It was around 8:30 and my daughter was bouncing around the room. My husband and I flinched as she bounded closer and closer to sharp-cornered furniture and the TV. I needed to distract her and get her settled down before she hurt herself.
“Why don’t you come cuddle on the couch? It’s time to relax, you’ll need to go to bed soon.”
“Mom, I’m dancing!”
“It’s time to calm down, honey. Can I read you a book?”
“I’m a Rock Star!”
Feeling a little desperate, I came up with an idea for a quiet activity she generally enjoyed, though it wasn’t my favorite.
“Kiddo, it’s getting late. You need to settle down. Maybe you should just watch some toy videos on your Kindle.”
“Mom, watching toy videos just makes me want stuff.”
Did she just say that?
Remembering Saturday Morning Cartoons
I remember the Saturdays of my childhood. I would get up early and watch TV all morning, because Saturdays were pretty much the only time non-PBS TV was dedicated to kid shows. The shows were loads of fun: Scooby Doo, Laffolympics, Captain Cave Man, Shazam and Isis.
They were also accompanied by tons of commercials for sweetened cereal, candy, and toys. In the commercials, Barbie had hundreds of outfits and a dream house. At home, she might have 3 outfits and a shoe box. GI Joe had a perfectly contoured outdoor battlefield in the commercials, and at home, a hole my brother dug in the garden.
Later, someone figured out that cartoons were a great way to popularize toys, so they designed toys and cartoons together. It’s hard to even tell which came first: the Transformer toy or the Transformers cartoon. (According to Wikipedia, it was the toys.)
Commercials made you want things, often things that weren’t so good for you. So regulations tightened up, and now even though kids can watch cartoons 24/7, there aren’t nearly as many kid-oriented commercials for Captain Crunch and Trix. Heck, Disney Junior and Nick Junior don’t even show commercials…until you consider that the shows themselves have so much related merchandise that, like Transformers, they are essentially 22 minute commercials.
Remembering my own childhood, I was prepared for Little Bit to want a lot of toys. What I wasn’t prepared for was how she was learning about them.
Those Darn Toy Videos
My daughter has been obsessed with toy videos on YouTube for a couple of years, and she’s far from the only kid to be obsessed with them. She started asking to watch them about the same time she started preschool, so I can only assume they came up in playground conversation.
Unfortunately, she quickly went from asking to watch “C is for Cookie” and the Carmen-singing orange to clicking through videos that put those commercials from the Saturday morning cartoons of the Seventies to shame.
There are two basic kinds of toy videos that Little Bit loves. The first kind is pretty innocuous. The video maker uses toys to act out a story, like this one from Disney Cars Toy Club.
Story videos aren’t that bad. They use toys from various different play sets to tell a story. It’s not unlike what kids do with their toys naturally, just with lots of very nice toys. If this was all there was to toy videos, I wouldn’t mind them very much.
Unfortunately, the toy videos she really likes are the unwrapping videos, like this one from the FunToyzCollector.
Yep, that’s just someone unwrapping a brand new toy and telling you what’s in the box and demonstrating the toy in action (All of a sudden, I know why so many of my kid’s dolls have play doh in their hair.)
There are hundreds of these on YouTube. Some just show the toys. Some review the products. (Little Bit loves the Mommy and Gracie Show, which reviews lots of Monster High products, so much she’s been begging me for a year to do a YouTube show with her.) Others focus on collectibles like Kinder Surprise eggs and Shopkins, where you don’t know what you get until you open the package.
(Shopkins are tiny plastic anthropomorphic items that you would buy when you go shopping, like tacos or purses. They come in mixed random packages, with a new set issued every so often. In each package is at least one “Blind Bag” item, so you never know exactly what you get. Little Bit happily received about 7 packages of Shopkins for Christmas from various sources. I still don’t get how they’re a fun toy, they look like something you might get in a Happy Meal.)
As you would expect, a lot of the “I want” conversations in my house originate because of the toy videos.
Taming the Kid Consumer
Our kid is pretty fortunate. She has plenty of clothes, toys, and activities. She’s an only child, so she doesn’t have to share. She’s the only grandchild/niece on one side, so she gets lots of presents.
Taming the “I wants” isn’t always easy.
I do give her an allowance, which teaches her about money (some is for spending, some for saving, some for giving away.) An allowance also allows me to dodge arguments arising out of “I want.”
“Mom, I want a hugglepod.”
(A hugglepod is a tented hammock. The one Little Bit wants is about $200. Naturally, she discovered it through a toy video.)
“Well, I guess you’ll have to save your money. If you save most of your allowances for a year, you should have enough.”
“A year. Until you’re six and a half.”
“That’s a lot of allowances.”
“Yep, you’ll have to decide if that’s what you want to do.”
I thought that was the end of the hugglepod, but it keeps coming up in conversation. I guess it’s the Red Ryder BB Gun with the compass in the stock and this thing which tells time of Little Bit’s dreams.
So, at the moment, my little consumer focuses on saving money for her dream, at least on an intermittent basis. She’s realizing that wanting extra stuff is getting in the way of her hugglepod. I’m not sure I realized the same thing at her age.
It’s no slam dunk for kid minimalism or kid frugality. Little Bit is five and a half. She’s still breaking down after a couple of weeks of saving and using her money for something else, like the pink Power Ranger doll she had to have this week. And, since it’s her money, we let her buy it. Her money, her choices (within reason.)
Foolish Momma, Wiser Kid
Two days after making her wise pronouncement about toy videos, Little Bit was back watching them again. It’s still not my favorite form of entertainment, and I’ll think twice before suggesting them again as a way of winding down in the evening.
My daughter was right. Toy Videos just make her want stuff, and I’d rather she want a little less.
At least now I know that she seems to be reaching the same conclusion.
Any suggestions for minimizing a kid’s consumerist tendencies?
Top Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net