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Karen Brennan
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Hidden messages in advertising and limiting choices for the young child

Monday, December 9, 2013

This week we will begin looking at the chapter on Environment in Simplicity Parenting.”   We have spent some time already talking about the challenges of too much stuff.  But there are other interesting parts of this chapter, as well.  One part that struck me as I was reading the chapter again is the effect of marketing, especially on children.  He cites Mary Pipher’s book, The Shelter of Each Other on this subject.  She says that the unspoken messages of advertising are:

1.  To be unhappy with what we have
2. “I am the center of the universe and I want what I want now”
3. Products can solve complex human problems, and meet our needs
4. Buying products is important

Not really the lessons we want to teach our children!  But it is easy for us as adults in our society to feel this way, too.  I still sometimes feel that if I just had the right thing, I would be happier and more satisfied with my life.  Do you ever feel that way?

Another topic Kim writes about is choice.  He says, “Too much stuff leads to too many choices.”  In our society, we love to give our children choices.  We think it is kind to let them choose and that making choices helps them to develop their personalities. But Kim says, “If you overwhelm a child with stuff—with choices and pseudochoices—before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: “More!”  We actually expand and protect their childhoods by limiting their choices when they are little.  They need us to be the adults and know what is best for them; they need us to protect them and not give them the burden of being responsible for making these kind of decisions.  In Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, Barbara Patterson describes too many choices as calling forth the “I want” part of their personality prematurely.  “They become more and more conscious of their likes and dislikes…In the long run, offering children choices breeds egotism: they become self-centered and less sensitive to the needs of others.”

But really, our children are making choices all of the time in their play and in their movement.  They are learning all of the time through the choices they make.  In Your Child’s Growing Mind, Jane Healy suggests that we offer young children uncomplicated choices that you both can live with.  Again, this comes down to knowing your child and knowing what they can handle.  By taking away a lot of the choices around toys, food, clothing and other stuff, we allow them to focus on the choices they make on their own, and we are given the joy and privilege of watching them unfold.   Healy says, “Learning to make simple decisions—and minor mistakes—is hard but necessary.  Children’s conception of reality needs to include close personal experiences of cause and effect. (“If I press too hard on the crayons, they will break.” “If I pull out the bottom shirt from the pile, the others will fall on me.”)  Children are able to make these kinds of choices, and they need to.  These choices are made with actions, and other than creating an appropriate environment and keeping them safe, they don’t need our involvement in these type of choices.