Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where do you draw the line?

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.

When I was interviewing other parents about how they handle holiday gifts, I had two mothers say the same thing to me: I let my kids have licensed characters on pajamas, but not on any other clothes. Their rationale was that they didn’t want their children to be walking advertisements.

I had never thought of commercialization in terms of items used in the home vs. out of the home. So this got me thinking: How is it that I draw the line? What are the determining factors I use to make decisions around commercialized items? And what criteria do other parents use?

I realized that my determining factor essentially comes down to the intent behind the gift. For example, I’ve let a few Mickey Mouse shirts slip into my kids’ wardrobe because they were brought home as gifts from Disney World by close relatives. And I let a Cars racetrack toy through because my son’s Godfather excitedly picked it out as a Christmas gift and couldn’t wait to put it together with him. But when acquaintances pick up a quick gift to bring with them with they visit, they seem to automatically go for whatever they can find with the latest “boy-oriented” Disney character on it. Since my kids don’t really know Disney characters, and don’t usually become attached to the gift, off to charity it goes.

Since this “intent criteria” is not hard and fast, I often wonder if I’m being hypocritical. But in the end, I always come back to my real goal being “commercialization in moderation”, so I feel OK about the very few commercialized items we do have in the house. And just like decisions around what to feed a baby or how to put them to sleep, I believe that what ultimately matters is that it’s the most comfortable decision for that individual family.

Other parents, like the friends I interviewed, had certain delineations, certain rules, that they could more easily apply; characters were either allowed (pajamas), or not allowed (school clothes). (I’m assuming this is more useful criteria than mine when it comes to helping kids understand why decisions are made). And some parents feel like they ultimately want no part of supporting certain companies, so just make a blanket rule not to allow anything even questionably commercialized into the house.

I’m really curious to hear from other parents about how they make decisions. In fact, I’m so interested to hear and learn from others that I am co-hosting a Twitter chat with CCFC on this very topic! I hope you’ll join us, here are the details:

Parenting in a Commercialized World: Where Do You Draw the Line?

February 2nd, 2012 at 9pm EST at hashtag #CCFCchat
Hosted by:
Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood
Twitter: @commercialfree
Brandy King
of Knowledge Linking Information Services Twitter: @knowldgelinking
Melissa Wardy
of Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly Twitter: @pigtailpals


  1. We don't buy character toys, but if they are given as a gift, then it ends up in our house. We talk about our toys and why we buy ones without characters and now that my oldest is almost 7 she seems to have some understanding of the reasons we don't have lots of character toys. My middle, who is almost 5, does ask for toys at the store and it is amazing to hear her big sister explain to her that those toys won't help her brain grow as much as other toys!

  2. My line has become more flexible as my daughter grows up. She had zero character toys/clothes as a baby and well past the toddler years. By 3, character toys started trickling in for bday gifts from outsiders & some family. Now by 5, she knows all the character names, even those whose show or movie she hasn't seen.
    I do not allow any character clothing. Not even PJ's. First, I don't see the difference between jammies & daywear and second, all the character clothes are so cheaply made and just don't feel nice on the skin.
    We have a few disney princess polly pockets and tons of my little pony. My sister was a barbie kid so she loaded my daughter up on barbie this past year. I allowed it, under protest. But my daughter knows Mom does not buy barbie. And she knows mom is not a huge fan of barbie. I do not dictate what others buy my child. But I do explain that we prefer more open ended play things or arts & crafts. I think is the key is making sure the child understands that every toy doesn't have to have a name one it. And that toys are used in a variety of ways. Our My Little Pony's & Barbies get mixed in with our plastic animals and have parties at the watering hole (the barbie pool). The soft fold up animal barn from Ikea makes a great shelter for Polly Pockets with the animals. Blocks & Ponies mix well to make mazes & castles. Banning character toys 100% is hard to do. Making them less offensive is easy. And rewarding too. I encourage mixing toys up. That way it doesn't become you only do this with this and that with that. Right now, my 5 year old is playing with generic fairy paper dolls who are taking care of the my little ponies. And that works for me...

  3. My son is almost 4, and we have very few character toys. Unfortunately, many people have given us Disney Cars toys, and I feel guilty throwing them out. He just knows they have cars on them, as he's never seen the movies. Almost all branded books we've received have been very poor quality, and I've thrown them out. We don't need poor quality books (branded or otherwise) when they are so many good ones to pick from!
    My MIL loves getting him Disney Cars toys, and I don't want to discard everything that comes from her. She's not doing it with bad intention and I don't want to offend her by telling her what to buy.
    I see this getting harder once he goes to school and starts recognizing all the characters and perhaps asking for them.

  4. Quite often I suggest gifts deemed appropriate by me to our relatives. I don't think it should be taboo to talk to family and friends about avoiding commercialized toys and toys made of plastic. I have also bought many second hand toys, as well as, removed the packaging from a new toy (so it cannot be identified as such!).

  5. Boy, I feel pretty controlling! I have not allowed my son (my one and only) to be given toys indiscriminately at all. Especially when he was little, I really didn't want him to get a lot of toys. I wanted him to play with what was available and really limited what I allowed people to give him. I wanted him to learn to play creatively with dirt, boxes, pillows, balls, goop, string, and yes, some blocks and connecting toys. That said, now that he is older (nearly 5) I have one family member who piles on the gifts, including a robot, endless cars, trucks, videos, electric items, remote control items, etc. Many of these gifts end up hidden away but I do let him have some of them sometimes. Before I saw the video from CCFC I allowed him to have some Bob the Builder puzzles, etc. as he loved Bob the Builder. And I allowed in some Sesame Street lovies. Once my preschool director turned me onto the problems even with these favorites, I buried them in his toy world. Definitely not on his clothes, even PJs; I don't want it worming his way into his dreams! It all has become much harder as he goes to public schools and gets all the Spider Man/Batman etc. stuff crammed down his throat... at the same time as his peers inform him it is very uncool to wear pink....

  6. I allow my daughter to watch Disney movies and someday we will take her to Disney world. I talk about the stereotyping (she's sick to death of the talk!). But I draw the line at buying Disney-themed soup, snacks, shoes, clothing and toys when I can easily buy a non-character choice. She desperately wanted the game "Hed Banz" this past Christmas. All I could find was the Disney version anywhere so i told her maybe by the time her birthday comes, it'll be back in stock. It's not hard to regulate before they hit school. Now that she's a first grader, it's tough but I stand fast. She asked me if we could shop at Abercrombie this week. Really? I just wish my neighbors were on board too!

  7. Love hearing all these great examples! Hoping some of you can join us for our Twitter chat tonight!