I just watched Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood. Let me start by saying that is a very well made documentary. According to the website:
Consuming Kids throws desperately needed light on the practices of a relentless multi-billion dollar marketing machine that now sells kids and their parents everything from junk food and violent video games to bogus educational products and the family car. Drawing on the insights of health care professionals, children's advocates, and industry insiders, the film focuses on the explosive growth of child marketing in the wake of deregulation, showing how youth marketers have used the latest advances in psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience to transform American children into one of the most powerful and profitable consumer demographics in the world. Consuming Kids pushes back against the wholesale commercialization of childhood, raising urgent questions about the ethics of children's marketing and its impact on the health and well-being of kids.Let me just say that this is a must see for anyone who deals with children at any capacity. It is easy for me to be thankful that I don’t live in the USA and that my daughters are somewhat shielded by certain aspects of the relentless advertising saturation that surrounds most people, simply by living overseas, but after watching this film I am not sure how well of a job I am doing, even having isolated myself in far off lands for the duration of my children’s lives.
I like to think of myself as a petty well-informed and aware father, so why do I feel so powerless? Do I need to move my family completely off the grid in order to be able to live a life free of the intrusion of the global capitalist machine?
Don’t get me wrong; much of my guilt and shame is not derived by playing the victim. This film has made me realize how I have often encouraged much of the behavior I abhor. It is easy to sit and judge far off parents for the choices they make, but it is disillusioning to think that I have made some very bad choices myself.
I am not only writing this post to help change the bad habits I have noticed in my daughter, but more importantly to help identify my own habits and behaviors that have influenced her.
- Number one! Less screen time! I don’t mean just TV, because Kaia actually doesn’t watch too much TV, but I have noticed that it has become a crutch for her boredom. Keep in mind that there are no commercials on the TV here, but the fact that she has become infatuated with Dora, Mickey and others is cause for concern. I can see that many times when she is bored she reverts to watching TV.
- But when I said less screen times I didn’t mean just for her. That means me too. I need to spend less time online, on my computer during her awake hours. I am not comfortable with the amount of times in a day I say things like, “ I will be right there, let me just finish this, or post that, or check this.” I pledge to spend more time working on projects, creating situations where we have creative play, and time using our imaginations.
- Too often because I am tired or not in the mood, I simply expect her to entertain herself, and while I no there is value in that, I need to be able to structure more creative activities for her, rather than letting her veg out in front of the TV. When given the choice she will always choose playing with me over TV, I cannot say how much longer that will last.
- I have allowed the mosquitoes to keep us hostage in the house, but I pledge to spend more time outside. One of the reasons I wanted to leave Doha so badly was because I hated what we saw outdoors. Now we live in a beautiful compound with massive trees, grass, and flowers. Time to get on the bike and head outdoors.
- Do my best to buy as many products that are character free as possible.
What this film helped me realize is that, we are dealing with a bigger problem than just having kids want to eat this cereal or that one. We are dealing with an assault on human values and family beliefs. I can, and think that I do, try my hardest to create an authentic, organic, and real experience for my daughters but how much can I do? How much can I shield them from a value system that encourages them to believe that happiness comes from things, when I myself am consumed by things?
Perhaps this post is a bit pre-mature and I need to let the ideas settle. I am sure I will get a few comments telling me to calm down and that I am overreacting again. Well, I am tired of that response. My kids are the most important things in my life and if I am not gonna freak out about it who will?
Perhaps I need to watch the flim again and talk about it with my wife, but I felt the need to write something right after watching it. I felt the need to invite you to join the conversation. You can watch the film in its entirety, broken into segments on youtube starting with Part One. I encourage you to watch it and leave your initial thoughts in the comment section below and help talk me off the edge. Help me find a way to move forward and not be terrified of the signs of a creeping consumerism, I can already see in my daughter at the age of four.
Here is the trailer:
and part one: