A little while ago, I was visiting with a friend and we started laughing about how we feel like occasional failures as Montessori parents. We sometimes allow our children to consume products with high-fructose corn syrup. Our homes contain a few toys manufactured from plastic, a select few of which operate on batteries. (They were gifts! I swear!) I may have, once or twice, said “Because I said so!” as a reason for a parental directive, rather than calmly helping my son make his own best choices. Etc. We plan to start a Facebook support group for others like us. (At our son’s year-end school picnic a couple of weeks ago, I was greatly relieved to see that many other parents were similarly prone to exasperation. I felt less alone in the world.)
One of the ways in which I fear I have qualified for #MontessoriparentingFAIL is that we let The Critter watch a limited amount of television. I tell myself that this is OK because we restrict his viewing to age-appropriate shows, he doesn’t watch all that much, and I try to watch along with him and engage with him about what he’s watching. (He tends to ignore that last.) We keep things tuned to NickJr, which has a nice selection of good shows (“Blue’s Clues, “Dora the Explorer”) and no commercials. I’ve even found I enjoy watching a few with him. (I like “Little Bill.” Let us not speak of “Yo Gabba Gabba!”)
Anyhow, the other afternoon I had turned on the television for him and was flipping through the stations when I noticed that “Spongebob Squarepants” was on. Over the years I’ve caught snippets here and there, and I must admit I found it amusing. I don’t have any illusion that it’s good for kids, but it’s fun and absurd in a way I enjoy. So, “what the hell?” I thought and sat down to watch some Spongebob with my kid. On regular Nickelodeon! Which meant commercials.
My esteemed co-blogger has already written about the morality of advertising to children, and on the merits I agreed with her that it is immoral to do so. But I had kind of filed it away as an abstraction, and one I had survived as a child to boot. That is, until the commercial for Cocoa Puffs came on.
“I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!” shrieked Sonny the Cuckoo Bird.
“Daddy, what’s ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs’?” inquired my son.
“What’s ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs’?” “What’s Cocoa Puffs?” When Cocoa Puffs were explained as “something for breakfast, but Daddy thinks they’re yucky” (which is true), “Can I have Cocoa Puffs?” “What’s ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs’?” Ad nauseum. Daddy’s increasingly obvious irritation at the question only gave repetition added savor.
This after having watched a single 30-second spot only once. The commercial was like an especially hardy streptococcus on the agar of my child’s brain. I have to hand it to the folks on Madison Avenue, they clearly know their business.
With that, my child’s brief exposure to television commercials came to an end. My own little study, with a convenience sample n of 1, has driven home the point Rose already argued so well. It is clearly not in my child’s interest to gorge himself on chocolate-flavored puffed grain, but if he’d had his druthers that’s what he would have done. If for no reason other than preserving my own sanity, we are sticking to advertisement-free television for the foreseeable future, and as he gets older I hope I’ll be able to teach my son to resist the manipulation of marketing as much as anyone can.