Thursday, August 25, 2011

are we teaching our children to be greedy?

I have found that it is an inevitable (albeit somewhat unconscious) part of mainstream Western culture today to teach our children to be greedy. We teach them to crave brands, media images, jingles and cartoon characters from a frighteningly young age. If it's not a Disney Pixar Cars crayon set, it's Thomas the Tank underwear or Dora the Explorer Cheese snacks. But what are these products, really?

In my opinion, cheap thrills.
We want them, we buy them cheap, they come cheap, they give nothing and they're thrown away.
It's perverse. It's wasteful. It's greedy.

We are  teaching children, babies really, that they need to "have" in order to be happy. They need to "have" in order to fit in. They need to "have" in order to feel cool.

I realise most of the time this is unintentional or at least somewhat innocent on the parent's part. If a child sees a T-shirt with Go, Diego, Go! on it and he clings to it like a magnet, we might think, "What's the harm? Diego is an educational show, he's a great kids character...". My own son is virtually TV-free (minus a few shows at his grandparent's house and some plane movies), and he's still drawn to branded books, clothing and toys if given half the chance.

But I urge us all to look beyond this surface impression. What are we really teaching our children when we satisfy their consumer cravings for brands and logos? Are we not setting them up for a lifetime of wanting to fit in, of needing to have the latest "thing", of identifying their own self-worth and sense of self with cartoon characters? A lifetime of disappointment in realising that they will never have enough.

The first step in exiting this vicious cycle is to limit and carefully scrutinise the amount and the type of media you expose your child to. The next step is to consciously limit the amount of branding in your child's life. Take a look around your home- how much kids 'stuff' is media branded? How can we change this? What can we replace these things with?

Here are some ideas to start off a No-Logo Spring Clean in your home:

* stop buying branded food altogether- prepackaged snacks, branded kids yoghurts (which also contain revolting additives, thickeners and preservatives by the way), and cheeses.

* replace branded bowls, cups,  and cutlery with plain or patterned metal, enamel or melamine versions.

* stop buying branded clothing and shoes- go for plain coloured or printed clothing. If you want to spice up their wardrobe and give them a special something then only give in to branded underwear- at least it's not out-there all day for other children to see, recognise and make comments on.

* stay away from cheap plastic toys- less is more- wooden and handmade toys are rarely branded, are more aesthetically pleasing, more durable and last longer and above all else give your child the imaginative power instead of his memory of a TV episode.

* make your own toys- all you need is felt and thread or wood, sandpaper and a saw or other basic household items (think toilet paper roll and beans= musical instrument)

* limit all media exposure and if you are comfortable showing your child some media at the very least pre-record it so that you can fast forward through any commercials or advertisements

* present gifts and toys in the most sacred manner. Don't just buy something and throw it at your child in the car. Keep it precious, bring it out at a thoughtful time, show that toy respect and reverence and show the gift-giver respect and reverence.

* make sure every toy has a specific place or 'home', that they are tidied up every day and that they are treated well. Remove them if they are being abused. Teach your child that his/her things are beautiful privileges that are to be treated with utmost care.

We live in an age of the latest "thing". We as adults too often confuse wants with needs. Let's try not to trap our children in the same vicious cycle.

Imagine- we could free them from it.

xo m.


thejadeleaf said...

Great post Meagan x

georgi said...

such a good idea! also with clothes you could 'brand' them yourself by either tie dying or fabric printing - then they're way more special. so important to remember how conusmerist our society can be. Have you watched the 10 minute video 'the story of stuff' ? it's fantastic. x

millefeuilles said...

Your post is full of wisdom and well written. I am treading carefully here; while I agree with the majority of your thoughts on teaching our children to consume more than is necessary I think, and I realize you did NOT suggest this - cutting out completely 'useless labeled toys, accesories, etc' is not necessarily doing your child any favours.

My children, aged 15, 7, and 19 months, have lived without a television for almost 8 years perfectly happily. We do not generally buy plastic toys (my 7 year old son has no interest in Lego construction kits despite the fact he is fascinated by mechanics and cars), never go to Fast Food joints and do not buy 'Cars' gadgets either, for example. I totally agree that less is better and that my children are just as happy playing with limetree flowers and hazlenuts.

However at some point the child needs to be able to identify with his peers. Too much difference can be a joy and a source of pride but, depending on the child, can also be unsettling and isolating. As a headmistress once said to me; 'take your child to MacDonalds (even if you loathe it) so that she will know what everybody is talking about and, more importantly, she can make up her own mind about it'. Which is exactly what happened. Both children hate MacDonalds. The same goes for most consumer society products. We have allowed our children to dabble in 'Cars' colouring books so that they quickly understood how much better other colouring books were.

Gosh, I could go on but I won't. I hope you don't mind me giving my opinion here.

little gnome said...

Totally agree.....


ecoMILF said...

So well put, and covering something I didn't get into. I meant to include, but got lost in my rant- North has 'Cars' underwear given to him as a gift and the post today stemmed from the fact that at the Op Shop today I caved and let him buy a Disney book - 'Toy Story' although he's never seen the movie. This lead me to thinking if I personally have trouble sheltering him from media exposure, imagine how most parents feel!!

Thanks for your comments and additions!

xo m.

flenmama said...

I am in LOVE with your blog! So inspiring! I have been thinking about canceling our cable for awhile. You are definitely making me want to do it now.
Check out my blog sometime! Thanks so much!

Julie said...

Really great suggestions! I think you are so right. Once they get hooked on a brand they see that image on som much, food, toys, clothes, books, backpacks. And they want it all.

Amy said...

Thanks for writing this - it agrees with everything in my own mentality about children and the media. My partner teachers Media Studies at high school and interestingly enough, the more he learns, the less he wants to expose our children to any kind of media influence. I feel like the manic nature of 'need need need, want want want' dirties childhood and makes it hard for them to truly understand what life is like. I will definitely be following your ways with my own children :)

Mama Mash said...

Hit the nail on the head again!
I very much agree with this post. I don't buy branded toys, food or clothes and I only let my little one watch small amounts of abc2.
The only thing I cant control is other people buying him plastic/branded gifts... He has a birthday coming up and I would love to put on the invite something about not gifting him with plastic/branded toys etc (in a nice way of course) however I don't want to offend anyone or sound rude...What to do?

ecoMILF said...

Mama Mash,

When we have birthday parties I have asked in the past (as politely as I can) on the invite:

"I have enough toys and gadgets to last me a lifetime. No presents are necessary for this event, but if you insist on treating me, please choose a book or something to inspire my artistic side.


"Presents are not necessary. If you'd still like to give, please make a donation to a charity of your choice in my behalf"

Surely it's a lot ruder to just accept presents and then give them away because they don't have a place in your home.

As for close family, I usually send them links to some of my favourite online kids stores with hints about what we are looking for.

xo m.

motherwho said...

Great post!! Also love the tips for the birthday party invitations, it is a very delicate situation! Agree wholeheartedly. L

Nurture the Little People said...

Such a positive and inspiring post. We don't have very many branded toys in our house. The two main ones are Lego (older boy loves Star Wars lego at the moment. I am ok with this as I see him role playing outside in the bush beyond the lego bricks) and dinky cars, hotwheels and matchbox. But the boys are not aware of the branding, they just love to drive the cars around.
We steer clear of any Disney, Dora or Thomas where ever we can, however, it's the gifts from friends and family that tend to theme their play. Funnily enough though, it's those former mentioned branded toys that get played with the least. My boys are happy to be out in nature!

Nicola said...

I'd absolutely love to do that and I try as much as I can. I don't think I will ever be able to sell the idea to my husband though, so it is a little bit one-sided in our family.

paulines said...

I totally agree with these comments. I am really 'paying' for being one of those people who had to make sure that their children had to have brand x. Now my children (18 & 14) want everything now. They can not wait and don't realise that you don't need the latest everything. My oldest is now so self-centred (and such a snob) it is amazing. I really wish I had not been someone who bought everything for my children.
My sister and her husband 50th birthdays are coming up soon and on their party invitation they have stated that any presents will be given to a charity. If anyone wants to buy them something, it will need to be a donation to a charity. I thought this was a great idea. Thanks for great tips. I will be passing these on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your nice words, Vanessa (Barcelona, Spain).

Kory said...


Alicia said...

And what do you do when the dentist goes on about pink toothpaste "just like Barbie", and then gives them a Barbie toothbrush to take home? I say "I don't think Evie knows who Barbie is." She does now, sigh. Great post :)

Mama Mash said...

Great invite tips

thanks xo

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, I really enjoyed reading this post. I agree with the others, while I can control what my nearly 2 year old does at home (no TV, no brands), outside our home is another matter.
Re the previous posters talking about presents: we've also made it very clear we don't do commercial characters in our house, and have purposely mentioned we were 'phasing out' plastic toys in the months leading up to her birthday, and finally, at the bottom of her invite we wrote 'no gifts please, just come for a play'... no magic solutions but we're hoping it will help.

fran said...

I'm so with you on this.

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