In spite of a recession, the business of marketing “things” to our kids continues its fever pitch and parents, including myself, are constantly outgunned and outnumbered when it comes to the battle for our children’s brains. Our children are constantly told, via the 24/7/365, 360-degree, Manhattan Project style marketing lobby, that “if only they had X, they would be happy.”
So how do we fight the efforts to seed our children with rampant consumerism? How do we fight the Trojan Horse tactics to imprint branding and licensed characters in our children’s hearts and minds? How do we put the squeeze on SpongeBob, Hello Kitty, and the Transformers?
Limit television time
Most experts agree that children under the age of two shouldn’t view any television and those older should only view the tube for two hours daily – MAX. The trouble is, too many parents let the television babysit their children and even put TV’s in the kid’s rooms. Studies verify that kids between the ages of one and fourteen, without TV’s in their rooms, have lower rates of obesity, score higher on standardized tests, and sleep better.
Mute the commercials
In an effort to further limit the force-feeding of consumerism, mute the commercials when you’re watching TV with your kids. Encourage their creativity by letting them create their own scripts for what the actors are doing.
Set a better example
It’s hard, I know, but limiting your own exposure to marketing efforts will make it easier for you to limit the kid’s exposure. Get outside, encourage physical activity, set up a volleyball net, get a basketball goal, do something other than sit in front of an electronic box that turns you mind to mush.
Just don’t eat together in front of the TV! Family meal time can be a strong bonding time where children and their parents are able to learn what’s going on in each other’s lives. Involve your kids in the meal’s preparation and don’t fret if they don’t eat all their broccoli or peas (it’s not worth it, they’ll learn to eat them on their own soon enough). Encourage conversation on pleasant topics like:
- If you could only have one thing on a deserted island, what would it be and why?
- If you could visit only one country in the next ten years, where would you want to go and why?
- If you could only talk to one friend for the next month, who would it be and why?
- What’s the craziest food you’d be willing to try?
Share the love
There will always be the strong temptation to allow another hour of television, or to give your son that new Transformer, or your daughter a Dora the Explorer doll, but why not give them you time instead? This is particularly hard for dads since we’re told that our primary role is that of provider. What do we provide? Money and things. But we also need to provide love, time, encouragement, listening, and genuine interest in the lives of our children.
Give them timeless toys
If you can get away from branded toys and licensed characters, it will be worth it. Check out online stores like backtobasicstoys.com for oldies-but-goodies like Tinkertoys or a slinky dachshund or my personal favorite, Vision Forum. For the older set, look at science sets that teach kids about circuits and electronics or even alternative energy and environmental science.
Can we really put the squeeze on SpongeBob?
We might not be able to wring out everything, but we can certainly dry him out a bit when it comes to our most precious commodity: our children. With our littlest generation being raised in such a materialistic, media driven environment, we owe it to them to overcome the siren’s song of consumerism. Children who are high on the materialism scale report being less happy, more depressed, and more anxious about life and the future. They’re depending on us to lead them and instill a better set of values than those of their licensed “friends.”