Advertising, Media, and Kids: Rage Against the Machine, Parents!

WARNING: This is a full-fledged rant and a friendly warning all wrapped into one post, and just in time for the holiday shopping season, too… enjoy!

The other week it was wedge sandals on a five-year-old girl.

The other day it’s reading about a mom seeing padded bras in the children’s – not tween – department of several mall stores.

Today it’s a sticker on the back of an SUV showing Hello Kitty armed with a shotgun, all while outfitted in her standard pink uniform (girl power I guess?!).

Marketing. It’s everywhere. And sadly, advertising now intertwines so deeply into the fabric of our daily lives that it is quite hard to distinguish bias from factual accounts (Watched or read any news lately? Oy.). In fact, don’t you oftentimes stop to just ask yourself (all while screaming at the television, computer, or print ad) just what the hell is it these companies are selling, and WHO is it they are selling it all to?!

This looks like an "essential" field guide, doesn't it? But it's really just the cover of yet another clever toy catalog... more pics below!

Bottom line, RMT’ers, advertisers want into our kids’ lives upon birth, and it’s up to us parents to keep them outta there as much as possible. The best we can do as parents that I’ve come up with is for us not to buy into the media marketing machine. Literally, we hold the purse strings, so it’s up to us not to buy the crap that is directly advertised to our young children. Bras for pre-pubescent girls? Guns or other violent toys for little boys? No, no, and no; please, just don’t buy any of it, no matter how much media tells us that our kids need these things and will become outcasts if they don’t have them – because they don’t and they won’t. I am pretty certain we all logically know that, but it’s very easy to get lulled and persuaded into the emotional arguments and peer pressure these companies use to peddle their wares.

10 Essential Field Guide Tips, or are they? Read on, RMT'ers!

I’ll break this down further. For the girls, please parents, buy the pimped out crap that makes them look like miniature “brat” dolls. There is no normal circumstance which mandates that a six-year-old needs a bra and matching underwear for any reason whatsoever. Oh and please, children do not need to wear heels to the playground; they need comfortable shoes to run, play, and climb in, not heels to walk the streets in. Am I talking about dress-up clothes? No, so let me clarify. I still say let the kids go right ahead and wear your old clothes, heels, and makeup and march around the house pretending their little hearts and minds out. That’s healthy pretend play in my book, not a public declaration of, “I want to be 12 when I’m only five,” and in the end most likely nothing to worry about; and do let us remember, those moments also make for great photo opps. Dress-up is and always will be way cute stuff.

And there it is: all the "essential" TOYS that this company wants to sell to my child. I have to admit it though, I give props to the pop-up map design of this particular marketing piece. It's definitely unique and frighteningly clever given the line of toys being sold here (adventure-themed, pretend play accessories).

As for parents of boys, we can make sure boys know how to treat girls with respect, not as magazine photos or living dolls. We can teach our kids from the time they shoot their first pretend finger gun gesture that guns hurt people and animals, and they serve no other purpose than those two things. We tell them that even though police officers carry guns that it doesn’t mean they want to use them, but that they only use guns when someone else threatens them or other innocent persons as a last line of defense and protection. Yes, of course folks use guns to shoot prey and eat, so if that’s a part of your life, go for it with the hunting-to-eat talk; but if it’s not, please get real, stop the rhetoric, and face facts that Grand Theft Auto has nothing to do with putting food on the table.

Oh and boys, regarding clothing styles, while I don’t have much to offer up here other than wear something clean and stain- and stink-free, I will say this: Pull up your pants. Right now at age four, one of T’s favorite complaints is when his pants are falling down or not fitting correctly (too long/ short) and how annoying it is and how he needs me to please fix his pants ASAP. So, T, I write this here and now and about 10 years in advance: “T, remember when you were four years old and complained every time your pants were falling off your bum? Yeah, annoying for you and me both. So please spare me the pants-dropping, bum-baring fashion arguments as to why now it’s fine for your pants not to fit properly.” RMT’ers, go ahead and quote me to your own boys verbatim if you have a need to do so.

This checklist says it all. Was this marketing piece created as a tool for my son to check off the trains he already owns? Or, is this just another catalog weapon T brandishes before me as a not-so-gentle reminder of the trains that are still out there looking for a good home, namely his room? Yeah... it's the anti-checklist.

I encourage you to start as soon as possible in your rise up against the media marketing machine. It’s a triple threat after all: TV, computers, and print ads. Catch the kids early and keep the discussion open. At age three, I began the discussion with T that advertising is “fake” and “lies”; that way, when he sees a toy do something in a TV ad, he knows it’s just pretend, that essentially the company has just made a cartoon story out of the toy. When he looks through toy catalogs, he now knows that sometimes what the catalog shows is not necessarily what’s in the box (thanks to LEGO for teaching my son that lesson at a very early age, and thanks for disappointing him all at the same time). And T also already knows that things cost money – a pretty important detail to bring up as kids mature and realize that they don’t actually possess enough (any?) money to buy what those companies are selling, which is all but a part of a dream, or nightmare… I guess it just depends on your perspective for that last part.

Thanks for reading, and have fun this holiday shopping (advertising) season! Now… back to our regularly scheduled programming.