This is the third part in a series of discussions regarding The Idle Parent Manifesto, which can be found in Tom Hodgkinson’s book The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids . Need to get caught up? You can do so here.
We reject the rampant consumerism that invades children’s lives from the moment they are born.
Eli’s favorite show right now is the LEGO Ninjago series. Mike and I both like it as well and we appreciate that it taps into his longing for heroes, villians, weapons and fighting while remaining age-appropriate. And yet, as much as we like it, it’s really no more than a vehicle for LEGO to advertise to kids for 30 minutes stretches. Just in case your kids missed the LEGO consumer bus, there are plenty of ads for non-LEGO things during the commercial breaks.
“I want that!” Eli would say, during 99% of the commercials.
I’d ask, “What is it?”
“I don’t know. But I want it.”
If we weren’t laughing, we’d be crying.
There’s really only one way to reject this rampant consumerism, and that would be to ban all screens from your home and to stay out of the stores. I’d venture to guess that’s not a possibility for any of us. It’s a part of life. How do we reject it without moving to a wi-fi-less commune? We get MAD, that’s how.
The author suggests that instead of banning screens altogether, it’s more realistic to minimize, and I agree. Banning something makes it that much more attractive, for one. Also, for most families (mine included), screens are an enjoyable part of life. We like our shows and movies. We love the internet and our apps. In a sea of crap there’s a lot of good stuff to be found.
Decide how much time spent with screens is appropriate for your family. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing – do what works for you. Maybe you know it’s taking over your lives and you need to cut it out completely for awhile. Maybe you’re just worried that your kids are going to waste the summer away in front of a screen if you don’t do something. If you don’t have any limits, definitely set some. If you do, think about decreasing it even just a little.
Now here’s the thing about minimizing: if you just turn off the TV or take away the iPad, you’re going to hear about it. There will be much wailing and gnashing of the teeth. In order for it to work in the long run, we as parents have to put effort in at the beginning. I know, I know, effort is the opposite of idle. BUT … for many kids that horrible sensation they feel when they lose a screen, also known as boredom, is unbearable. They don’t know what to do with it. In our overstimulated, busy world, kids don’t get the chance to be bored very often, if at all. We have to take some time to lead our kids into another activity. In some cases you literally have to teach them how to play. If you can get over the interminable 10-15 minutes when they act as if they will die, they’ll fall into a new activity and probably surprise you with their ingenuity and imagination. Don’t be afraid or unwilling to help them get there … and then walk away and enjoy it!
Consumerism and advertising are everywhere. You could ban every screen and shop alone, but still it’s going to touch your kids. Accept it, but draw your own line in the sand and reject the idea that we have to buy into every single fad that comes along. Maybe you decide that your family won’t buy toys, clothing or food with characters on them. Maybe you opt to spend free time at the library or park instead of a bookstore or the mall. If there are certain programs, games or even friends that seem to poke the consumer monster in your kids, consider cutting those things out of your life.
Sometimes the commercials we see or the trips down the toy aisle can spark really good conversations with your kids. You can talk about what an advertiser is really trying to sell. Do they think the product can do everything it says it can? How is a yogurt with Dora on it different from the one without a character? We use Common Sense Media to help navigate the movies, games, books, music and apps marketed to kids. One of the things I love about their rating system is that it includes consumerism as a category, warning you if it’s going to be an issue.
Another idea the author floated gave me pause: he wonders why screens are so desirable. Does it possibly give kids access to freedom and a certain amount of control over their lives? What if we continually enlarged their freedoms so that they could make decisions in real life instead of a virtual one? We’ve started to let Elena go to the park and playground without us … and she’s yet to ask if her iTouch or Nintendo DS can come along with her.
The bottom line is that we can’t escape the rampant consumerism that surrounds us. The Idle Parent recognizes that it’s there and that it can be tamed. As Idle Parents, we can choose to do and see things that don’t feed the monster. We can also take advantage of the beast to teach our kids how to be smart, savvy and responsible consumers. A little bit of screen time when our kids are young can save our sanity. And teaching them how to handle it now will help them grow into responsible adults with the social skills and financial tools to function on their own – so we can truly be idle parents without our 25-year-old kids living in our basements!
How do you handle the relentless consumer lifestyle with your kids? Do you feel like you have it beat, or does it feel like you can’t escape it?