How to stop our children from being avid consumers

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Marketing aimed at children is everywhere. I recently watched the movie Consuming Kids and I learned how the cartoons on TV are produced and developed parallel to products they launch in the market (it´s actually quite obvious once you think about it). In the early 80s, The Ninja Turtles were released along with 1000 products. Yes, one thousand! There is very little chance that a child who´s a fan of any specific cartoon on TV won´t nag for products with those characters.

There´s no innocence in a company making an ¨educational¨ cartoon that will make the parents proud of seeing their children learning and then the release of backpacks, cups, shirts and etc. Think of The Backyardigans, Barney, Dora the Explorer–Ballerina, they all offer some sweet content on the screen don´t they? And then they offer some maybe cheap and easily accessible (especially by your child) content in the supermarket too.

Well, you know it, before you can realize, before your baby is 8 months old, you house is filled with plastic crap, toys that are not needed, that break, that don´t stimulate much creativity, and even if you don´t buy much of that, many get to your home in the form of presents.

So, the first thing to do is definitely limiting and monitoring your child´s TV time  and on this post you can see how Luísa and I go with absolutely no screen time at all (we´ve been on it for some good 4 months now).

Another thing I decided to do is also limiting my purchases of any branded-plastic toy, cheap or expensive to the birthday parties that we go to. Last year, I recycled a nice puzzle game Luísa had and gave that to a little boy turning three. It was fun because it was a special toy, of good quality and Luísa agreed to give that. She than helped me to wrap it up in magazine leafs.

As that was my first time doing it, I felt a bit insecure. Would the parents think I was just trying to save money? Would anyone think I was cheap? As I pondered on these self judgments, I realized that of course not, the parents were lovely ¨organic¨ and the puzzle was really nice stuff.

At Luísa´s last birthday, one of her friends who´s 4-years old, recycled a bunch of great toys to give to her. There was so much good quality stuff, that had entertained our little friend for some years (a doll, a puzzle, a crazy puzzle with different cards – that I´m actually keeping for our next long journey – a board game and beauty bag with combs and brushes) and we loved receiving those. Another friend made her a magic wand with her mom, simple and nice.

This time, we had a birthday to go last week, and I wanted to make a toy from scratch, just like I learned once at Luísa´s kindergarten back in Brazil. In that school it became a tradition that for children´s day (Can there be a date more aimed at consuming than that? Does it even exist where you live?) the parents have to go and recycle materials into hand crafted great toys.

It´s always impressive what the parents can come up with some glue gun, plastic and cartoon boxes, paint, sizors and more materials you can think of.

So I started by searching ideas on the internet. It took me 40 minutes browsing through crocodiles and elephants until I decided on a box guitar. I loved it as soon as I saw it. It was simple, it was beautiful and it was easy to make. This is the model I got most inspired from.

I had asked Luísa a few days before what we could make together and she didn´t come up with any idea. When I mentioned the guitar box, she said: ¨Yes, I know how to make it!¨. And she wasn´t lying, last year she did make a bunch of instruments at her kindergarten in Brazil, so she did know about it.

And so I looked for the materials I had, bought a bit of paint, and we got set to make it. We used a milk cartoon box covered with paper for the body of the guitar and a paper roll for the neck. In the beginning, Luísa wasn´t helping much, but she finally got into it, she painted the paper roll and she went wild on sticking tape all over the box.

I had planned on decorating the box with more paint, but I couldn´t stop Luísa´s urge to make it ¨water-proof¨, she was so focused on covering every inch of that box with it and I followed along cutting little pieces and handing them to her until she felt (about 30 minutes later) that it was ready. Later, I used some glitter glue for a final decoration.

This article was originally posted on Tripping Mom by Marilia Di Cesare on May 30, 2011. Republished with authorization. Click here for all other posts.

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