At the lake house we rented for a family vacation, there was a fishing pole. Here is my niece trying to catch a fish in the lake. The purple fishing pole reel has a Hannah Montana logo on it. I was amazed. Branded play is everywhere.
It shouldn’t have been such a surprise, since just a few weeks ago a friend told me about his adventures in shopping for a digital camera for his preschooler. Who doesn’t want to encourage artistic expression in the young? The tot had been taking photos with his parents’ camera. So his parents thought about buying a kid’s version for him, but were surprised to find all the dumbed down and overpriced equipment with characters pasted on.
“Who would make a 1 MP camera?” he said. “My phone has a better one than that. In fact, I can give the kid one of my old camera phones and that would be better.”
They decided to just buy an inexpensive regular digital camera instead of one specifically marketed to children.
These products seem tailor-made for a throw-away culture. The child sees the fishing pole and wants it because it has favorite character X. The parent figures it’s an opportunity to encourage her interests. A short time later the child outgrows the character and is embarrassed by the item. Or even worse in the case of the above fishing pole, the character turns into a pole-dancing embarrassment.
I obviously don’t do enough shopping or these things wouldn’t be such a surprise. I did some research and found that Target has a “shop by character” tab. It’s as if everyone has suddenly realized what that Shrek-onion-selling grocer quoted in the Wall Street Journal knew: “…when you promote it with kids, it’s an automatic sell.”
Would you like more information on commercialism and materialism in childhood and how it harms the well-being of children and families? The fact sheets and resources at CCFC are a good place to start.