The call to compromise on my environmental ideals comes more often now that Little Eco is older. She asks for packaged food in her lunch box and begs for the latest fad plastic toy.
Marketers are trying to teach her that life is about buying, whereas I am trying to teach her that happiness can’t be bought: How she contributes and what she creates is more important than what she consumes.
I use creativity and conscious compromise to help her navigate the pervasive power of marketing.
My strategy to minimise the influence of consumer culture includes avoiding branded licensed toys. I dislike how advertisers capitalise on a child’s love of a character by leveraging it to sell products.
Little Eco recently asked for a Frozen (as in the Disney movie) themed birthday party. I contemplated trying to persuade her to pick another less branded theme. Instead, I decided to follow her wishes and approach it simply.
She wasn’t asking me to spend money on disposable branded party plates and cups. She wanted to celebrate her love for a movie and its characters.
I helped her make her own invitations, decorated with hand-made paper snowflakes. We had so much fun making the snowflakes that we made more to use as party decorations.
There was sugar-laden party food, but I kept it simple. Instead of a party table laden with choices, there were only two options: melting snowman biscuits and snowball meringues. The children later made their own pizzas.
For party games, they built their own snowman and played pin the nose on Olaf the snowman. The party was everything she wanted and in the end, was less of a compromise than I expected.
Occasional compromise paired with a good dose of education about responsible consumption is another of my strategies.
Little Eco has been pestering me for a Rainbow Loom for months. Initially, I resisted buying her one of these plastic jewellery-making kits and instead taught her how to weave bracelets using a cardboard loom.
The pestering continued.
In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne suggests fad toys play on a child’s fear of not having what everyone else has. ‘‘As a child grows into adolescence, not only will peer pressure increase, so will the prices of the latest must-have gadget,’’ Payne writes. He suggests that the longer you play along with the ‘‘keeping up’’ game, the more difficult it can be to stop.
Despite Payne’s advice and my concerns about the environmental impact of all those rubber bands, I eventually gave in to my daughter’s pestering power.
There is a good reason why harnessing ‘‘pester power’’ is one of marketers’ favourite ways to influence the purchasing of parents. It works.
I bought her a Rainbow Loom and used it as an opportunity to teach her about responsible consumption. We spoke of the risk that the rubber bands pose to pets and wildlife. Rainbow Loom bands can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed and they may get wrapped around the beak or neck of wildlife.
We brainstormed solutions and together came up with a plan to make sure she uses her loom bands wisely and disposes of them properly. She now reuses her bands and makes sure she does not leave them lying around.
Like most fad toys, the Rainbow Loom fad seems to have passed, at least in our household. The loom sits neglected and hundreds of small rubber bands have disappeared. With millions of kits sold, that’s a lot of non-degradable bands hanging around somewhere.
I’m hoping the next fad is finger knitting.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 26th May 2014.