Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Consuming Kids Documentary

With Aias's birthday around the corner, and Christmas shortly after, it has me thinking a lot about the kind impression we want to give Aias when it comes to gifts on birthdays and holidays.  First and foremost I will say that I am all about giving kids presents on Christmas and on their birthdays.  I also think it's great to receive chocolates on Valentine's Day, chocolates on Easter, and to dress up and get candy on Halloween.  Don't worry, someday I will post about how I agonize over giving sugary candy to my kid, but for now I digress!  Anyhow, I can't imagine ever being the kind of parent that doesn't want to watch their kids opening presents on Christmas morning or who doesn't want their kid to look forward to opening gifts on their birthday. I'd also never want to take the experience of giving gifts to Aias away from my family as they are incredibly generous and I know it brings them great joy to give presents to kids.  I personally also really look forward to kid's birthdays and Christmas because I love gift giving.  All that being said, there are still some points we are trying to figure out.  For example, should we get Aias a whole slew of presents for these gift-giving holidays, or should we just give him a few special ones? Should we only get him extra things he wants (toys, books, whatever) on holidays and not when he asks at other times throughout the year? What should we teach him about the gifts that he gives? 

A few weeks ago Morgan and I were watching a documentary called "Consuming Kids" that a good friend had posted on Facebook a long time ago. I hadn't had the time to watch it when she first posted it, and then for some reason I had been thinking about it and decided to hunt it down again, and I'm glad I did.  It was a really interesting documentary and I've been thinking about it ever since. One topic of discussion was how there are some kid's shows that exist specifically so products can be marketed and how that really brought kids to the forefront of marketing in the 80s. It made me think of shows like "My Pet Monster," "Transformers," and "Madballz" just to name a few. There was also a Super Mario Brothers cartoon that was created to market the Nintendo System and games to kids.  Those shows were actually created so that kids would like the show and then they'd want to buy the toys that are feature characters in the show as well as other products that were created just to generate profits for corporations. It also talked about how nowadays kids have brand loyalty and how they often will want to purchase items just because the items have certain characters on them, like Dora crackers or Sponge Bob macaroni. 

After watching this (and during, I think) we quickly did a mental and visual scan of everything Aias has, and he only owns a few items that have characters. One is this Winnie the Pooh "Big Tree" toy that someone gave me on Freecycle and then he has a few Sesame Street books, a stuffed Cookie Monster my sister sent, and a wooden shape sorter that has Sesame Street characters on that. Even that sort of shocked me, although I was overall pleased that he doesn't have a lot of stuff with characters on it. I guess part of me also thinks that Sesame Street is basically benevolent, and I guess I don't count Sesame Street Characters as being nearly as problematic as something like say, Disney.  Over the last few days, I've been washing and opening up some of the second hand clothes I got off Freecycle and I'm amazed to see some other characters popping up. For insance, these Robeez that have "Cars" or something on them (I think it must be a pixar movie) and he has a onesie that has Thomas the Tank Engine on it. I'm not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. I mean, I don't think I can hide things like Disney, Sesame Street, Pixar, whatever from Aias for his whole life. I mean, I'm not even sure what use that would be to him, except for I wouldn't want him wanting to buy a bunch of useless crap just because the characters he likes are printed on it. I also don't think it's harmful for a kid to see a movie every so often.  As far as tv, we don't have cable at all, and don't even have a cable cord plugged into the tv so that we can watch the free channels, we just have the tv hooked up to a computer and we download things or pop in a DVD if we want to watch something. I'll admit he's seen The Best of Elmo 2 about 1 million times in his life, mostly because I wanted to see it, but now I can tell he really likes it. I showed him an Elmo puppet in the store and he didn't seem familiar with it or anything, but all in due time I suppose. I have to admit, I worry about the effects of advertising on Aias. I know you can't hide advertising from ANYONE for very long, if at all, but I still want to minimize it when possible. I don't think it's an "all or nothing" situation and I do believe that limiting his exposure to it when possible is doing him a huge favor. 

Something else I think about, and what really bothers me about all of this, is that as an environmentalist of sorts I find consumerism really disturbing. A couple of months ago I went to a pregnant and new mothers fair with my pregnant friend, and the second we got in the door they have you "register" and fill out a form describing what demographic you are in (no doubt to help them find sponsors and advertisers). Then when you got in, they handed you a bag full of handouts offering things like Pregnancy Planners (women who will plan your nursery for you, buy your baby stuff for you as a personal shopper so you don't have to), Doppler Rentals, 3D ultrasounds, Formula and Baby Food Samples (Similac is at all of these things, I've never seen Nestle), checklists of things you "need" to buy for baby, etc. I dunno, it just rubs me the wrong way. I got so taken in by all that when I was pregnant, and then lo and behold you don't even need 50% of that crap once your kid is born, it just ends up being extra stuff that takes up space or gets dirty or needs selling on Craigslist or to be dropped off at the Salvation Army. The whole time we walked around, it was just people selling the most random stuff, a lot of stuff that was just created with the only intention of making money off of pregnant people and people with babies. I don't know why it made me feel so weird but it did. It just made me feel dirty for some strange reason. Every table also had some sort of a raffle, which obviously serve to just put you on their contact list, and they were all like "Add us on Facebook/Twitter/Whathaveyou." I don't think it's wrong to be an entrepreneur or to sell things or to buy things or to have a business and to market, but at the same time, the whole thing made me feel weird. It especially made me feel weird when I would see something that I didn't know existed, would never have even thought of, then I see it and out of nowhere I would think for a minute or two "OMG I totally need that!"

More disturbing was when Morgan and I did our budget review. What we do during a budget review, is look at the previous month's expenses and take note of what we spent money on, how much, etc. Last month was good because we met a lot of goals (not eating out so much, not spending so much at Whole Foods, not buying a lot of random things) but there were still a lot of times where I decided we "needed" something that we didn't necessarily need. We basically spent money on something or other at least 25 days out of 30, and that was in an attempt to NOT spend money everyday. Even though the amounts may have been small ($4 here, $8 there), it was almost always something. 

I don't know why it bothers me or why I'm thinking of all this right now. I guess in a way I don't want to end up having a house full of random things that I never touch.  I don't want to teach Aias that he always needs new things. I don't want to teach Aias that he needs items to be happy or to feel fulfilled. I guess I also worry about the impact of consumerism on the environment and how the rapid advances in technology are constantly creating electronic items that are all the rage one day, then literally a few months later they are put aside or trashed only to make room for something newer and better.  Most of all, I don't want to set him up for a life of sadness where he feels perpetually unfulfilled because he will never be able to afford or acquire all of the material possessions he feels he needs to make him truly happy. 

I don't know where I'm going with this. Just thoughts, I guess. In case you want to see the documentary, I'll put part 1 of 7 below. Parts 2- 7 are just linked to on youtube if you search "consuming kids." 

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