Commercialism Creeps In

By: Brandy King

Do you ever look around your house and realize that despite all your good intentions, commercialism has somehow crept in?  When my son was born in 2008 I vowed to keep commercialism out of our house.

Five years later, I’ve got two kids (ages 4.5 and 2), vehicles from Cars strewn about our family room, and the Thomas the Train theme song bursting out of an engine I just stepped on. So sometimes I look around and think:

How did this happen???

Some of these items were gifts that I hesitantly let in, but the kids took to immediately. Others are items I actually purchased myself like the tiny die-cast Guido and Luigi from Cars that fit just perfectly in my son’s Christmas stocking. Most recently, I even let my 4 year old purchase a Thomas train he had asked for because it was a good first lesson in money — we talked about saving up for things he wanted, figured out just how many quarters he would need from his piggy bank, and headed to the store.

So what difference have commercialized toys made in my children’s play?

Something that CCFC’s director Susan Linn said has been resonating in my head as the reason these toys have not changed the way my children play: “A good toy is 90 percent child and 10 percent toy… [These kinds of toys] encourage play that is driven by a child’s interests, needs and experiences.”

Instead of seeing my children act out media scripts like I feared they would,  I see them imbuing these commercialized toys with their own “interests, needs and experiences.”  I think (and hope!) this is because of the other efforts we have made to resist the influence of the media in our house:

  1. We integrate the licensed-character toys into a wide variety of other playthings.  Only four of the 20 trains we own are from Thomas. When they need another character in the mix, we grab the closest generic train and call it whatever name they need. This stretches their imagination and teaches them how to be resourceful.
  2. We keep their media use to a minimum.  Because they do not watch a lot of TV, their play with licensed characters does not stick to a script they have seen repeatedly. Their trains behave in all kinds of ways instead of having the one personality a show has created for them (and I am often informed that James and Edward are girl trains).
  3. We continue to resist the vast majority of commercialized items.  Do I feel guilty that I’ve let the commercialization creep in? Yes. But I think that happens with a lot things we say we’ll never do when we are parents, then find ourselves doing when we face reality. I still feel proud that we’ve resisted the majority of items that could have entered our home, and try to focus on creating active imaginations that encourage them to use all their toys in novel ways.

Has commercialism crept into your house? What difference has it made? Would love to hear about your experience in the comments below. If you’re attending the 2013 CCFC Summit, I’ll be leading a lunch discussion called “Conversations with Your Kids: How to Keep Them Commercial-Free” and hope to see you there!

This post was written by guest blogger Brandy King of Knowledge Linking. After spending eight years working with research on children and media, Brandy now faces the challenge of raising two young boys in our media-saturated and commercialized world.