Dr. Juliet Schorr, author of “Born to Buy,” has five things parents can do to protect their kids from today's consumer culture.
- Reduce or eliminate TV. In my view, the most important step is to dramatically reduce or eliminate television. This removes a source of ongoing exposure to ads and the insidious messages of children's consumer culture. It frees the parent from incessant nagging and the perpetual cycle of longing, acquisition, and disillusionment.
- Restrict Internet and video game use. Encourage creative, rather than highly commercialized, computer uses. The average American child spends much too much time in front of screens. Try to keep that within moderate limits. My children do use the computer, but they are not doing IM. They play Scrabble online. I don't let them spend much time on sites with a lot of advertising. When Neopets started "paying" children with online rewards for watching McDonald's commercials, it was obvious the time had come to eliminate Neopets.
- Eat home-cooked, tasty dinners as a family. And as a corollary, don't go to fast food outlets. In my family, we eat together and cook virtually every night. It means we're all eating well, enjoying meals, and we don't get addicted to high-fat, high-sugar foods. Dinner helps create an emotional anchor for our children, which makes their lives easier. If the kids have athletic practice or a music lesson, we almost always schedule around it rather than give up on family dinner.
- Find some non-commercial activities that you enjoy as a family, and cultivate them. We like to hike and climb small mountains. We listen to baseball on the radio. We read a lot. We cook and bake, and spend time socializing as a family with other families. We consciously try not to get overscheduled. Lately we've been doing crossword puzzles.
- Walk your talk. Many of us are concerned about our children's consumerist orientation but fail to see how our own lifestyles embody high levels of materialism. We can't be hypocrites and succeed at raising decommercialized children. So if we don't want our children to be slaves to designer labels, TV, or junk food, we've got to cut out those things from our own lives. Especially as children grow, we need to practice what we preach. It sounds obvious, but it's vitally important. And while we're at it, if we really care about the commercialization of our children, it's worth getting active in our own communities about these issues.