Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On Being Born to Buy and Having Adorable Toddlers

It's Lent--a time for decluttering, spiritual reading and taking stock of our lives.  Well, that's what I've been doing, although most of my decluttering is still in the planning stage rather than the actually decluttering stage, but, there's still time right?

I suppose my reading hasn't been all spiritual though.  Is it inconsistent that I'm about to tell you about the book I've been reading on the commercialization of childhood and our consumerist culture while simultaneously showing you pictures of my children surrounded by piles of toys in their overstuffed playroom?  Well, here I go anyway, just scroll down for adorable pictures of John John and Margaret if you are shockingly uninterested in my book report.  I'll forgive you.  Eventually.

It's probably not a surprise to anyone who knows me to hear that I'm a little fussy about the kids clothes and toys.  I know that a lot of people don't understand it and think I just have a ridiculous aversion to all things plastic and sparkly but that isn't entirely it.   It's just that I don't like people marketing products at my children.  I don't like spending our limited resources on something that is cheaply made and bound to break.  I don't like buying trendy clothes designed to focus attention on what the kids are wearing instead of who they are, with the bonus of looking completely lame and out of date six months later so that instead of passing them down I have to buy them all over again.  Most of all though, I don't like looking at my children and seeing that the greatest desire of their little hearts is to possess one more thing.

I might be too sensitive about this issue but I've always bristled at advertising directed toward my children which is why I don't buy them things with licensed characters plastered all over them.  They pretty much know not to even ask anymore--I'm not going to get them Diego socks, or light up Ninja Turtle sneakers, or a Thomas the Tank engine backpack, or Mickey Mouse snacks.  Some may think I'm a mean mom, but I prefer to think of myself as protecting their childhoods from "the man" ;)

Now these things aren't necessarily banned from the house, I'm just not buying them.

Knowing all this, when I saw Born to Buy:The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture pop up in that ever handy "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" section on Amazon, I knew it was right up my alley and immediately........put a hold on it at the library

In it Juliet Schor describes the commercialization of childhood and goes through the history as well as the current state of marketing to children in our country, well current as of 2004, but I think it's safe to say that advertisers have only further fine tuned their craft in the intervening years.  Before I read the book, I obviously knew that companies were marketing to children but to read about teams of psychologists, child development specialists, anthropologists, and sociologists all working together to convince our children that they will only be happy, cool, popular, attractive, strong, or smart once they've bought (or rather, convinced their parents to buy) whatever product they're pushing is....well, it's just creepy isn't it?

Schor also conducted her own research and found, unsurprisingly, that all this consumer involvement undermines children's well-being:
"American children are deeply enmeshed in the culture of getting and spending, and they are getting more so.  We find that the more enmeshed they are, the more they suffer for it.  The more they buy into the commercial and materialist messages, the worse they feel about themselves, the more depressed they are and the more they are beset by anxiety, headaches, stomachaches, and boredom.  The bottom line on the culture they're being raised in is that it's a lot more pernicious than most adults have been willing to admit."  
I think this is important because there's a tendency to think that advertising is just a harmless annoyance to parents but it's not.  It's a very targeted attack on our children and it's hurting them.

Schors' solutions to the commercialized childhood, for parent's at least, are to get kids outside more, limit tv time or exclude it altogether, spend a lot of time together doing engaging, non-commercial activities, and model a non-commercial lifestyle--as she says, "parents who desire less commercial lifestyles for their children need to change with them."

These seem right on the mark to me.

She says that one of the underlying messages of all this marketing directed at children is that "living modestly means living like a loser" which is not exactly the message we're trying to teach our children.  We're going for something more along the lines of, "living modestly is not only our Christian duty but also the only way to find true happiness."  What I found really interesting was that she also says that this marketing to kids is inherently dangerous because the marketers promise things like love, success, power and happiness to the kids who buy their products and those are promises that they can never truly fulfill which in turn leaves kids perpetually dissatisfied--and perpetually in search of the next thing they need to buy.

This is a secular book so the author doesn't make any religious connections but she does say that "desiring less, rather than getting more, seems to be the key to contentment and well-being."  Of course that is exactly the opposite of what our consumer culture is telling our children.  Well, "telling" is probably the wrong word.  It's more like a drum that's incessantly beating:  Buy, Buy, Buy.  It's hard enough as adults to resist the siren song of the consumer life.  I would say it's near impossible for a child--especially when there are literally teams of adult experts working against them. 

As I read through her conclusions, I couldn't help but be reminded of St. Augustine when he said my heart is restless until it finds rest in you.  What I really want for my kids is for them to grow up being satisfied with what they have and not always wanting more--which feels like a constant battle, but maybe that's the way it's always been.

What about you?  Do you fight the good fight against our consumer culture in your home?  What does that look like?


All my Amazon book links are affiliate links which means I get lots and lots of cents every time you buy something after clicking through them, but for heaven's sake check your library to see if they have them first :)

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