Stress and the holidays go hand in hand like cookies and milk. Jingly music appears in commercials long before Black Friday hits and the Windows chime sounds on Cyber Monday. Before long, it’s enough to send your wallet through the roof— or up Santa’s chimney.
Young children get bombarded with colorful, singing and dancing images every time the TV is turned on. They are promised happiness, strength, speed, fun, friends, tasty food and much more than any mere parent could provide. Teens are told they will be attractive, popular, a girl/boyfriend, and more with ABC brand clothing. We all know how adults are targeted by TV, magazines, radio and the internet; the adults are not my concern. My concern is the children; however much we want them to “grow up,” they are still children.
When my girls were young I noticed the pull created by products, even enticing kids to beg in the commercials. Think what that does to the parent-child relationship— it almost puts them in an us-or-them adversarial role. I decided to make an “executive order” for our family, “We do not buy anything that is shown on a TV commercial.” There would be rare exceptions for milk, eggs or other necessities as I saw fit— no discussion! After the executive order I could hear the sighs in the next room, “Oh no, not that too!” This helped slow the pressures to buy-beg-spend but it was not a perfect solution.
In searching for a better solution (this was before many had internet) and found a video at the public library called “Buy Me That.” I watched the video and saw as cereal advertisers used white glue to enhance the look of the cereal in milk. When that wasn’t enough they put marbles in the bowl to raise the actual cereal up out of the milk to make each piece of cereal look more appealing.
When the girls came from school we watched “Buy Me That” together. Chelsey and Katie were appalled as only young children could be by the advertiser’s implication that kids were “stupid puppets.” From that day forward my girls watched with a keener eye and over time would shoot most commercials down before it even got off the ground.
Buy Me That had turned both girls into savvy critics and there was only one instance where I did consider an exception for a toy that was advertised relentlessly and it turned out to be the coup de grâce. Katie’s birthday was coming up and she had been exceptional in all the factors I considered to “grant” an exception. The toy she wanted was “Go-Go-Pup,” a mechanical white dog with a leash that also served as a control that made the dog go forward or backwards and stop. The commercial showed the child with the mechanical dog being envied by the other children and everyone was wearing exaggerated smiles. The “dog” was shown from many, many angles as it “walked” happily along on a sidewalk set with every blade of grass in place.
After buying the “Go-Go-Pup,” I wrapped it still not sure I had done the right thing and plopped on a bow. We began her birthday celebration with family and my mom’s friend Arthur let Katie frost her own cake and gave her two cans of chocolate frosting to do it with. He then gave Katie an electronic piano since she loved music— he was quick to spoil both girls. When it came time for the “Go-Go-Pup” Katie had no idea what was in the box and began tearing the paper off. I could see her excitement and disbelief build as she waited for the batteries to be inserted then it was, “Three, two, one, Go-Go-Pup!” I should have trusted my gut.
Something was missing, the Go-Go-Pup was pretty, soft and it did “walk” with wheels but it just wasn’t the same as she had seen on TV. There were no smiling children, there was no bubbly music and carpet could not compare with the plastic grass so perfectly trimmed around a fake sidewalk— it just wasn’t real. The only real thing was her disappointment— if you gave the look a caption it would be, “I’ve been had!” The $42 for the “Go-Go-Pup” may have been the best money spent in my parenting career though. The “Go-Go-Pup” lesson galvanized us all to being shrewder shoppers that keep up with the tricks and gimmicks of advertisers and merchants.
What can parents do to educate their children and stop the pressures to spend and buy? The first suggestion would be to set an example and think out loud; “What are they using to pressure people to buy this car? They are using sex, popularity among peers, high speed, assumed power, and envy to try and sell a particular model of car.” “Look how they change to try and sell a less expensive model car with hip hop music and a guy dripping with girls!”
Another suggestion is to teach kids to shop thoughtfully. Before you go to a store to look for an item, like an electric toothbrush, check online consumer feedback first. You can read reviews from people who have already bought and used the products. Customers’ reviews can steer you from a product that is poorly made or difficult to use or clean. Compare models and features and decide how much you’ll be willing to spend. If you don’t need the item right away you could order online. Keep in mind the shipping charges and heavier volume around the holidays may take longer. In the store remember, display can be everything; look high and low as well as eye level to make sure you see everything available. Buy which ever toothbrush you decide and be sure to keep your receipt.
Television can be turned off or at least down. Limit the amount of time a child is allowed to watch TV. Keeping scheduled activities can help. Check TV listings and plan viewing ahead of time. Keep TVs out of bedrooms— treat it like a controlled substance. When you can, watch with your children. Ask questions to see if they understand it the same as you. Would they like to buy this? Why or why not? Do you need other information? Do you think this is safe? What is this scene showing you? Do you really need this? Every discussion is important
Every time shoppers get wise to the advertiser’s and manufacturer’s tricks they go back to the drawing board to create a newer, different trick to get into our wallets. You do have the power to get smarter and wiser. In writing this article I googled “Buy Me That” and was surprised that YouTube has videos much like the one I showed my girls so many years ago. Hmmm— what are you waiting for?
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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