforcement, as the child stops whining if you go to McDonalds. Need I say that McDonalds gets its reward, too. Oh, there is a heavy dose of very good modeling in the McDonalds TV ads. All of these components must be present for the effect to work.

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