Why do you "bother" living commercial-free?


Brandy King

This post was written by guest blogger Brandy King of Knowledge Linking. After spending the last eight years working with research on children and media, Brandy now faces the challenge of raising two young boys in our media-saturated and commercialized world. 

After writing about my small victory over a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack last month, I got a lot of responses from other parents who are also trying to live commercial-free. But the other response I got was curiosity about "why I bother." My main reasons are below; what are yours?

Why do I bother trying to limit commercialized items in our family?

Creativity. It is often said that "play is a child's work." Children learn about the world through the toys they play with, the stories they create, and the playmates they engage with. The more a toy does on its own, the less imagination is required to make it fun. Many movie and TV-themed toys do it all for kids, leaving them with nothing to do but watch.To illustrate my point, here are some phrases from the description of a Cars2 Racetrack toy:

  • "Kids can now act out their favorite scenes from the movie"(instead of using their imagination to create entirely different adventures for the cars)
  • "Shake up your car, place it on the track, and watch it go" (instead of encouraging kinetic learning by zooming the cars around with their hands on road they made out of blocks)
  • "Vehicles will have their own specific engine sounds and phrases from the movie" (instead of actively using new vocabulary and learning how to engage in conversation by creating their own dialogue)

Creativity now trumps integrity and global thinking in being considered the most important leadership quality. And the recent death of visionary Steve Jobs brought to light how integral creativity was to his success in revolutionizing modern communication.

I want my children to have constant practice creating amazing stories and environments from scratch. I want them to learn for themselves that necessity is the mother of invention. I want them to rely on their own ambition to navigate through life rather than waiting for someone else to tell them what to do. And I believe that limiting the pre-defined personalities and scripts inherent in licensed characters helps them toward these ends.

Why do I bother writing about this experience?

Resisting commercial culture is a constant battle, and in fact, I think "commercial-free" is too generous a term for what I'm doing. My reality is more like "commercialism in moderation". Yes, I resisted that Thomas backpack, but I caved on the Thomas toothbrush to try to bring more motivation to dental hygiene. And while I have not purchased any toys with media tie-ins, I have let him keep some of the toys he has received as gifts. Is this hypocritical? Some may say yes. But in my mind, I can only do so much, and I feel that the effort I've put forth has already made a difference. For example, after getting his hands on a toy catalog, I was sure my 3 year old would start asking for things. Boy was I thrilled when he excitedly pointed to a toy and said "Mama, I bet we could make something like this!"

Parenting is not easy and most people do not want to add the additional challenge of living commercial-free in a media-saturated world. But you and I think it's a challenge worth the effort. I write about these experiences because it helps me identify where I've succeeded and where I am still being challenged.

I write about these experiences because I want to hear from other parents who've stayed the course: What strategies have worked? Where have you given in? Did it make a difference? Was it worth the effort? I invite you to comment below -- Let's keep the discussion going so that the sum of our ideas benefits all of our children.

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