Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture
What You Can Do
With hundreds of billions of dollars spent each year on advertising, it’s difficult to escape commercialism. Nevertheless, there are things parents, caregivers, and concerned citizens can do in the home and the community to stem commercialism’s reach into children’s lives.
Limit your child’s exposure to commercial influences via the…
Television. The obvious first step is to unplug from the television. Easy for some; for others, this involves breaking entrenched habits. Nevertheless, going TV-free, setting firm limits on the number of hours watched per day, or restricting viewing to commercial free programs or videos is a tremendously effective way to loosen the grip Madison Avenue has on your child. Author and Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychiatry Susan Linn advises: “Setting limits on television is the single most effective thing we can do to reduce children’s exposure to advertising. In the short run, it’s easier to plop young kids in front of the tube. But it is a choice that comes at a cost.
Computer. The Internet can be an amazing tool, but when kids while away hour after hour staring at a computer screen they are developing unhealthy habits and providing marketers with prime “face to screen” interactions. Set limits on total screen time. Know where your kids are surfing and block inappropriate sites. Avoid unmonitored computer time for young children. Consider keeping computers in well-trod family areas to avoid social isolation.
Mail slot. Avoid teen magazines that promote lifestyles and feature ads that you believe are harmful for your child. Set an example for your kids by getting off junkmail lists (see www.newdream.org/junkmail) and registering on the Do Not Call list at www.DoNotCall.gov to stop telephone solicitations.
Teach your children about…
Stuff. Teach your kids to be conscious consumers. Talk about where things come from, who made them, what they are made of, and what happens when they are thrown away. Seek out products that are made in a more environmentally and socially responsible manner. Teach them that it is sometimes better not to buy. To learn more about being a conscious consumer, visit www.newdream.org/consumer.
Money. National surveys reveal that kids are leaving high school without a basic understanding of issues relating to savings and credit card debt. No surprise, then, that over the past decade, credit card debt among 18-24 year olds more than doubled.53 It’s important for parents to teach kids about where the money goes. In Prodigal Sons and Material Girls, author Nathan Dungan discusses ways to help children achieve financial literacy and become “savvy consumers who make decisions based on their values.”
When you say no to another gizmo, say yes to something your child really wants — your time.
In What Kids Really Want that Money Can’t Buy, author Betsy Taylor points to surveys and self-reports that indicate what children really want more than stuff is time — with parents, friends, and extended family. According to a 2003 New American Dream poll, 57 percent of children age 9-14 would rather do something fun with their mom or dad than go to the mall to go shopping.54 Kids yearn to get off the treadmill with their families and simply have unstructured fun. Whether it’s playing games, cooking, reading together, or just sharing space with the TV off, remember that the best thing you can give your kids is you.
Rediscover nature. Richard Louv writes in Last Child in the Woods that children today are increasingly disconnected from the natural world, even as research shows that exposure of youngsters to nature can be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorder and other maladies. There is strong evidence, he reports, that independent play and exploration builds broad mental, physical, and spiritual health. Fostering connections with and respect for nature can also encourage children to think more about their values and how personal behaviors affect the world we live in.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for a New American Dream. © New American Dream.
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