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BTRT Patterns (on Etsy)

Sunday, 27 March 2011
Part One began the series by stating:
One of our parenting goals has been (and remains) to shield our daughter from the market forces that view children as consumers and exploit them ~ raising them up to be dutiful consumers, fighting for brand loyalty out of the cradle.  I know that there are guidelines and rules for marketers when targeting children, but I imagine they must chuckle with glee when they imagine their pitches... I mean, advertising to children is like shooting fish in barrel.

Because unlike us jaded adults (who are also so easily lead!), children don't have any defenses or experience.  They *trust* the message and the medium.
 Recently, while watching a little television myself, Rowan (age 5.5) came in just as a Pantene shampoo commercial came on.  The spokesperson invites the viewers to act "Girls, try this" as she grabs a hank of her own hair and feels it for dryness and brittleness. Without thought, Rowan grabbed her hair and felt it.  When the spokesperson then announces that you, the viewer, need the product, my very concerned and slightly panicked daughter turned to me and stated "Mom! I need that!".
It is just that easy.
So imagine when the commercial is directed at children.

In our foray into older children's programming as Rowan outgrows some of her preschool favourites, we have been running into this more and more.  A half hour spent on Nickolodeon was a half hour of "I want that!" "I need that!" as commercial after commercial advertised directly to my daughter: My Little Pony, Barbie, Zhu Zhu Pets, Littlest Pet Shop.  It was uncannily accurate.
And the really distrubing thing, is that in each case, the product being sold was surrounded by MORE.  More toys, more accessories, more fantastic backdrops... the Lifeguard Barbie has not only dolphins and a lifeguard chair, but friends, and a whole ocean of possibilities.  So even if you brought her home, she wouldn' be enough, because the fantasy created includes MORE.

(Edited to add: My daughter came in as I was posting this and told me the name of the set, all the accessories and "I wish I had that set because my dogs need rescuing. I want that!" and wandered away talking about it!)

And that is what is really sinsiter and insidious. That at a very early age, our children are trained to the idea that they do not have enough stuff. That they are not enough, in and of themselves.  That to be fulfilled and happy, you need MORE. And as our children grow up and out from under our sheltering wings, more and more, these are the messages they receive about themselves and the world they live in.

I don't have a solution, but I think awareness is critical, it allows us to make choices and to counter the prevailing messages.  I know that we have decided to record any shows from channels with commercials, so that we may skip or discuss them as we choose when viewing.

What do you think? Do you take measures at your home to counteract the commercialism? Maybe you simply turn off the tv? Share!


Annicles said...

Added to that, there is the problem of other children. My children go to an independent school with high fees, which fortunately for us, my in-laws pay. However, many of the children get everything they want. There is nothing that is beyond the reach of their parents finanacially or philosophically.

We have explained what advertising is trying to do and when my three watch an advert they start guessing who it is aimed at, spot the tricks used to make it look better etc and are therefore less attracted by the toy. We also do not really watch any scheduled children's tv. If there is a programme they want it tends to e a documentary or on he BBC which has no advertising.

It is harder to explain that we cannot afford a wii and a nintendo ds and tv's in every room and sky and on and on and on any more than it is easy for them to understand that we don't think it is desirable to have everything.

I hope we are teaching them to be discerning and to see beyond the advertisers tricks.

RhondaLavender said...

Before our daughter was born, my hubby & I resented the marketing messages that we were not enough . . . don't smell good enough, hair isn't shiny enough, lashes are not long enough, clothes are not clean enough, car isn't cool enough, etc. So when we found Waldorf education with strong recommendations on media and rules about logos and images on clothes, we were an easy sell. Then after reading a couple of Jane Healy's books, giving our daughter a screen-free (or seriously limited) early childhood was decided.

Now she is seven and in the last months of first grade, we sometimes -- once a week -- let her watch a video. We don't have a tv in the house, so my computer is the only viewing option. We either watch a dvd that we bought or checked out of the library or a show from Netflix (no commercials).

Of course illness and such can mess with the best laid plans. If she has a tummy bug that involves carrying a bucket around with her, then the once-a-week rule is relaxed.

And then there is Grandma's house . . . tv's on all the time. We try to have other interesting activities prepared. I just tell myself those visits are the exception to our daily life.

We also avoid most traditional retail shopping with our daughter.

I look forward to reading more on BTRT on this topic.

Amanda T said...

Oh this is really bugging me lately too... We got rid of our TV a long time ago, but my 4 year old does watch some shows on the computer. It is even hard to find them now online without commercials of their own - and I was horrified in the grocery store last week when he recognized a box of granola bars from an ad and said "Mom, look! Quaker Chewy Granola bars. I want those! They have all the goodness of whole grains and no high fructose corn syrup!" Ugh. :(

Anonymous said...

I resented everything marketed as much as I could during my pregnancy. I'm a single mother with a now 4 year old dino princess. My grandmother bought her first Barbie DVD, which was a notsobad Rapunzel Tale. I grew up with Barbie, and was willing to embrace the presence of her in my own home to an extent. I was not willing to allow the welcoming for other DVDs that flooded in from family members, it's easy to buy a gift for a little girl when it's prepackaged with it's own pre-imagined playscenes these days. Marketing has done more than just crawl under the skin of our children, it injects what the image of the day is into their souls. It's disturbing. I want my little girl to be a little girl, not a pint-sized customer trained to ask for things because she's not yet learned how the world works fully. My loathing for the newest and best toys, the newest and best product started really growing after my daughter wanted a "Fashion Tale Barbie" and my mother casually promised to buy it for her if she was good for the next week. I exploded. Kicking and screaming and tearing apart the world for everyone to hear, and though she got the doll a week later (afterall, she had been promised she COULD have it if she behaved) , a week later I had formulated plans of actions and gave the immediate family the run down.
I had our cable turned off, and started relying on movies and things I buy and review before letting her have and watch them. I skip past opening commercials. On any event where she might get something like her birthday party or Christmas - I send everyone a note reminding them that if they buy trash, it will end up exactly where it belongs. It sounds harsh, but it keeps everyone from thinking it's a joke I take lightly.

I wish there was something more we could do, like create our own channel filled to the rim of nothing but opening and acceptable shows - equally highlighted by educational or thought-inspiring commercials.

Thank you for this entry, I'm very glad to see that it's not just me who notices! It's not just coming across and reading articles, we all see it. <3

MamaWestWind said...

Oh, I wish we could be completely free of TV. We had no TV, just movies at one point and it was so peaceful at our house. But then we moved and dh has to have his tv. At some point I would love to just have it in our bedroom. Other than that, my kids love the Sprout channel, which has minimal commercials. We also encourage videos/dvds. I agree with one of the previous comments. It's more difficult when friends get all the new toys. I want wooden, imaginative, minimal and one of our best buddies gets all the new plastic to be found in the store. It's difficult when my son goes green with envy and starts asking questions. I always point out how long he has the toys before they break or before he gets tired of them.

Pegs said...

I haven't even had kids yet and I'm already worrying about this!

Right now both me and my partner have gone TV free (with some netflix thrown in) It's amazing how much tv sucks up time in your life, and when you consider half of that time is commercials? BLEH! Also, why would I want to pay for a product (tv) which then is just going to blare at me to buy more stuff?

I don't plan on my future children watching any tv at least until the age of two. This isn't even based on commercials, but on existing research on the impact of tv on young development.

After that, it's going to be dvds & no commercial type mediums, plus beginning to explain what advertisements are, etc.

From about 6 onwards? Well, who knows. I think that will depend on the "advertisement literacy" of the kids.

I think there are more angles to pull in other than just "they're trying to sell you something" that will get a kids' attention. For example, kids nowadays are really keen on the environment - so pointing out troubles over packaging, the impact of plastic, etc. is a great option.

I also will have no qualms about telling my children that we can't afford something. In the interest of raising financially literate children, I think it's completely okay to explain to children (from a certain age onwards) about the costs of living, budgets, etc. If they really want something, they can save up their allowance/work for it, etc.

I do think there are ways to work around the pull for items - I'm a pretty crafty person, so if Barbie needs a home to live in? Me and the kid will totally work together to create a mansion that could top any nasty pink thing that they're trying to sell.

My biggest worries are more about the eventual in-laws, who aren't as much on the same boat as me with this.

sheila said...

When my kids were small we eschewed commercial TV and stuck to Knowledge Network and PBS. We rented lots of kids shows (mostly Miyazaki), too. But we kept the TV off the commercial stations. I'd suggest you tape the stuff on Nickelodeon because those commercials are a killer, lol. We had a lot of discussions about "need" vs. "want."

We've never bought gaming devices or equipment (we like computers and use them all the time but that's it). If my kids went to someone else's house they could use THEIR stuff, with the knowledge that it would never come to OUR house, lol. When my eldest was 13 he bought himself a Touch - with the understanding that he pace himself responsibly. I am thrilled that my kids don't see themselves as deprived, lol.

With family I wanted to be adamant about gift ideas but some of them liked subverting what they saw as my "overbearing" attitude to commercial toys, so I never told anyone what to get the kids unless they asked. I accepted everything with delight, which meant that their desire to tease/subvert was thwarted, and people eventually gave up. When the kids were little it was easy to magic the offending items away in the night. When they got older it wasn't too bad because they often didn't LIKE the stuff (with my boys: Bakugan, Pokemon).

We homeschool, so it's easier to keep away from all that princessy crap, but it's still there. Instead we focus on 4-H, track, and lots of outdoor stuff. And I think having two brothers helps my daughter to avoid the diva.

Very insidious stuff, though. Try to comfort yourself with the knowledge that it's worse at your daughter's age. The only trouble is that little girls can be very cruel to those who are out of step with the crowd.

Unknown said...

Thank you all for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully, I appreciate it and it offers so many alternatives!
I don't think we could go TV free!~ my husband is a B movie junkie and I admit to enjoying some series while I work, but we have always been very conservative with all screen time for Rowan.
I think for boys, the gaming must be an extra challenge!
For girls, yes, school makes it very tough. I told Rowan she could not take her Barbie this week (she dug it out of hiding where it has been since she was given it at Christmas) and when I dropped in late in the school day, she was the only girl without one there and they wouldn't let her play :(
I do love the idea of accepting the gifts graciously and then ditching them LOL I need to work on my gracious face, I think (with my sisters).

I am enjoying the reading of 'Bringing up Geeks' as it does speak to many of the issues folks raise here.

I think we will sit down some night after school this week and decide on a few series that we like and record them (which is also preferably than the ongoing suck of watching tv... one show rolling into the next!).


sheila said...

I just remembered another thing we did when the kids were very young: the rule was to mute all commercials. The remote is always close by, and they MUST mute, lol. It's not half as enticing when you can't hear what you really

Sad Barbie story. Kids are encouraged to be SO homogeneous - they internalize it without really knowing they're doing it. I would probably allow the Barbie, because you don't want the social stigma stuff happening, either. Then talk to her when she gets home so she is aware of it. It does get better. Then middle school happens, lol.

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