On Friday, son (3) came home from playgroup saying Ben 10 was "coolio" and he wanted Ben 10 for Christmas. He has never seen Ben 10, and only glancingly seen some adverts that haven't been whipped away quick enough after Humpf or something equally innocuous has finished. "I think you'll like something else better" I said. "Maybe a 2 wheeler scooter?" "YEAH! The sparks one!" What sparks one? Oh, that sparks one. How long does it take a brand to be recognised by a 3 year old? About 20 seconds, apparently. And i'm a mean mummy TV policer. I don't buy branded clothing for myself, I don't buy branded food, I am mean all round. So it has intrigued me that, since starting playgroup, son has become brand aware.
How? Kids go into playgroup with branded lunchboxes, Timmy, Thomas, Roary, Ben 10. They wear branded t-shirts,(all the above plus Disney). The girls sport hideous, hideous, pink Disney Princess outfits. (Take note daughter: this will not be you. Thankfully, she has already shorn the hair and disfigured the Snow White doll, so there's hope). A lot of marketing goes on directly targeted at kids. Read this article to recognise the full horror. Research shows that young pre-schoolers cannot tell the difference between adverts and reality, and are especially open to brand suggestion. So, short of no tv at all, what can you do? I believe that, as we are in a media world, kids need to learn how to manage their tv and PC viewing and learn what is real, what is selling, and what is entertainment. I can cope with "pester power", but I don't want my kids branded. I don't want them to be able to recognise brands even I don't. But already, a quick recce of my kids rooms and the house, apart from the toys, shows a brand awareness. When shopping, the kids clamour for the cereal with the charcaters on. Daughter wanted the Princess pants for her first set of pants. She's never seen a Disney Princess movie, but her older friend has. When teaching, I saw young girls with playboy pencil cases. Toddlers wear Tommy Hilfinger tops. It's everywhere, and it's damaging, I think. This may well be our last "brand free" year or two in our house.
What can you do? I'd like suggestions. Here's what I do so far.
- I buy second hand, brand free kids clothes.
- I don't wear brands myself
- I buy generic food, and grow my own. "Finest" is just a fine package.
- I explain the cost of something, and that the drawing and branding just mean it's "more pennies".
- I explain that brands are "all the same" and that YOU are different, individual, wouldn't you rather be you? So we decorate our lunchboxes etc.
- I say people like individual gifts, not "everyone" gifts. Let's make our own.
- I encourage individuality in clothing. As an ex indie chick, I love it! It means that son has gone out wearing his superhero cape, wellies, and long johns, but hey! Daughter loves leggings and legwarmers and nighties.
- We thrift. We make an outfit. I show how you can get more for your pennies.
But they are 2 and 3. When they are 6 and 7, it will be harder. This year, their stocking fillers are all ebay second handers. When they are older, will this still be possible? It worries me. My kids are MY kids, but also their own people. I want them to have a strong sense of what a brand is, and why they don't need them, before they reach school, so that they are more able to withstand the peer pressure and must-haves. ( At some point I will blog on just how worried I am about "Free schools" and the possibility for branding there. In the USA, schools are affiliated to Pepsi, or Coke. Really.) Of course, it has ever been thus, but back when I was a nipper, my yearnings were for slip on shoes and pedal pushers in maroon burgundy, not fly trainers and Ipods. Girls wore orange, red and the aforementiond burgundy, not just pink. Lego was for both sexes. Things are different now. The ELC does everything in blue and pink. Brands are everywhere. Kids of 8 have Facebooks pages, and can see all the ads. Of course parents have a responsibility, but even the meanest parent (me: no tv apart from 1.5 policed hours, no PC apart from the ever excellent Boowa and Kwala, and that is in the lounge, and will be for EVERMORE. You hear me, one day teen kids? It's never going to happen, that PC and TV in your room!) Navigating this branded world is so confusing for a toddler preschooler. How can we ensure that we teach that branded is not best? Please do comment.
Eric Schlosser: "Fast Food Nation"
Naomi Klein: "No Logo"