I'm the proud father of a 2-year old girl. When my wife and I started on this adventure called parenting, we made a conscious decision to ensure that our girl encounters the least amount of commercial messages possible.
The following facts from Commercialfreechildhood.org support our decision:
- 26% of children under two have a television in their bedroom.
- In a typical day, 68% of all children under two use screen media...for an average of more than two hours a day.
- At six months of age, the same age they are imitating simple sounds like "mama," babies are forming mental images of corporate logos and mascots.
We tried our best: There was no Baby Einstein. We never went to any of the fast food places, never pointed them out, tried to stay away from any brands on TV, magazines or on billboards. As an example, we go quite often to Starbucks and she calls my drink 'Papas coffee' instead of 'Papas Starbucks'.
A few weeks ago, my wife bought Crocs for my girl. We both hesitated to buy these trendy shoes but they are comfortable, easy to clean and our girl loves them. Surprisingly, we didn't call them shoes or green shoes. We called them Crocs. And when she wants to wear crocs, she requests 'Crocs'. Just like Kleenex stands for tissues. But, as a parent, I feel we've started to head down a slippery slope. One that's hard to escape.
While we're discussing how to better connect with consumers, brands are still marketing (or shall we call it brainwashing) to toddlers and babies. Yes, I admit, my kid watches Sesame Street once in a while. But, is Sesame Street really educational? Or is it just a selling tool for their licensed characters? My girl loves Elmo but what does that mean? Does she love him because she likes his red fur? Or does she like him because he's on TV, a doll in her crib and printed on her diapers? I guess it's the latter. Don't we lie to ourselves when we let our kids watch Sesame Street because they can learn so much? Maybe when kids are older they can get something out of Sesame Street. My kid just sees a lot of dolls and humans running around. And Elmo. So, next time I go to to a toy store with her, she might recognize the Elmo doll and wants it. Badly.
Coming back to the Crocs: I'm ambivalent about this. Shall I call them green shoes from now on because that's what they should be for a little girl? Or shall I make it easier for everyone and just call them by their brand name? I might opt for the green shoes. Especially after reading excerpts from Susan Gregory Thomas book 'Buy, buy, baby: How consumer culture manipulates parents and harms young minds.'
It's easy to talk about consumer control when we're dealing with adults and conscious decisions. It gets much tougher when you consider the consequences of brainwashing a kid in believing that Elmo is cute and Crocs become synonymous for green shoes.