Friday, March 11, 2011

Informed Consumers: Starting Young

Recently, a friend posted (on Facebook) a article detailing legislature that would allow advertisements to be placed on school buses.  Check it out at There are certain restrictions yet in some states, such as Ohio, violent media and junk food are not off limits yet political ads, cigarettes, alcohol,  and sexual content are prohibited.  I assume that districts needing to raise cash might take advantage of this opportunity, but should they? 

Well, my personal opinion is "No" and I sent a letter to my representative via the website to state that I am not in agreement.  I feel like I'd like there to still be some sanctuary where my kids aren't being advertised to.  My friend did make a good point though.  She stated that when districts are making such drastic cuts that negatively impact the education of children, "creative" ways to raise funds may be necessary.  She may be right.  If having a McDonald's sign on the buses saves the art program in my district, I might change my mind.  After all, sports jerseys have had sponsors written across them for ages.  Overall, I prefer it to be a last resort and should be strictly regulated and restrict all violent matter as well.  But most importantly, I think parents are now in a position where it can not be completely avoided so they need to guide their children through the commercial world vs. completely around it.  Teach them to be informed consumers. 

I have allowed my children to watch T.V.  There are limits and there is monitoring of programs but overall, I feel like I am a "moderate" on the subject.  I feel like my kids live in a world with diversity of ethnic backgrounds, economic situations, educational level, genders, priorities, and moral convictions.  Sometimes T.V. shows, books, and advertising reflects ideas very different than those of our family. 

When my kids were very little I started talking to them about commercials.  The shoe commercial would come on and my kids would be in awe and say, "I want those!"  I would take the opportunity to casually say something like, "Those look really cool don't they?  But do you really think that they make you run faster?  No.  It is their job to make it look so cool that we'll want to buy it. They can be a little tricky.  But we don't need it.  It is just a commercial."  If something was said or done on a show or in a book that I didn't like (i.e. Captain Hook shoots a pirate from a perch at the beginning of the Peter Pan movie or the damsel sits on her rear waiting for a prince) I'd follow up by saying something like, "Really?  That' is just pretend. We don't act like that, do we?"  or "I love that story but girls don't have to wait for a boy to save them, right? That is silly." 

As they have grow, the conversations have evolved.  There is the conversation we have about food.  We have categorized food by saying, "I love chips too but they are an almost never food."  Fruits and veggies are an anytime food and pizza is a sometimes food and Cookie Crisp is a "dessert" get the point.  We talk a lot about wants vs. needs.  We talk about if we spend money on going out to eat or on toys too often, we won't have extra money for our bills, karate class, or vacation.  We talk about although we are using a credit card to pay for something or we get money out of the ATM, the money is coming out of our bank and when it is gone, it is gone. When we are in the toy aisle and they are spending their own money, we help them compare prices and quality and help them figure how to get more bang for their buck (i.e. one doll plus clothes/accessories for less than the expensive doll of the same size without extras).  We then let them make their own choice. A few weeks ago, L spent $15 of her own money on some cheap quality texting devices.  I talked to her about what quality she might expect from them yet she proceeded and was disappointed.  She barely uses them now but she had to learn. 

As my kids get older, T.V. shows and books get progressively more sarcastic which my kids never hear at home (yeah right!).  There are more boy/girl flirtations, etc as well.  There are more kids with name brand this and name brand that.  Clothes get a little more...little.  I am trying to navigate that now too.  We have tried not to buy clothes with the brand blazing across them.  Frankly, I feel like they should be paying me for advertising vs. me paying them to wear it.  (Except I just bought PT a shirt with a big swish across was soooo cheap.  Hypocrite, I know.)  Also, H had a rule from the words on their butts.  He said that he didn't care if it said "Jesus Saves."  It could only be there for one reason and he didn't like it.  Fair enough.  Also, we talk about showing your whole body in clothes just isn't necessary and doesn't show honor.  I am also prepared to say, "Don't you try talking to me or treating other people like that girl just did on that show.  If you repeat those behaviors, then we can't keep watching that show." 

I am sure that it may only get harder as they grow up and as advertising becomes less subtle and more ruthless and peer pressure escalates.  I can't avoid it completely.  I just feel like I have a short time when my kids actually think I know something about something.   I am going to try to take those opportunities to guide them through the maze vs. around it.  I'll intervene when necessary.  Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won't.  Hopefully, they will be informed consumers some day.  Here's to hoping. 

What works for your family?

*Note: more on school fundraising on Monday

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