Recently, I asked for your stories on guiding children through the barrage of marketing messages.
I received this wonderful tale from Kimber of Los Angeles, to whom I will send a copy of the book Made You Look, by Shari Graydon.
“The thing I did with my daughter when she was three and started asking for anything Disney princess, fruit rollups, cereal, etc. I responded to her requests by saying, “Honey, I know you want that one and so do people who want our money. People put the princesses on the box so you’d want to buy their brand. And see how they put that just at your level so you could see it. People who want our money knew that, too. They knew you’d be sure to see it right there.” My daughter wasn’t beyond her years in her response, she would still cry, or at worse, scream, but responding to her day after day in this manner eventually paid off. Now, at seven she can walk into a store and point out ways advertisers want to get her money. We even have a special notebook that she writes down all the ways media and advertising try to get her to want something OTHER than what she already has.”
Some of the other responses were:
A dad whose daughter would ask for things she saw on television ads. He explained to her that they just want her money. Eventually she would explain to him in response to ads that, “They just want my money, daddy.”
A mother of teenagers said, “It can be really difficult to talk to kids about so many things, but I take a stab at it anyway. I figure that even if I do it poorly it is better that they hear my opinion than not. Sometimes I even broach things with, ‘Gee there’s no handbook for these situations, but I need to talk to you about something…’ (usually when they are trapped in the car!)
Another father said he mutes the television when the ads come on and have the kids make up dialogue for the ads, often with hilarious results.
My own kids were more likely to ask for things on the grocery store shelves than on television. So I taught them early to check the nutrition facts label. They would go down the cereal aisle and look at the sugar levels. We eventually settled on a standard that allowed for cereals with no more sugar than Cheerios has. I also showed them where the ingredients were listed and explained that I didn’t think foods with artificial coloring and flavoring were going to be good choices. Today, even though they do choose sometimes to buy some things that aren’t healthy, they always read the labels and I know they hear my voice saying, “Look at all those chemicals. What is that stuff? Do you really want to drink that?”
It’s amazing how many people want to talk about these issues when I bring it up. Often when I tell people about my blog, they launch into a story about their children’s exposure to marketing or media that they have been unhappy about.
Recently, some friends of mine were talking about an episode of the TV show Glee in which Kurt, a gay teen, is hitting on Finn, who is not gay. I haven’t been able to find this episode to watch online, but my friends felt that Kurt’s behavior was inappropriate, not because he was gay and approaching a heterosexual boy, but in that in the context of the story, he stepped beyond Finn’s personal boundaries. At the conclusion, Kurt was essentially vindicated in the show, and these parents told their kids that this was the wrong message – that everyone’s personal boundaries should be respected, and it has nothing to do with the anyone’s sexual orientation.