Ads and Kids

Like all the other neglected kids of the 70’s, I grew up glued to the TV for Saturday morning cartoons, getting my impressionable little brain blasted with ads for toys, sugary cereal and candy, in between episodes of The Smurfs and Menudo videos.

The jingles of my childhood are still rolling around in said brain, while other, much more important information consistently gets deleted. It’s highly irritating to remember all the words to the Big Red song and yet have difficulty committing a new phone number to memory.

Advertising is powerful stuff. The word on the street is that more progressive countries like Norway and Sweden have banned advertising to children altogether. Kudos, to you, Scandinavians, for recognizing that children have no filter when it comes to ads. They take at absolute face-value what they are being told on the screen, and at the tender age of 4 or 5, haven’t yet learned to blur out the ads that fly at them at all times.

This is becoming obvious with my Bean, more on this in a moment, but first let me revisit a childhood event which proves this point.

When I was about 8 years old, and my younger sister 3, we kept seeing a TV commercial for a ride-on toy called “Inchworm”. (This could be the one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2zUrnmEokc) At around the 9 second mark, you will observe a curly-haired girl who looked a little bit like my sib. “That’s me!,” my sister insisted.

Awww, isn’t that cute, we all said. She thinks she’s in the commercial. And next, yup, you guessed it, a request to obtain an Inchworm of her very own. I’m not sure if we were actually at the toy store within the hour, that’s how 8-year-old me remembers it, but at some point immediately after, we did, in fact, have an Inchworm lurking in the garage. As ride-on toys go, it was totally inferior to a tricycle or Big Wheel, and was soon gathering dust, as my sister preferred to ride a vehicle that actually went somewhere. (This guy’s review on Amazon sums it up nicely.)

The moral of the story is that companies shouldn’t be allowed to market their crap toys to children, and, obviously, parents should turn a deaf ear to their kids’ repeated pleas for this or that shiny gadget.

I’ve been learning of late how hard it is to just say no when your kid really, really wants you to say yes. My son will beg with the relentlessness of the tide beating against a rocky shore. He will not stop, ever, until the coveted thing is in his possession. And that may just be a thing he decided he wanted of his own volition, not a thing that some marketer on TV told him he must want. 

We don’t actually have “TV” in the conventional sense. Bean watches DVD’s, movies, and episodes of things on Netflix.  This helps limit his exposure to loud, seizure-inducing commercials that turn him into a crazed animal of consumption. When he was little, he didn’t understand what commercials were, and so, when he happened to see them would try to make sense of how they fit into the story-line of the show he was watching. Trying to explain what ads are to a 3-year-old makes you realize how messed up our culture is. Well honey, people make things and they want us to buy them, so they use pictures to tell us how amazing the thing is. But mostly they are lies, all lies, and you should learn to ignore them.

Bean recently revealed to me what an absorbent little sponge he is at the family cottage. When we (the grown-ups), want some quiet time, we park him in front of the telly for an hour, usually watching a DVD. Then the DVD player died, so we scrolled around the channels and found very little in the way of children’s programming – so settled on a channel that plays retro cartoons all the time. Perfect! I thought. Scooby-Doo and The Smurfs on tap.

After a few cottage TV sessions, one evening he interrupted my wine-drinking with a declaration that he had seen a toy on TV that he had to have. Now. It was called a “Sea Pad” he said. It was a wondrous item that you could use in the car and take with you places, he said. On your bike, on a plane! It could also be a pillow! So many uses for this incredible toy. He asked me to Google it and figure out where we could get one, stat.

Further investigation revealed that they are actually called “Seat Pets.” The commercial for it is a terrible, low-budget affair that is over TWO minutes long. Two minutes is all it takes to fully brain-wash a child. Studies have been done. Here is a special gem:

And, hey, mom and dad, ever heard this, “Are we there yet?!” That’s one question you’ll never get when kids ride with Seat Pets! 

Bean found that last bit particularly compelling. He believed that all of his car-ride boredom was now a thing of the past, but only if we could get our hands on a Seat Pet. The only way out of it was to make non-committal remarks about how we might find one… one day… Thankfully, without further exposure he has forgotten all about Seat Pets.

Now that summer is over, we are no longer doing unchaperoned TV sessions, which is probably a good thing, as the other day in the kitchen he piped up with, Have you ever heard of Herbal Magic? It’s a great product that you can use to lose weight and be healthy!

Ugh, the pristine landscape of my child’s mind is now littered with Herbal Magic and Seat Pets and it’s all my fault! Obviously, the only solution is to move to Norway.

(Check out the ad for Seat Pets)

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