No Purchase Necessary

by: 

CCFC Member Bethany Stewart

I recently attended the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood summit.  Interestingly enough, Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, opened the event by talking not about marketing to kids, but instead about the effects of marketing and media on parents.  While marketers know that sex sells nearly everything, they also know fear and insecurity sell just about everything else.  They know how to get our attention - make us think for a second that our children might not be living to their full potential or heaven forbid might be falling behind or in actual danger and of course, they have our rapt attention.  The problem is, it is often, well...b.s.

Lenore said (I’m paraphrasing, forgive me) parents become convinced, before their child is even born, that when their baby comes out it will be this lump with which they have this very limited window to mold into The David. They are pressured into believing that if they don't frantically cram as much adult directed 'learning' as possible into their child during this critical time, their child will always just be a lump. Little Johnny needs to take a crawling class so he will learn how to crawl, otherwise he may just never learn.

The fear begins, perhaps while our baby is still a tiny seed of a being, and with each increasing belly centimeter our anxiety grows about whether we will give our children the right tools to be something special.  But you know what, these little people don’t need us to do as much, buy as much, prepare as much as we think they do (and, by the way, the reason we think it is because that is what is sold to us everywhere we look).  The truth is, researchers have discovered time and again that the real innovators and creative minds of our time were, as children, given less "stuff' and "entertainment" and more free play and exploration. 

We need to remember that it is the advertising industry’s job to undermine our confidence as parents in order to sell us products (that we just don’t need).  As an example, Lenore broke out a toddler “walking harness” which, it is professed, will help your baby “develop motor skills, balance and coordination.”  Really? Have human beings not been learning to do just that for hundreds of thousands of years, unaided by this groundbreaking contraption? Not to be too metaphorical here, but don’t we all know that if you don’t ever fall down, you will never learn to pick yourself up, to balance yourself...to fail (gasp!) and carry on?

In this sea of advertising, media and marketing, we need to find our natural footing as parents.  We need to begin to follow our own instincts, and allow our children to follow theirs.  Frankly, we need to remember to simply get out of the way and let our children move, play, explore, experiment and FAIL, and then allow them the gift of learning to pick themselves up again. 

{Oh, and the best part is...no purchase necessary.}

This post originally appeared at Bloomchild blog.

Bethany Stewart is the owner and director of BLOOM, a toddler and preschool program in Newport, Rhode Island.

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