Sunday, November 30, 2008

My own birthday present - or on Saying No to Lists

When I was about 8 years old, I wanted a camera for December. You see - I am one of those unfortunate people who don't get to spread out the gift receiving. My birthday, Hannukah and Christmas are in the same month withing days of each other. So I wrote to Santa and told him the one thing I wanted was a camera.

Then I promptly went and mailed my letter without letting my parents see it.

That year my birthday and Hannukah were about the same time and Christmas was last. I remember this even though this was about thirty years ago. The day after Christmas I announced that I was breaking into my piggy bank and buying my own camera since "Santa didn't bring one." My parents, a.k.a. Santa, were shocked. They wondered why they had never seen a list from me and now they knew - Santa had it all along.

I am not one for lists. In fact I hate them. The whole concept of a gift is this - someone who knows you, likes you and wants to celebrate a season with you is choosing to give you a gift. Hopefully they know you well enough to get you something you would never think of getting for yourself or to get you something you might never have seen before. The whole concept of a list is to get someone EXACTLY what they want, no surprises.

If you know exactly what you want, save your money and get it for yourself. Do not rely on anyone else to get it for you. Period.

MSNBC has written an article about a Parents Advocacy group that has asked toy companies to stop advertising to children, to which the toy industry said "No way!" I really loved the part where the toy industry insiders actually said the following in the article on MSNBC:

'"The Toy Industry Association has responded with a firm defense of current marketing practices, asserting that children "are a vital part of the gift selection process."

"If children are not aware of what is new and available, how will they be able to tell their families what their preferences are?" an industry statement said. "While there is certainly greater economic disturbance going on now, families have always faced different levels of economic well-being and have managed to tailor their spending to their means."'

OK - Mr. Toy Industry, here is what I have to say to you.

Children are not a vital part of the gift selection process until they are part of the earning money process. Nope. Not in real life they aren't. Input is good, but let's be honest. Children aren't a vital part of the gift selection process - they are a vital part of the gift marketing process. Don't try to tell parents that their very impressionable 6 year old child is a vital part of any selection process or they would be eating potato chips for main courses and would have some sort of doll over clothes.
You are using them as a marketing tool and let's face it - that sucks and if you can't see that you may need to re-investigate your priorities, but that is all on you.

For the parents, unfortunately it rides completely on us to try to combat this irresponsible use of power. There is only so much you can do - you can try to limit their exposure to it, but it is beyond everywhere now. This means that unless you live in a cave, don't send your children to school and allow them absolutely no access to the outside world, they are going to get bombarded with noise far before they are ready to hear it. So, you need to find another way to combat the problem. Here is one idea of how you can limit the costs on presents from Santa. This is what you say: Santa wants to know the ONE item you really want to have this holiday. Then, that is the one item you know you have to find a way to buy. If you have to - give them a price limit. "You know how they are saying on the news that there is trouble everywhere this year? Well Santa's workshop is having some problems too. He can only afford to make something that costs $x. Let's see if we can find one thing that costs $x for Santa to bring you."

The rest of it - if you have to have more than one item under the tree, buy them clothes, some of the toys on the would like to have list, make them something, gather materials for them to make something, have them make presents for their brothers and sisters, have them pick a toy they know their sibling loves but they don't love anymore to give to that sibling. There are a lot of ways to get inventive.

As for us - just like everyone, we are slimming down on the holidays. There are a few items I want to make sure are under the tree for our son and I am finding inventive ways to get those items, or I am changing my requirements (no wooden kitchen, we'll take the under $50 plastic one). Our list, however, is much slimmer than it was just a few years ago. I am also attempting to limit exposure to marketing exposure - but when Nick Jr. and Noggin make it impossible to skip ads when looking at their videos on the Internet (no Pop-Tarts are NOT a Christmas present, they are a breakfast food!) then it is hard to limit. I am just lucky my little guy is only 2, but even at 2 he knows what he wants and makes sure we know about Thomas and The Backyardigans. We just have to limit what he gets and look for things I know he will play with for more than 30 minutes such as play food and kitchen toys. I am also going to go through his stuff before Christmas and take what he doesn't play with anymore out.

I am not perfect, and I will try to practice what I preach but I know it won't always work. What I do know is that ads to our kids turn them into marketing tools and that is something that I think we, as parents, need to fight as best we can.


Louisa said...

Wait, homeschoolers and cave dwellers in the same sentence?

There _are_ choices other than Nickelodeon. I record and vet shows before letting the girls watch. Most are on PBS. And there is a time limit on tv watching.

One way to solve the problem you cite is get back to the meanings of the various holidays. We don't have to let tv teach our children their values.

Lisa Moore aka Liadona Rau said...

I absolutely agree with you. TV is not the way to teach values - we all have to be vigilant about what we teach our children and what our children learn from other sources. That was my point - more that we cannot rely on the toy companies or the TV networks to scale back their marketing as much as we have to make sure we teach our children how not to give in to it.

I am very sorry if I inadvertently offended you - not my intent. I do not think that home schoolers are cave dwellers - I commend you for being able to school at home. My poorly worded point had to do with the article stating that families feel they have to keep up with kids at school - an issue that I hope you don't have to deal with if you choose to school at home.