Scary stories from a lovely place
A couple of weeks after Stephen and I arrived in Australia we visited Miranda Fair to run some errands and have a mall experience. We were surprised to see so many parents pushing tiny people in enormous prams. It felt like the playgroups of the greater Sutherland Shire had emptied out and descended upon the mall – or maybe it’s always like that midweek. We had never seen so many amazing prams in our lives. They were beautiful and shiny, complicated but screaming simplicity and bearing hoods and covers and straps and baskets and oversized bags.
All the gang were there – Phil and Ted and their courageous cousin the Mountain Buggy and the Strider with it’s wider than wide wheel base. Our umbrella-fold stroller cowered into the corner. Having never seen any of these prams before, and not realising how common they are, it was a weird experience for us. We had pram envy.
I understand that my experience of pram envy is somewhat of a recent phenomena – that’s what Susan Gregory Thomas discovers during her research for her book ‘Buy, Buy Baby’ (published in 2007). She writes that the increase in price and range of branded ‘essential’ baby items, like multifunctional prams, is related to the focus of marketing to parents and increasingly younger children. In essence, about 30 years ago marketers realised that babies are big business. They’ve been capitalising ever since, creating more and more products to apparently make the parenting game a bit more bearable.
Thomas explores the different ways products are marketed to babies and toddlers – television, educational tools and characters like Elmo, by appealing to the parent’s nostalgia for their own childhoods through ‘retro’ representations of Star Wars and Mickey Mouse and of course by playing on their insecurities about correctly raising their children through an emphasis on ‘educational’ toys.
She exposes the paucity of critical thinking the government or parents have done on the negative effects of all of this. As a warning she provides research by various psychologists into the effect of television on a very young, burgeoning brain and the way this marketing and early brand recognition is causing kids to grow older younger.
It seems as though the whole ‘Baby Genius’ thing was huge in America, so much so that new mothers were given a BG book and DVD upon leaving the hospital. An obvious way it has manifested itself here is all the toys, videos and books etc that have a learning element built in. Thomas siphons a lot of research for the ordinary reader showing that the only thing babies and toddlers learn from such products is character recognition.
Hence the explosion of character related baby products like Elmo, the sisterhood of Disney Princess, The Wiggles – the list continues. Little kids learn who these figures are and then want all the stuff their face is stuck on. Thomas writes that this has led to a shift in the parent/child relationship – now it often becomes about the parent buying stuff for the kid, rather than doing stuff with the kid.
I was given ‘Buy, Buy Baby’ by a friend a few weeks ago when I wanted to think about how to raise my kids to be conscious of the wider world and not be sucked in by consumerism. It was really helpful in figuring some of that stuff out and setting me on a path to thinking about what my kids will do as they grow older.
There is more to say about what I have gleaned for myself and my kids – particularly when it comes to watching TV, but that will be Part 2.
Related posts –
To TV or not to TV