I sprinted down the stairs to get to the car to take my father out on an errand. As I was scurrying past, I saw a kid delighted in his pretend-play with a broken- BROKEN cycle seat! Something about this kid made me stop. Part pity, part admiration, part judgement! I looked at my dad and said, “ Look at that kid!”. My dad’s response hit home really hard! He said, “Yeah, children can make toys out of anything!” His response carried no pity, no judgement- just stated a fact with full conviction!
And it was true- this little guy seemed just AS happy and absorbed with his broken bicycle seat as my daughter with a new Barbie doll!
This came at a time when I was negotiating hard to get my daughter off her Barbie fetish. That her friends showed off one new toy after another hardly helped!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against toys. Toys go beyond being mere play things! Every child has a toy that takes a life of its own and becomes a companion- sometimes far beyond childhood. Every Calvin and Hobbes fan can vouch for that.
However, I think there is credit in intentionally limiting toys for children. Amidst the constant bombardment of more advanced, more colorful, more stimulating, more educational, more this and more that, I humbly present my case for why less is more:
1.Kids re-wire to be more creative– In a recent power struggle with my daughter, I refused to buy her a doll-house; but I made a deal with her. That I will buy anything she needs to make her own. And help her make it as well! And guess what? She made her own. Sure, she made wobbly tables and floppy staircases- but she made it! Out of her own tiny hands! And boy, was she proud of it!
The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore spent his childhood making most of his own toys. If you want more proof- this experiment in which two German public health professionals turned around a room full of bored kindergartners into play-inventors proves that children will use their own innate ability to gel with their surroundings to amuse themselves- in a very meaningful way!
2. Better bonding: Having fewer things propels children towards actively seeking togetherness. They seek out Nature. According to this article, the indoor time for children is alarming! When this is restricted, the natural curiosity of children is piqued and they are more likely to seek out Nature. They climb up and down, hug trees, run barefoot, do cartwheels, discover the texture and feel of things like wood and fabric.
3. Kids can hold longer attention spans: There is an old Sanskrit saying “Ati Sarvatra varjayet”. There is so much evidence of it even in children’s behavior that it should tell us a thing or two about our culture of materialism and consumerism. When there are too many toys, children fail to appreciate what they have and view toys as just another distraction(We are not even started with the gadgets yet!!!) – which is not only a colossal waste of parent’s money; but actually does the opposite of what they hoped it would do!
4. Kids cherish and value their things better: When kids have lesser, they appreciate more. Cherish more. Associate more. When we stopped replacing things that our daughters broke, we gradually saw that they actually broke lesser after a while.
Steiner Waldorf educationalists emphasize on the positive effects of taking away excess toys from children and replacing them with simpler, more natural playthings to stimulate creative play.
5. Kids EAT better!: No, really! Let’s be honest! How many times have you seen a kid pester their parents for that McDonald’s meal for that favourite character, that cholocate that comes with the colourful car, that box of cookies that that for another “surprise toy”? There are tons of studies on the effect of targeting children for advertising! (Click here for more ideas on inculcating conscious consumerism in children!”
6. Kids seek other pleasures – like reading, writing and creating! Noisy and colourful toys provide too much of sensory stimulation. They quickly get bored from working on projects that provide less external stimulation- making it harder to read and write; or work quietly. In short, do anything that requires.
7. Kids live in cleaner spaces: Admit it. Is it really easy to clear out and stack up the toys everyday? Having fewer toys simply means cleaner spaces !
8. Kids learn the joy of giving!: For all the talk of happiness( or the lack of it in today’s world), is there’s one thing that stands out, it is that the experience of giving to other is the most joyful . When children are made to give away to those less fortunate, they not only learn the art of giving, but quickly realise that there is a world outside of their own!
So, what’s the plan?
1. Limit the toy space: Limiting the toy space to a toy tub or toy-cupboard allows us to monitor the supply of toys. Once, there’s no more space, its time to give away! Involving slightly older children in the process of choosing and giving away their toys can also teach them a thing or two about the other world- and the joys of giving! 2. Limit Television: The bombardment of all those ads at our kids increases their pestering. Even the most self-willed parent cannot say ‘NO’ fifty times to the same thing. Turning down requests 3-5 times is more doable- and that, in turn is possible with limited screen time. 3. Set targets: When children earn something after a long wait-time or certain accomplishments, their reward centres in the brain get activated. You could set simple targets like “noticing good things about your sister” 10 times. Hey, this even fosters great sibling camaraderie! They are working on the same target, remember? 4. Keep it Simple: When it comes to buying toys- ask not what the toy can do for your child, ask what your child can do with the toy. Good old blocks and natural textures still score over all the “education” toys. 5. Stand out and stand firm-Its easy to buckle in to all the peer pressure; but once you set your ground rules, stick to them. Eventually, your kids will really know if they are entitled to an all-new toy!
So, don’t be afraid to clear out that screaming pile. For all you know, the kids might not even notice while it’s gone!
Last month, we spoke about one of the unique challenges of modern parenting- The terror of consumerism. Saying ‘NO” to children has not only become more difficult, it has also become strangely inevitable. I have been overwhelmed by the responses I received from several moms on how they tackle this challenge. Here’s a little list I made from what I received from all of you. I have picked the ones that stood out as practical and non-intrusive to today’s parenting ways. Most importantly, they reinforce an inclusive approach to raising conscious-consumerism in our kids.
The World Wide web
1. Harness the power of the web
Today’s children are mobile, TV and internet savvy. Mom does not know the meaning of a French word? No problem. Type ‘—- meaning in english’ on Google. Need pictures of birds for tomorrow’s class? Print them out!
Kids trust the web. They rely on it. Why not use it to our advantage?
“Whenever I see a compelling article on the harmful effects of junk food, or too much TV, I read it to them aloud. Or even better, have them read it to me. Then, I let them have research more on the foods of their choice. When they are kicked about the history of wheat/rice and veggies on their table, they are less likely to protest having veggies. Such regular ‘Google Time’ along with the kids has helped us transition from pestering for junk food mindlessly to pausing before asking.“
The littler ones can be told stories revolving around veggies and fruits. It makes it that much more personal for those little minds.
Mark those calendars!
2. Mark the calendars
“It is impractical to think that we can do away with all junk food at once. With all the bombarding and peer pressure, it might boomerang and
they could end up hating the word ‘healthy’. The trick is to really go easy sometimes but keep track of it. Had Ice Cream today? Make sure they mark it in their calendars. No more Ice Cream till the month is over. The constant monitoring also inculcates a sense of timing and discipline in them. Many moms have been implementing this successfully.”
Cook it up with them!
3. Cook it up
“Most times, I know what my daughters will resist eating. So, I cheat a little. So if it is chapattis, I let them play in the dough for a while and then make the chapattis. (It’s another matter that it gets messier and stickier than I like). And then tell them that the chapattis are great coz they made it. I know which veggies they will say no to. I let them cut a few and then tell them their veggies are waiting for them. They end up eating without a whimper and even compliment themselves on the great taste! It’s also another great way to introduce them to the pleasures of cooking.”
4. Dress them up
The Mickey Mouse Dosa
Its a great way to experiment with colors and shapes ! This dad rocked it with his innovative lunches that he packed for his kids every Monday morning. Though we may not get as creative as him, we could try a few simple ones like using grated carrot to make the mouth and sprouted Moong to make the eyes on the face of a chapatti or making Dosas in the shape of Mickey mouse, flowers, etc. Come up with your own!
Kids growing their own veggies
5. Grow your own
Get them to get their hands dirty with gardening: The process of planting a seed, watering it everyday, watching it sprout and grow a wee bit taller everyday is pleasurable by itself. It’s even more enjoyable, when you get to use your produce in your daily food. My daughter used to hate the coriander juice I gave her every evening for her skin trouble. That changed when she was able to add a few sprigs from ‘her’ coriander pot. She suddenly found the juice ‘yummy’. The fruits of hard work are indeed sweet.
The coke story
6. Stories are powerful. Real ones are even more so.
“Every night I get pestered for the bed-time stories. So, I make use of all this attention and tell them real stories of how coke plants work, what they put in the soda bottles, and how thousands of natives are displaced to set up one coke plant. I also told them stories about how having tender coconut instead of coke helped farmers transform their lives. The kids were really moved and I haven’t heard them ask for a coke after that.”
Children raising their voices
7. Slowly gun it- Slogan it
“Working on sensitive issues with children that are beyond their immediate circle of influence helps raise their sensitivity to their surroundings. Help them make banners, posters that read out their mind. I encourage my kids to talk on anything they feel strongly about – eg smoking and cutting down trees. Non-Toxic healthy food is a great topic for starting an awareness campaign among their peers. Plus, it helps develop communication, coordination and leadership skills and they immensely enjoy the process. And then you can be sure they will never turn up their nose at those veggies, coz their friends are in it too.”
8. Trip them out
Introduce them to organic farms
“For every horror story about genetically modified food and pesticides, there are numerous inspiring stories about Terrace gardening success, pesticide and additive free baking or completely organic farms that yield fantastic results. There are numerous individuals and groups dedicated to production and propagation of natural and healthful foods. Cut a few of the “club membership” trips and include a few such farms in your to-go list. Even a few day trips can make big difference in their attitudes. Get a few pots back home and re-charge your kitchen. Yes, and let them kids get you a few sprigs and veggies and end the eternal tussle.”
Giving to the poor
9. There’s another life out there
“Encourage them to see the other side of life. Take them to shelter homes to mingle with the other children on weekends/holidays/birthdays. Being with less fortunate children helps bring down relentless pestering. It can add the zing of perspective- not only to the kids, but even to the parents!”
It was a Sunday afternoon and we had just finished a “Sunday special lunch.” I was just beginning to work on some pending chores when the kids came scuttling and announced that there is an art competition within the apartment complex organized by a well-known jewelry brand.
“Please, can we go?” the pestering began. I didn’t think much of it and saw it as a Sunday afternoon well-spent drowned in artwork, so I let them. Well, they came back two hours later and dropped a card in my hand. It contained the jewelry showroom’s address and mentioned that if we wanted to collect our child’s ‘prize,” we would need to visit their showroom.
I explained to her that this was a marketing gimmick and they are not really interested in giving away prizes. They are only interested in making Amma go to their showroom and buy something so they can make some money. She seemed convinced and let it go.
Image courtesy: www.parentdish.co.uk
Two days later, she comes back with the details of another girl winning the “prize.” To top it off, her Amma had also got some pretty jewelry. The “prize” was “free.” Now, it became tougher for me to convince her that I don’t want to spend my money on their product. I explained some more but this time she was visibly upset. I suspect she saw it more as my not being interested in her prize.
A few days later, I saw another huge hoarding that screamed “Kids Carnival – uncover the artist in your child!!!” And no, this wasn’t for any children’s toys, games or anything to do with art or children. This had to do with selling homes in an upscale area.
In the days that followed, I started paying special attention to the kinds of things my kids asked for, where they saw it, why they wanted it and how many times I am able to deny it to them.
Enter the supermarket and the kids pick up some candy/chocolate close to the billing counter. Every time it happens, I tell them it’s unhealthy. Sometimes my authority wins, other times their pleading wins. This time, however, my kids countered it with, “No Ma, it is healthy. They say it has healthy Vitamins (my younger one even pointed out the cute bright blurb that read that read: Now fortified with blah, blah, blah). So I went back and checked some ads. It was true — the ads reiterated that it was a ‘healthy and tasty’ choice for kids.
Most mornings, when I am rushing to give them good, fresh, healthy, home-made breakfast, I hear this, “Amma — give us something nutritious and quick to eat — like chocos and honey loops.” I neither have the time nor the patience in the mornings to go through another round of lecturing that they contain high amounts of sugar, so I shoot it down with, “Eat what I give you.” I painstakingly pack some great vegetable rolls with good old chapatis, but they think they are deprived of the Tasty Maggi. Of course, they also envy the lucky boy whose mom packed Maggi and fruit cakes for lunch. We drive through the streets, and they want the deliciously healthy pizza, the natural fruit ice-cream, the fortified and flavored milk shake, the nutritious fizz drink. They also ask for the dunking cookie to make their milk tastier.
Can you see a pattern here? Just sample the number of “Nos” a typical parent has to say to these kids — everyday! And to think the most common grouse I hear about today’s parenting style is that ‘parents don’t say NO enough’! That, kids of today are brought up with a sense of entitlement because they don’t hear NO enough?
But the truth is: We get tired of saying no all the time. We get tired of guarding our children against constant enticement towards useless, and worse, harmful products. There is no denying that it can be an enormous drain on constructive parenting energies.
The advertising industry spends $12 billion per year on ads targeted to children, bombarding young audiences with persuasive messages through media such as television and the Internet. The average child is exposed to more than 40,000 TV commercials a year, according to studies. And ads are reaching children through new media technologies and even in schools–with corporate-sponsored educational materials and product placements in students’ textbooks. Further, they state that research recommendations have been adopted to help counter the potential harmful effects of advertising on children, particularly children ages 8 and younger who lack the cognitive ability to recognize advertising’s persuasive intent.
Dr. Dan Cook, Assistant Professor of Advertising and Sociology at the University of Illinois, says:
Observe a child and parent in a store. That high-pitched whining you’ll hear coming from the cereal aisle is more than just the pleadings of a single kid bent on getting a box of Fruit Loops into the shopping cart. It is the sound of thousands of hours of market research, of an immense coordination of people, ideas and resources, of decades of social and economic change all rolled into a single, ‘Mommy, pleeease!
“If it’s within [kids’] reach, they will touch it, and if they touch it, there’s at least a chance that Mom or Dad will relent and buy it,” writes retail anthropologist, Paco Underhill.
Dr. Kunkel, senior author of the American Psychological Association(APA) re-iterates :
“Targeting young children can instigate parent-child conflicts when parents deny their children’s requests. It also has a high likelihood of encouraging and even advocating behaviors like alcoholism when young children are repeatedly shown beer ads during a football game.”
OK, that explains the morning fights we get into. So naturally, the next question is: What is being done about this mass conversion of young minds to the culture of consumerism?
For starters, here’s finally some acknowledgement of the impact of their targeting kids by some major FMCG brands. At least 11 major brands that come under theInternational Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA) have pledged to stop targeting children below the age of 12.
Under the new policy, which is an extension of the commitments made by IFBA members in 2008, responsible advertising and marketing towards children will cover outdoor, mobile and SMS marketing, interactive gaming, DVD/CD-ROM, direct marketing, cinema and product placement other than TV, print and the internet. Though many of these brands already adhere to these guidelines on mainstream media such as television and print, they will now restrict themselves from targeting kids on below-the-line advertising activities that include tie-ups with cartoon characters or joint promotions at events targeted at kids.
Furthermore, some countries like the United Kingdom, Denmark, Greece and Belgium have passed legislations that restrict advertising to children. Other countries like Sweden, Quebec and Norway have made it illegal to target young children below the age of 12.
However, it is established that the role of parents can never be diminished in such a context. What can we do guard our little men and ladies from the terror of consumerism?
1. Tell them: The only way to counter the influence on their minds is to keep influencing them the other way — to let them know the reality behind all that glam and glitter. Sure, this will come with its share of conflicts, arguments and guilt. To stick to our guns and keep that pester power in check takes the last ounce of energy we have left in us — and yet, we have to do it.
2. Show them: When they see us battling temptations and consciously making healthy, responsible choices — they can’t help but notice. And then imbibe. Hopefully, when are able to make their own decisions, they will know the art of battling temptation.
After all, we are not only trusted custodians of their little physical selves. We need to rein in their enormous mental prowess too!
So give yourselves some credit, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to do a lot of convincing!!!
Do you employ any methods to inculcate conscious consumerism in children? Let us know in the comments below.
If you liked this article, don’t miss our upcoming articles under the ‘Awesome Parenting’ series.