Sometimes, I’m a bad mum.
Sometimes, when I’m really tired and just can’t face singing any more songs about farmyard animals or cleaning the kitchen floor for the fifth time today, I sit my son in a washing basket with a few toys, make myself a coffee and watch TV. Aaah TV, the monster in our living rooms: ruining our children’s eyesight with increasingly large screens; destroying our collective imaginations with mind-numbingly stupid programmes; and turning the next generation into a mass of unthinking consumer robots. I love it!
In a letter to the Telegraph last week, the organisation ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ pleaded with the government to introduce greater restrictions on advertising aimed at young aged children, warning that we are in danger of turning out “young consumers rather than young citizens”. They claim that advertisers target children specifically so that they use “pester power” to get their parents to buy them things.
Of course advertisers target children. They are impressionable, they like what they’re told to like and they’re desperate to fit in. They haven’t yet got the strength to see the difference between what they want and what is good for them. Just like when they turn their noses up at a nutritious dinner of chicken and broccoli pasta and instead decide they want to eat nothing but custard creams. But you don’t smile and hold out the biscuit tin (and if you do, call Supernanny now!) because you know it’s not good for them.
Just as we, the parents, are in charge of making sure they don’t overdose on sugar before they reach their third birthday, it is our responsibility to stand up to the little brats and say no when they throw a tantrum and demand the latest little Bratz doll (a terrifying anti-feminist nightmare of a toy which I can only assume has been inspired by a toy-maker’s personal love of drag queens). Sure they might scream and cry and throw all their other toys out of the pram, but we’re strong enough to cope with that.
Oh wait, no, apparently we’re not. Because, wherever you go, you see screaming children getting exactly what they want, and then demanding more as a result. And it’s our fault. We’re the ones turning them into “little-consumers”, because from the moment they’re born we teach them that people show love by buying you things.
After reading the letter in the Telegraph, I got to thinking about the things children “pester” us to buy. I headed off to the toy store to do some research, intending to write about how ridiculous children’s toys are, how extortionate the price tags and how stupid parents are to give in.
As I wandered around, I marvelled at the idea that any parent would even consider spending £35 on this nightmare-inducing giant bee…
I winced at the thought of a well-meaning relative spending £33 on a ‘Sophie la Giraffe’ gift case, which essentially contained a blanket and a squeaky dog toy presented a fancy cardboard box (and yes, I am a hypocrite because we do have a ‘Sophie’ and it is well used, but I still maintain that it really belongs in a pet shop)…
And I recoiled when I noticed how much my son seemed to like these hideous, googly-eyed monsters, which I wouldn’t dare take home for fear of spilling water on them or accidentally leaving the biscuit packet out after midnight…
I walked around the store characteristically sceptical, sneering at the ridiculous way in which we desperately try to prove our love by turning the simplest of pleasures into a consumerist activity.
Instead of happily talking through the old family album with your kids, record a message on Tomy’s ‘Forget Me Not Photo Album’ and you’ll save yourself the trouble of ever having to talk to your children about their Nan again.
Rather than expend the hugely difficult effort of breathing on a small plastic stick costing 50p to create bubbles, you could invest in the “Bubbleator”, currently on sale at only £25 for 2!
Yes, I sneered at this nonsense, and then berated myself for falling for it all. For as I walked around the store, my son challenged my scepticism by loving all the things I hated. He actually cried when I took away the evil gremlin toy. Cried! But then he stopped crying ten seconds later when I waved something else in his face, then cried when I took that away. This pattern repeated itself as we mooched around the store for over an hour, clearly proving that he didn’t really love these toys, he just got excited by anything new.
Yet it took all my mental and emotional strength to walk out of that store without spending any money.
At the moment, my son loves nothing more than to hit a spoon on the tray of his highchair. Literally hours of entertainment. It’s prompted at least 3 people to say, “Ooh, shall I get him a drum kit for his birthday?” to which I respond, “Why?” He doesn’t need a drum kit. He’s made his own, which will never get boring like the toys in the shop did, because as soon as it does, I can just give him a different spoon or tray. The possibilities are endless! Why waste your money on buying him something which he can imagine and create himself?
Still, I know that on his next birthday we’ll be bombarded by drum kits, electronic gismos and all sorts of other lovely but inevitably short-lived presents. Because that’s what you do. Even when the children are too young to ‘pester’ us for what they want, the consumer culture is so ingrained in adults we can’t help but go out and buy loads of stuff for them anyway.
So maybe ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ is right. Maybe we should be fighting harder against the insidious influence of the advertising industry. Maybe we should be exercising more control over what our kids are exposed to. And maybe, occasionally, we should just leave our kids alone – preferably with a wooden spoon, a biscuit tin lid and sitting in a washing basket…