Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008
A comprehensive list of all the things new parents don’t really have control over, but attempt to control anyway
There are a lot of products, and let’s face it, ideas that I attempt to regulate in my home.
I’m talking big ticket items, ones whose exposure influences the values or perspective of my children. Or not, depending on your point of view.
I drew up a list of products I monitor, discussed with my wife when we will introduce them to our kids, and wrote down our ideas. Some of our answers are guesswork — particularly with regard to the teen years. Our daughter is 4-years-old and our son is 4-months-old.
This mental jog was started by a post from Jennifer Lance at Eco Child’s Play when she asked, when is a child too young for a cell phone, digital camera and iPod?
You’ll see that I clearly fall on the restrictive side of the parenting scale. I believe that withholding things for a while won’t hurt, and may very well help a child’s development.
1. Licensed characters â€” The Doras, Spidermen and Hello Kitties are restricted with rare exceptions. I don’t see the need for them, or for marketers to be telling my kids what’s important. We have Winnie the Pooh books and a Thomas the Train set, but our daughter hasn’t interacted with those characters in other products or media.
Yesterday we were in a Target store when our daughter asked, “Why is Tigger on the shampoo?” I’m so proud of her. “Because someone who makes that product thinks it will sell better if they put that
character on it.”
2. Candy, juice, soda and other sugary treats â€” Cake is for birthdays. Candy and juice are for special occasions. Life is so much easier, kids so much healthier and dental bills so much lighter when children don’t expect and don’t ask for sweet things.
Our first three Halloweens were easy enough. Hide the candy and my daughter forgets about it. Future years will be focused on candy-free events, or hosting our own events (haunted cardboard fort party, anyone?) and some loosening of the candy rules on this day.
3. Electronic books — Never. Electronic learn-to-read toys encourage solo activity at a time when the instructive guidance and socialization provided by another living person are most important.
However, for an accomplished reader I’m okay with a true e-book gadget (used solely for unassisted reading) if a high quality DRM-free model ever hits the market.
4. Audio books — Age 3, but with a parent present. We’ve listened to the original Winnie the Pooh stories, Frosty the Snowman and Peter and the Wolf. We follow along in a book as the stories proceed.
5. Talking stuffed animals — Never. Don’t see the need. Kids should give their own voices to their animals.
6. iPod/MP3 player — Not in the toddler years, certainly not before age 5. Players used with headphones or ear pieces are isolating devices. We play music through speakers for everyone to enjoy and respond to.
7. Digital camera — Guilty as charged because photography is part of my job. I introduced cameras at age 2. They held my daughter’s interest for a few months as she emulated Dad. Now? She doesn’t care and I don’t push it. And I won’t push it with my second child.
8. Cell phone — I’m guessing cell phones come in when our children are old enough to be out of the home with only their friends, or we have a distinct and important need for one.
Our guideline: time spent staring at a screen should be for educational purposes or done as family entertainment. It shall never be used to pacify or babysit (isolate) our kids.
9. Videos/DVD – My wife reminded me that our first DVD came at 3 years. It was a DVD “postcard” from a friend who visited Yosemite… about the most boring fusion of music and nature footage possible.
Our first instructional DVD came 6 months later in the form of a concert recording to prepare our daughter for a live children’s performance. That’s all so far.
I’m itching to start a weekly family movie night because it will be just so much fun. The “when?” of it is complicated by a 4-year gap between our daughter and son, so for several years it will take place after our youngest has gone to bed. But for now, no movies at home.
10. Television — Perhaps 8-years-old and restricted to educational or sports programs, probably related to schooling or activities (cycling and soccer). If that seems absurd, know that this blueprint is from a family I know whose child turned out just fine without TV being a driving force in his life.
Since age 2 our daughter has seen TV snippets at PBS-sponsored library events, but she finds books far more interesting. Having young children in our home actually decreased our TV watching. Last year we canceled cable. That may reverse if or when we resume following the Tour de France and start following FIFA football (soccer).
11. Movie theaters — Between 4- and 8-years-old, when the right movie comes along, hopefully before invitations from friends start showing up.
12. Console video games — Never. My kids will get plenty of play time at friends’ homes.
I’d personally love a Nintendo Wii for its physical nature and the opportunity to be used as a family activity, but that doesn’t make it a necessary thing. And, it’s awful easy for it to become a time sucker.
I still haven’t resolved what I’m going to do with the Atari 2600 in my closet.
13. Educational PC games — A qualified “never.” For example, games to “Learn your colors” or “Learn to read” are out. If it can easily be done in the real world or its purpose achieved through another means, then the PC is out. I’m reading a lot into the word “game” when I say “never.” See below.
14. Other software applications — 4 to 8-years-old* when the time is right. We present computers as tools, not entertainment centers. Sorry Bill Gates. That doesn’t mean software can’t be fun or you can’t use it to do fun things. I’ve failed as a parent if learning is conceived of as a chore.
*We have occasionally used our PC for viewing photos and snippet videos for purely fun purposes, but not often. Now at 4-years-old the PC is usually used to look up a subject we’ve discussed in the offline world. For example, “What kind of crab did we discover at the beach today?”
15. Personal computer — Never in our child’s room. Our PCs will remain accessible to everyone in our family room, in order to monitor content and length of use and encourage family dialogue.
Girly Stuff (presumably):
16. Pink and princess merchandise — It’s been present from birth in our home to one degree or another, but severely restricted. I’ll write more about this later in the week.
17. Jewelry – Simple jewelry has been among the items in our daughter’s dress-up bin since the beginning, but jewelry as a public accessory won’t
happen until age 13. Yeah, it’s an arbitrary number. My belief is that jewelry as a means to make oneself attractive is a mature thing to be using, and I prefer to let kids embrace their childhood as long as possible. They have the rest of their lives to be adults.
Granted, our daughter’s thought process is more like, “Ooh, it’s sparkly, I want to wear it.” A necklace is on the same level as stickers to her. However, wearing it is establishing a practice, a habit, an activity that carries well beyond toddlerhood. Today it’s for one thing, tomorrow another. Right now, clothing mostly serves a utilitarian purpose for her, so I’m not about to give her high heels or a low-cut shirt just because she might (I hope not) consider them neat.
18. Pierced ears and make-up — You guessed it. Age 13. I prefer a clear delineation between childhood and young adulthood, and for me, pierced ears are something I expect to see on teens.
19. Update: Toy Guns — How did I miss this one? Kristina noted toy guns in a comment found below. My wife and I weren’t raised in a gun culture and our community isn’t into it too much. Gun toys won’t be in our homes, not the obvious water pistols nor the less obvious things like armed Lego figures. My gosh, if we need weaponry in the Lego world, all hope is lost.
Feel free to post comments about the issues you have the strongest feelings about and your rationale for your decisions.
I’m not so interested in where you disagree with me (because most of you will on numerous points). The typical reaction is probably, “Whoah AJ, that’s sooo not a big deal for me.”
I’d love to hear about the specific product types you are most concerned about and the rationale you’ve devised for how and when to introduce those products. And hey, did I omit any important items from the list?