Category: marketing and kids

Keeping Girls “Girls”

By , May 3, 2010 12:11 pm

One benefit of no TV that had never occurred to me when I began this experiment after the birth of my daughter nine and a half years ago, is the lack of exposure to “sexy teens!”  I am shocked sometimes when I see how some teens and tweens, dress and act.  I really am not a conservative person, in fact I consider myself to be quite liberal, but I do believe that 9 year-old girls are emotionally girls and NOT women.  What ever happened to childhood?

Some might think it backward (please don’t flame me), but I am SO relieved that my 9 1/2 year-old daughter still believes in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.  She still plays dress-up and fairies with her little sister and like-minded friends.  She is not on Facebook, nor has she ever expressed a desire to be.  Don’t berate me for “stunting” my daughter’s social and technological development.  Believe me, I am sure she will “develop socially” as soon as those hormones hit her system!  She also knows how to use a computer just fine thank you.

There are certainly many factors involved.  Her stage of physical development, her personality, and the fact that she attends a very small Montessori School all surely play a role.  But I do truly also believe that part of the fact that she has not yet become interested in “popular teen culture” is that she is not exposed to TV shows and commercials that cause her to emulate those behaviors.

My good friend friend just sent me a link to a review of an interesting-sounding book by Leonard Sax, the author of Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.  His new book is about girls:  Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls-Sexual Identity, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins.  I urge you to read the review and see what you think.

Meanwhile, I hope that my little girls stay little girls for as long as they need to.

Redefining Christmas

By , December 22, 2008 8:51 pm

As a child, I remember Christmas being so exciting that I could hardly sleep the night before. We’d have a tree, Christmas stockings and yummy turkey.  My Dad would always design a “trail” for me –  a treasure hunt with clues – to lead me to my biggest present.  Dessert was always my mother’s homemade Christmas pudding with lots of thick cream, almond paste cloaked Christmas cake, and tiny, flaky mince pies (my parents were from England).

As an adult, I managed to spend most of my Christmases at home with my mother and sister (my parents were divorced by then) where it would always be the same as I remembered (minus the trail).

This will be the fourth Christmas since the death of my mother.  Each year, my sister and I have struggled with how to make Christmas like we remembered.  For a variety of reasons, the first two years were fairly miserable.  Last year, I just ran away from it all and ignored Christmas as much as I could.

This year, I feel brave enough to try it again.  It will be different.  My sister and I have decided that we can’t recreate the same thing without my mother.  Those days are gone.  I need to do something new (but with a few old elements?).

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time (at least a year) may remember last year’s  Christmas/Holidays Unplugged series, so perhaps you know of my internal struggles.  I want to create lovely memories and traditions for my children, but hate the commercialism and lack of any meaning.

I think that writing that series of posts really helped me prioritize and come up with a plan.  A “year off” from Christmas helped a lot too.

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The plan this year is as follows:

– Tree: Thin tree that needed to be cut from our property anyway – read more: An Ugly Christmas Tree.

– Child Presents: Christmas stockings plus one gift each for the kids from Santa, and a few from us.

NOTE:  Without TV, my kids don’t really have specifics on what they want…which is wonderful and difficult at the same time.  They sat on Santa’s lap at our town Christmas tree lighting and both asked for “a surprise.”  I wonder how many kids do that?

– Adult Presents: Christmas stockings all around.  I do the children, my sister and my husband.  My sister does her significant other and me.  I love the challenge of finding cool little things that they might like that would fit in the tiny space of a stocking.  It seems fun and not commercially excessive.

Otherwise, we are not doing adult gifts this year.  We are all in the very fortunate position (especially fortunate in light of this year’s economy) of being able to buy whatever we need, and I hate shopping out of a “need to buy something” mentality.

In lieu of gifts, each adult will do a donation to charity for each other adult (to that other adult’s favorite charity).  I have even gotten a few other relatives on board with this (even for the kids) which certainly lightens the gift receiving (and giving) burden, is much more in the spirit of the season, and makes me feel that we are actually doing good for the world rather than doing good for Walmart.

– Food: I think I’ll get a small, fresh turkey from our local market (but I’d better get on that right away, especially since the weather is forecast to be lousy).  I’ll try to keep it somewhat simple because I want to enjoy the day and not spend it mostly in the kitchen as I remember my mother doing.

Of course, if I can’t get to the store for food, we’ll be having leftovers for Christmas.  But snowed-in with leftover pasta might actually make for a completely fun and memorable Christmas!

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This is my overall plan.  It may need refining next year…or maybe I’ll just want to run away again.  I don’t know.  I’ll tell you all how it goes.

Good luck defining (or redefining) your celebration.  Happy holidays to all!

Happy Holidays!!
(“…brought to you by ___”)

By , December 3, 2008 8:03 pm

This is a post I should have written about two months ago. Two months ago when all the cheap plastic decorations first made their way into the supermarkets, Walmarts, Kmarts and Any-Other-Marts in the United States. Here in the U.S., shoppers have been regaled with muzak versions of The Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night since well before Halloween (October 31st) this year.

Now that we have finally gotten that pesky little Thanksgiving holiday over with, the commercial Christmas onslaught can begin in earnest.

On my Thanksgiving cross-country trip, I realized what I have been missing without TV for all these years. Ads. Hundreds and thousands of ads promising me the best Christmas ever (what is that anyway?) if only I purchase a new Best Buy flat screen TV, or Macy’s cashmere sweater, or Zales diamond necklace, or _______ (insert advertised product in blank) for my loved one.

I had forgotten what it was like. Although I had a fabulous trip, I was quite relieved when I was finally home and able to retreat to the refuge of my quiet house to end the commercial attack on my psyche.

And here comes the part that I should have written about three months ago when I first detected the initial stirrings of faux holiday jolliness in the stores:

Since many readers are probably new to Unplug Your Kids, I should let you all know that last year while suffering a holiday existential crisis, I wrote a series of posts entitled Christmas/Holidays Unplugged in which I explored alternatives to the traditional American commercial holiday experience.

I know it is a bit late now that December is already here, but if anyone is in need of a bit of inspiration, or encouragement, or alternative holiday ideas, then hopefully you might enjoy some of these posts.

I have listed them all here and linked to them so you can click on what sounds interesting to you. I hope that someone will find this helpful! 

(Also:  If you find a topic interesting, be sure to read the comments too since readers often left their own wonderful insights and suggestions.)

1) Merry Christmas

2) Unplug The Christmas Machine (a book review – very inspirational book if you are disillusioned with Christmas/Hanukkah)

3) Making a List and Checking it Twice (what does your holiday really mean to you?)

4) Holiday Prep – Part 1 (Introduction)

5) Holiday Prep – Part 2: Help! Holiday Prep Makes Me Miserable!!

6) Holiday Prep – Part 3: Help! I Love Doing it All, But How Can I Find Time to Do it?

7) Celebrating Advent

8) Commercialism in Your Mailbox?

9) A Holiday Linky Assortment

10) The Great Christmas Tree Dilemma (Real? Fake? Living? What else?)

11) Buy Handmade

12) Donate this Year Instead of Gifts

13) Santa Lists and Sponge Bob (dealing with kids’ gift requests)

14) Combating Commercials (fighting the effects of toy ads)

15) Help!  Too Much Stuff!! (ideas for cutting down on the amount of “stuff”)

16) A Post as Small as a Stocking Stuffer (“nice toy” stocking stuffer ideas)

(Thanks to Everystockphoto and phtographer”tandemracer” for this photo. View license terms here.)

Fighting Unethical Children’s Advertising

By , October 22, 2008 3:17 pm

Do you ever get upset about the excess of marketing targeted at your children?  How about the sexualization of children’s toys and ads?  Even without TV, it is hard to miss the barrage of ads, “licensed characters” and sleazy or violent toys.  We see it everywhere: in children’s magazines, in the grocery stores, and even (or so I have been told) in the public schools.

Some people don’t seem to mind, and that is OK.  But if you are a parent who feels manipulated, angry and frustrated by every trip to the supermarket, toy store, or even book store, then head on over to Parents For Ethical Marketing and meet Lisa Ray, a mom who is not just complaining, but is actually trying to DO something about it!

Lisa started her website and blog in 2007.  Via her blog that began as a simple creative outlet, Lisa discovered her true passion: fighting corporate marketing targeted at children.

Now a year later, she is taking her website one step farther.  Lisa is creating a non-profit organization to help her take real action to curb unethical children’s marketing.  Her plans include educating the public via free workshops for parent groups, newsletters and her blog, Corporate Babysitter.  She also hopes to influence legislation and encourage parents to write to corporations about marketing policies that displease them.

Lisa’s goal is to raise $10,000 by Thanksgiving.  Read more here.  If you like what you read, then you can make a donation to her cause via the Parents for Ethical Marketing page at change.org.

It is so easy to sit back and complain about what displeases us, but very few people have the energy or drive to actually try and do something about it.  Thank you for taking this cause and running with it Lisa.  I applaud you!

(Thanks to morguefile.com and photographer Anita Patterson Peppers for this lovely photo.)

Imaginative Play and Cognitive Function

By , February 21, 2008 3:31 pm

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On NPR’s Morning Edition this morning was a VERY interesting story (“Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills“) about how children’s play has changed in the last century. Instead of engaging in self-directed, imaginative, improvised play, play has become centered around toys and the latest movie or TV show: “Essentially, instead of playing pirate with a tree branch” they play “Star Wars with a toy light saber.”

Commercialization is only partly to blame, as child safety has become more of a concern in recent years. Parents are now more reluctant to let their children run loose around the neighborhood. They enroll kids in structured, adult-lead activities.

This change in play-habits has actually changed children’s brains according to researchers. Imaginative play helps kids develop what is known as “executive function,” which is a cognitive skill necessary for self-regulation (controlling emotions and behavior, resisting impulses, and exercising self-control and discipline).

Read this interesting excerpt from the NPR piece:

We know that children’s capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” Bodrova explains. “So the results were very sad.”

According to executive function researcher, Laura Berk: “Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.” In fact, good executive function is a more reliable predictor of success in school than IQ. Poor executive function leads to high dropout rates, drug use, and crime. Of course there must be a middle ground here, but the better a child’s ability to self-regulate, the better they will perform in school, and in life.

So here is yet another reason to turn off the TV, ignore the terrible whines, agonizing howls of boredom and claims of inhumane parental treatment and see what happens. They just might surprise you with the games they come up with on their own. And…they will be improving their executive function skills!

I urge you to listen to this fascinating NPR piece (7 min 50 sec), or at least read the online transcript.

+ Some suggestions for activities that promote self-regulation:

(from researchers Deborah Leong, professor of psychology at Metropolitan State College of Denver, Elena Bodrova, senior researcher with Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning, and Laura Berk, professor of psychology at Illinois State University, found on the transcript page of the NPR website):

– Play “Simon Says”

– Encourage “complex imaginative play” (child plans and acts out scenarios, invents own props, etc. Best if play lasts for several hours)

– Activities that require planning (the examples given are: games with directions, patterns for construction, recipes for cooking)

– Read storybooks with your children

– Encourage children to talk to themselves (“fosters concentration, effort, problem-solving, and task success”)

+ A related Unplug Your Kids post: Let Your Kids be Bored

(Photo (taken in Madagascar) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and photographer Harald Kreutzer.)

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