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Parent Traps

Parent Traps

The other morning, I was invited to one of those indoor gym facilities that cater to hyperactive toddlers and stir-crazy parents. There is a loose sort of structure to the gymnastic mayhem, but don’t be mistaken, it is mayhem of a toddler-colliding, primary-colored, off-gassing plastic mat sort of order. And I couldn’t help feeling at that moment that as much fun as all the children were having (mine was the exception, as he was doing his best wallflower imitation), that this was really all for the parents’ benefit.

As I was measuring my response somewhere between empathy and cynicism, a fellow parent approached me and said basically that she is not 100 percent certain her child enjoys this, but for her it is socially necessary. With that very honest admission, I was reminded of a recent book release entitled Parenting, Inc. by Pamela Paul.

In my humble opinion, there is an unreasonable glut of parenting books already out there, and it is arguable whether the world needs yet another tome that feeds off of parental confusion/guilt/insecurity. (Full disclosure: I have not read Pamela Paul’s book, but have familiarized myself with its content through press materials, interviews, reviews, etc.) However, Parenting, Inc. seems to have another agenda in emancipating modern parents from the whirlwind of blind and furious consumerism, which comes in the form of $800 strollers, Baby Einstein DVDs, and Gymboree-type classes.

Paul argues, from firsthand experience, that we (as parents) run the risk of raising children who have no concept of free time and will measure their self worth by what they own and what they can buy. For most people the subject matter may be well-traveled terrain, but it is somewhat reassuring to read Paul’s sober view of kiddie consumer culture, as it is alarming to realize how far off track we have ventured.

How do you, as parents, resist or contribute to the dominant kiddie consumer culture?

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

9 comments

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1:32AM PST on Mar 13, 2011

Thanks for the info.

8:50PM PDT on Jun 13, 2010

It was so much easier to be a parent in the 60's and early 70's. Most women did not work, and there simply wasn't money to waste on what is really nonsense. An $800 baby stroller? Come on! We seem to have lost our sense of values. I know kids whose every moment is filled with "activities", who believe that a person has value only when he/she is doing something, and who already believe that money is the be all and end all. In the first place, people are called human BEINGS, not human "doings". What kind of life have we given them? What kind of values? Will they even still value their own parents when they grow elderly and can't "do" any more? Watch out. You will reap what you have sown.

12:21PM PDT on Oct 9, 2008

I buy children's consignment clothing, have not taken my daughter to McDonald's, and resist giving her refined sugar whenever I can. I resist some of the name brand stuff like the Princess Disney stuff and Brats but she is only 2.5 so it's relatively easy - now. I have the TV off as much as possible (hubby loves it but he tries to keep it off when she is around most of the time as well.)

12:29PM PDT on Jun 26, 2008

As parents, I think we all get sucked into buying things we don't need at least every no and again. But I've noticed that while I used to buy those things for me, now I buy them for my son. . . The goal, of course would be to just get less stuff, recycle more, and share with friends. A friend who is pregnant just asked me advice on what to register for. Instead I told he all the things not to get, and I sent her a big package of things that I no longer use. Every little effort counts!

11:24PM PDT on Jun 24, 2008

my twins are not yet 2 years old, but I'm trying to avoid much of the consumer culture frenzy by not yet allowing TV. i have just spent a month or so searching for a home day care (our nanny needs to leave us, very sad) and finally chose the one place that did not use any TV. I was amazed at home many day cares used TV, and how much some of them used it. kids can be so easily influenced by advertising and branding, I'd like to put off those influences as long as I can!

12:23PM PDT on May 24, 2008

i also agree,i feel there is alot of pressure on children by their peers to have material things, and dont feel as worthy if they dont have the items. i try and reassure my children that they are beautiful on the inside as well as the outside and they dont need material posessions to be happy. so far they are well balanced happy children.

7:54PM PDT on May 23, 2008

I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment that we don't want to raise kids that will measure their self worth by what they own and what they can buy!!! Thank you for putting it so well!

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