Do guarded green parents inadvertently push their kids toward binge consumption? This is a question I posed to myself while sitting at a homey table in a wood paneled diner, considering my own overreaching fathering methods. Waiting for our orders to arrive, my wife Liza and I had attempted to make small talk with our 6-year-old to no avail. Devon’s gaze was fixed on the diner’s television set. It was spewing candy-coated, technicolor hogwash interspersed with undifferentiated marketing hype; and when Devon suggested that we should get him the gun-toting, steroid pumping action figure that had just been advertised, I shot a look of despair in Liza’s direction. “Well, what do you expect? He doesn’t watch TV at home,” she quipped.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
It’s true. My wife and I are proud Luddites. We don’t own cell phones, PDAs or that hybrid combination of the two, the omnipresent iPad. We read books and magazines with pages you can make dog-eared. And we do not own an operational television set, much less subscribe to a cable provider. This means that while at home our son isn’t buffeted from the inundation of marketing messages most children who watch kiddie channels are subject to. But is living on the other extreme possibly leading him down a path to over consumption due to a lack of real-world chances of developing coping methods when faced with the inevitable lure of advertising and its crafty appeal?
Like dieting, there are those who believe childhood deprivation only fosters a greater desire for the contraband treat. Don’t feed your kids sugars? Then be sure to take out a great long-term dental plan. On the other hand, another school of thought argues that not only do kids not miss the things they never had, but they also develop a distaste for the verboten items.
Whenever questions like this puzzle me, I turn to Dr. Steven Mendel, my psychologist father-in-law. A relationship counselor who has authored the book Love Is Not Enough: Making Your Marriage Work, Steven is not an expert in problems plaguing our progeny. But being intimately involved in our television battles – after a weekend with his grandparents Devon once bid their television goodbye with a heartfelt hug – Steven was willing to quiz a few of his professional colleagues on the matter.
The consensus is that the question cannot be easily answered and is dependent on the method of parenting applied when refusing to introduce your child to a particular societal or dietary vice. “The cravings later in life depend on the way the limitations are communicated to the child,” says Dr. Mendel summing up the responses he received. “If it is done in a withholding way, without any involvement by the child, craving is more likely. If the rationale for the prohibition is explained and done in a more collaborative way, craving is less likely.” So the question again: Do parents who prefer hand-me-downs to store-bought duds nurture shopaholics? Not if from a young age the parents explain to the kid the reason behind their decision to forgo clothing with the price tag still attached.
I have been finding ways to explain to my son how advertising is meant to lead to compulsive consumption … And it seems to be working. Just recently while riding the subway, Devon saw an ad for Budweiser that featured a basketball-dribbling member of the New York Knicks. “Daddy,” he said drawing my attention to the ad. “I think they want you to believe that beer makes you play better basketball. But that can’t be true.” Now if only he could find the same truth in the ads for the NERF series of toy guns.