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.

General Merchandise:

1. Licensed characters — 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 — 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.

Screen Entertainment:

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.

Whatcha Think?:

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?


29 Responses to “A comprehensive list of all the things new parents don’t really have control over, but attempt to control anyway”

  1. Ticia says:

    I totally agree with you on the computer not being in their rooms. I also plan, with their knowledge, to occasionally check their email and where they’ve browsed. Not because I won’t trust my child, but because I am older and have more experience and may be able to say, “No, I don’t think that’s a 12 year old girl writing to you.” I would rather have my child ticked off at me, then find out later they went and met a 30 year old man.
    Where do you stand on toy cell phones? I do not plan on my child having an IPOD for a long time, and a cell phone of their own not until they’re teenagers. But, I let them play with toy cell phones, and they have all sorts of fun conversations.
    My kids do get licensed characters when they’ve shown interest in them. My boys are huge superhero fans, so we’ve given them the Justice League toys. This is more a side effect that their parents are huge comic fans, so they want them (of course so does my daughter). But, I strive not to buy items that have licensed characters on them just because for much the same reason. I know this won’t change your mind, but I thought I’d point it out as a different way to restrict licensed characters.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 6:01 am

  2. Kara says:

    We’re a “no licensed characters” family. The exceptions to this are an Elmo from Build-a-Bear and Red Fraggle. But both have fallen out of favor for other stuffed animals and have made their way to storage.

    We did just recently get Henry (he’s 4) his own mp3 player. It has a built in speaker and I threw out the earbuds that came with it. It’s easier to deal with than a cd player.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 7:06 am

  3. summer says:

    Licensed characters – sure no big deal to me
    Candy, juice and other sugary treats — needs limitations. why are there so many parents giving their child soda and juice? My daughter has never had a soda and rarely has juice. She drinks mainly water and milk and an occassional glass of fresh squeezed orange juice
    Electronic books — they bore her
    Audio books — they bore me lol we’ve never tried them actually
    Talking stuffed animals — they are ok…but annoying… and she usually gives up on them except for her talking parrot. She speaks to it and it repeats what she says in a parrots voice. She has gone for 30 minutes straight giggling at it.
    iPod/MP3 player — I just got my first one and I’m 30.
    Digital camera — cool but too expensive for me to invest in at the moment. She has used mommy’s though.
    Cell phone — 13 years old (and only the one that is two buttons so she can call mom or 911 and hang up… not call anyone else… they make those)
    Videos/DVD — Don’t see a problem with these. My daughter will watch videos with us. We will have a family movie night and watch a cartoon movie, etc.
    Television — I don’t see a problem with this if it is limited and supervised. There are some really good educational shows. My daughter says many different spanish words just from watching Dora. That being said, she asks to not turn the TV off because she enjoys regular imaginitive play time.
    Movie theaters — I think 4 still might be a little too young. We tried this with my daughter who is three. Too much distraction and not enough attention span. I’d say 5 at least and up.
    Console video games — Daddy would say yes. Mommy says no. Dad is a gamer to some degree… Mommy doesn’t have patience for games… too ADHD for that. If it is a game that really builds educational skill or includes movement like the Wii maybe. But not till she is alot older. That being said, my nephew is only 4 years old, but shows signs of autism. He can beat any 20 year old at a video game…. its quite amazing. He picked it up and played and its his comfort zone I guess.
    Educational PC games — These are ok IMHO. I think it is good for kids to learn to use a mouse and keyboard… it teaches coordination and fine skills. Computers are my passion and they pay my bills… but I don’t think you can be too young. I was a bit of a nerd growing up. My parents took me in to get tested so I could begin 1st grade early. I was 4 years old and sat down next to a computer in the IQ Testers office. I was inquisitive and just started playing with it…. (this was an old computer back in 1982ish.) I just instinctively knew what to do and they were kind of shocked. Computers come natural to me. My daughter who is three is the same way. She can use the mouse to click even the tiny X to exit a screen.
    Other software applications — If they are good…. haven’t run across too many good ones.
    Personal computer — Jr. High or High school but set with high security on a special profile with only certain websites available for browsing. google not being one of them.
    Pink and princess merchandise — must have for a girl in my opinion.
    Jewelry — I think ok to some degree. We did pierce our daughters ears and she liked it but they kept getting infected so we have let them grow back and will address it when she gets older.
    Pierced ears and make-up — see above…. makeup… I think 15 or 16 on that.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 7:07 am

  4. Marie says:

    Licensed characters – we have little to none of this in the house, whether it be clothes or stuffed animal toys. Books yes. This raises a question for me: we use cloth diapers. The only exception to this is when we travel (mostly because I’m not interested in toting dirty diapers home in my luggage or doing that much laundary on the road). When I do buy disposables for travel, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to find any that aren’t branded with Elmo or Dora. Drives me nuts…

    Other issues…
    Candy, juice and other sugary treats — she gets them mostly at Grandma’s house because Grandma doesn’t listen to me. This includes chocolate milk. Juice is a rare treat. Normally if I am concerned she is getting dehydrated (i.e. sick or been outside a great deal and not drinking her usual amount of water.)
    Electronic books — wha? why? i don’t understand. why would a kid have an electronic book?
    Audio books — No real thoughts. Could be fun for a long road trip.
    Talking stuffed animals — meh. She has some as gifts. they are on the bottom of the stack.
    iPod/MP3 player — not until she is over age 10. 1. I don’t like the isolation, 2. I don’t like the ear damage, 3. old enough to take care of them.
    Digital camera — whenever maturity level indicates she won’t lose / break it. prob around age 10.
    Cell phone — never? Maybe, sometime around highschool.
    Videos/DVD — don’t have a plan for this yet.
    Television — so far, at 18 months, she watches Jon Steward with us, and MMA fights with Daddy.
    Movie theaters — age 6 or 7?
    Console video games — we don’t have one…
    Educational PC games — ugh. most of these suck. if I see something i like, over the age 7.
    Other software applications — again, sometime after age 7
    Personal computer — like TVs, never in their rooms. This is a public piece shared property.
    Jewelry — haven’t given this any thought.
    Pierced ears and make-up — right now, I am thinking 10-12 for ears, and 13-14 for makeup.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 9:04 am

  5. MoJo says:

    We have that audio CD’s with a portable CD player and headphones are a nice alternative to DVD’s in the car for long trips. Each kid can hear what story they choose.
    Computers are a big part of our house and our kids are allowed to play games with a Fisher Price Easy Link console attached. They aren’t surfing online and they can easily choose the type of game (Arthur, Clifford, Dragon Tales, etc) they want.
    We have no cable or antenna, so DVD’s are easily monitored and played occasionally as a family.
    Soda is really sparkling water at our house and juice is served with breakfast only. Water and milk for the rest of the day.
    Going to the movies has only happened twice and both times were successful. It is rare that a movie comes along that everyone will enjoy.
    Pierced ears was such a battle when I was growing up. My dad was very against them (for no other reason than you shouldn’t put holes in your head that weren’t already there!). I had to wait till 15. And now I can say that I agree.
    I think makeup will be 16 and only in very limited amounts.
    Jewelry these days can be so toxic. I hate buying something of quality that I know is safe because it always gets lost. We string large wood beads on string and make our own.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 9:28 am

  6. AJ says:

    Ticia, cell phones are covered above. I just numbered the items to make some sense. Check #8.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 9:33 am

  7. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    Marie: For disposable diapers use Target. Theirs doesn’t have licensed characters on it.

    mp3 player: Our baby (almost a year) already has his own. However, no earphones. Its a baby mp3 player that is stuffed into a “monster” stuffed animal. He likes pressing the play button and making it go on his own — it keeps him out of the stereo equipment he is not supposed to be playing with. It’s more portable than the CD player in his room.
    Playskool Made for Me mp3 player: http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2632094

    Mommy listens to audio books, so baby is listening as well when we are in the car, etc. As long as it does not take the place of reading together, I don’t see the big deal.

    Jewelry: To me, I can not ever recall thinking of wearing jewelry as making me more attractive. I’m already attractive even when I don’t wear jewelry (which is most of the time) it’s an accessory worn sometimes to remember the person who gave it to me/the event when the jewelry was purchased. And other times to “dress” up clothes for a dressier event than I usually wear them in. And its fun to choose earrings. Do I want to wear the pearls or the gold balls or some hanging things? Or how about the crosses or the teddy bears?\

    As for the computer: He’s already been on the computer a bit too. We have a webcam and that is how we keep in touch with the grandparents.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 9:42 am

  8. Marcy says:

    We have become so dependent on technology that im afraid when we have children we wont be able to do away with it! I certainly hope this isnt the case because for the most part I agree with your rules (maybe toned down just a tad, but not much.) Heres hoping we can “kick out habits” for our kids!

    July 22nd, 2008 at 11:40 am

  9. Sandy says:

    Licensed characters – I try to avoid them when possible. I did just buy a Hello Kitty umbrella, and a Lightning McQueen one for my 4 year old twins, but those were the least obnoxious out of what was available at the store.

    Candy, juice, soda and other sugary treats – Treats are for special occasions. They don’t get any soda at all. They do get juice every morning with breakfast, but it’s 100% juice and it’s to keep my son regular.

    Talking stuffed animals – Creepy!

    iPod/MP3 player – Well, I think I should get one for myself before I ever buy one for the kids!

    Digital camera – My son started taking pictures with my sister’s digital SLR at age 2. At 2 1/2 I got him the Fisher Price camera. It took horrible pictures & broke after about 6 months. So at 3 1/2, Santa brought him a real camera. Old digital cameras can be found on ebay for less than the cost of those kid’s cameras, and they’ve got a much better picture quality!

    July 22nd, 2008 at 12:28 pm

  10. summer says:

    This is the type of cell phone I was talking about for 10 years old… maybe. This way if they get stuck or need to get ahold of mom and dad they can…. and we can limit who they get calls from. http://www.fireflymobile.com/store/firefly/

    July 22nd, 2008 at 1:17 pm

  11. Nancy says:

    General Merchandise:
    Licensed characters — I’m ok with this, to a degree. My oldest went through an obsession with Spider-man, without ever having seen the show or movies. He had a Spidey lunch box, wore the costume for Halloween and at his birthday party last year a good half the gifts were Spider-man. I couldn’t exactly take away the gifts, at 4 he would wonder where they went. I allow them to be licensed characters for Halloween, both have licensed characters on their lunch bags and my oldest has requested Star Wars items for his upcoming birthday.
    Candy, juice, soda and other sugary treats — I’m with you on the soda. Juice on occasion, except OJ in the morning. Cake, cookies, etc we allow fairly frequently. Candy is on a limited basis – one piece per day is the limit, and definitely not every day. But he’s not the type of kid who would sit down and eat a bowl of candy anyway. He’d rather eat a plate of cookies. ;)
    Electronic books and Audio books — I’m not a fan of either. I’m not really sure what the point is of these. I’d rather have the interaction with my kids – doing voices, stopping to answer questions (or ask them), etc. They both like to flip through books on their own.
    Talking stuffed animals — We don’t have these more for my own sanity than anything else.
    iPod/MP3 player — I agree here.
    Digital camera — My son got one for Christmas when he was 3. He goes through phases using it, but often forgets about it. At least until the baby figures out how to delete the pictures that are on it and he flips out.
    Cell phone — Not unless absolutely necessary because they’ll be out with friends alone. Pay phones are scarce these days so it may be needed to call home. But it will have a limited number of contacts, possibly even one of the ones that can only call 4 pre-programmed numbers.

    Screen Entertainment:
    Videos/DVD and Television: My kids do watch TV/videos on a limited and supervised basis. We have the parental controls turned on on the TV so they can only watch certain channels, not that my oldest even knows how to turn on the TV, let alone channel surf. 95% of what the kids watch is on the DVR, controlled by myself or my husband.
    Movie theaters: We took our son to his first movie at age 2.5 – Curious George. He sat enthralled through the whole movie. I think this is completely child-dependant, some kids can handle it at 2.5 or 3 and others still can’t at 5 or 6.
    Console video games: I’m guilty here. My son has 2 kid-targeted consoles and we have a Wii. We’re also getting him a DS for his birthday. But like TV/videos, his time is limited and he plays games we research ahead of time.
    Educational PC games and Other software applications happen on occasion. Again, limited and supervised. He also loves to look at pictures on the computer.
    Personal computer: I do agree on not having a PC (or a TV) in the kids’ rooms. And the computers will be completely locked down.

    Girly Stuff (presumably):
    Having boys means I don’t have to worry about this stuff. I do realize boys aren’t exempt from pierced ears, and since their dad has 2 holes in one ear (though he hasn’t worn earrings in them in a few years), it’s something I’m sure we’ll have to address eventually.

    And to Marie: Store brand diapers usually don’t have licensed characters on them. Someone else mentioned Target, and we use the BJ’s brand, which have ducks on them.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 1:21 pm

  12. Jenni says:

    I have a few short (hopefully) comments:

    1. Number 2 (the Halloween): I consider Halloween a “special occasion” so candy on this night and possibly the next night or weekend are acceptable, but then it goes away.

    2. I, as a preschool teacher, fully agree with you on the electronics! I don’t allow any materials that require a battery in the classroom…with the exception of things like flashlights. Anything they can do on the computer, with the electronic book, and all those things can, and should, be done in (what Icall) “real life”. End of story.

    3. The only rule I will change different from the ones you listed will most likely be the earings. I got them when I was 7 and will probably do the same for my daughter. It was also the age that I really asked for them. I was only allowed to wear studs until I was in high school. No danglies.

    I would also add no make-up until (fill in the blank). I haven’t yet added an age yet but I know it will be in high school and probably closer to 16. Other than specific events. Those events being, if she desires, dance recitals. I was a dancer from age 3 because I LOVED it. Still do! So, if he or she is interested I will encorage that interest and will allow makeup if it is required for the performance. Seeing as how I don’t ever wear makeup now (even on special occasions) I don’t imagine it becoming a big issue.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 2:49 pm

  13. Mama Peach says:

    Whew – I agreed with pretty much every single point you made. Some things that stuck out:

    I also see Halloween as a ‘special occasion’ – it is a huge deal in the Peach household. But otherwise no juice or sweets in this household!

    iPod – my co-worker bought her 7-year old one for Christmas and I thought that was young.

    We attempted our first movie night last Friday with Toy Story. I think she may be a bit young for that still but I like the concept.

    I am an amateur photog myself so I have been teaching my daughter to take pics with my DSLR, but I myself am also on the hunt for a second-hand point-and-shoot. Honestly taking pictures is pretty much her favourite thing to do lately.

    Cell – heck no. I got my first cell phone at 25.

    Computers and TV’s do not belong in any child’s room in my opinion.

    Jewellery – she owns some but doesn’t wear it ever.

    Pierced ears – sorry this creeps me out. I find it borderline mutilation. Why would anyone assume ANYONE (male or female) would want their ears pierced. Or anything pierced. I would like to know if the mothers of baby girls with pierced ears also pierce their sons’ ears. Because the logic to do so would be the same, MANY adult makes have pierced ears now. My co-worker had hers done at 6 weeks of age or something and hasn’t worn earrings in 10 years because during her growth as a toddler/pre-teen her holes went completely uneven. She only recently re-pierced them to fix them (she’s 33).

    I cringe when I see babies ears pierced..like marred perfection or something.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 3:25 pm

  14. addy says:

    I love how “crunchy” you guys are we don’t have much of that in rural ohio but to each his/her own. Our 4 year old has an IPOD and she listens to ABBA elvis and selena(we are bad parents). I hate all the character stuff but other people get it for her so we do not forbid it. She gets netflix once a month she likes the old school strawberry shortcake movies…I know she (miss shortcake) is ground zero for kiddie advertising but I don’t think it has warped her that much. she will not have a cell phone until she is at least 10 make up around 14 at least. I think I wore make up at around that age. She had her ears pierced as a baby its a latina thing if you are latino and your girl does not have her ears pierced watch out you will be in some trouble…a cultural thing. I had mine done as a baby and I am only a little deranged…I can pass as normal sometimes. Movies on the big screen we take our 4 year old to a show now and again if she gets all her stickers for good behavior and something appropriate is showing. she went to her first movie at age 3 she goes to live stage shows also and sees no difference…as far as one being superior to the other. she enjoys watching Ballet and veggietales the same. She does have leap pad books and loves them…great for in the car on trips…she is starting to read on her own…I think the books helped her…she can read low level books to our babies. I think it is helpful for her to spend down time by herself amusing herself with books and such and not need to be entertained by adults at all times…oh well this is the longest comment ever so enough…

    July 22nd, 2008 at 7:05 pm

  15. Chief Family Officer says:

    Wow! I haven’t even thought through a lot of the things on your list. And although I think we are reasonable, it seems we are rather liberal with our policies compared to others.

    As to characters, they are restricted only to the same extent as all other toys, i.e., we consider safety, cost and utility. We do talk about advertising and persuasion also.

    Our kids get limited treats. They are not restricted to special occasions but viewed in the overall context of their food intake, i.e., if they have generally eaten healthfully, they can have a small treat (usually a tablespoon of ice cream, a transfat free vanilla wafer, or a couple of animal crackers). My 3-year-old is certainly at an age where I can’t eat a certain way and tell him to eat differently, so limiting treats beyond this would be too much for *me*.

    We did take our 3-year-old to see Wall-E. My son loves everything garbage related, and a movie about a trash-compacting robot seemed to be made for him. He was great in the theater, and I don’t think it did him any harm at all. We’ve explained to him (and I’m sure we’ll have to keep doing so) that most movies aren’t worth seeing in the theater but he will get to go again when another really good movie comes out.

    July 22nd, 2008 at 7:06 pm

  16. AJ says:

    “I love how crunchy you guys are”

    I had to look up the term, slang for left-leaning or hippie. Is that a reference to granola eating, walking barefoot or having dreadlocks? Because I have to say, I live in the hippie capitol of California and I never see people eating granola.

    Did you really mean hippie? Because giving your child Netflix movies is anti-crunchy (due to the resources expended shipping movies by mail). Maybe you meant counter-culture or off-the-grid (outside society).

    July 22nd, 2008 at 8:11 pm

  17. cancan says:

    I have to agree with Nancy on the licensed character phenomenon…my child is 3 1/2, goes to Montessori school and has never seen Superman, Spiderman, or Batman programs, but he is quite “into” them. He knows their names, and any other action figure type toys we have are also called his “heroes”.
    I don’t know how I can control him liking something like that…I don’t even know how he was made aware of them. When he isn’t at school, he is with me.

    July 23rd, 2008 at 5:05 am

  18. addy says:

    I am not sure you qualify for “granola” status…did you vaccinate your children??? I think you have to be anti vax and pro baby sling’n til 40 pounds and pro breastfeeding til age 6 oh and only feed organic whole foods to qualify as “granola” sorry just trying to be funny…have a nice week

    July 23rd, 2008 at 6:06 am

  19. addy says:

    oops sorry forgot another “granola” requirement…you would need to homeschool your kids for the sole purpose of keeping them uncontaminated by all outside media influences.

    July 23rd, 2008 at 6:11 am

  20. anastasiav says:

    Great post, AJ. Interesting to see how my family compares with others out there. A few notes:

    Licensed characters: Because I grew up with the Pooh books, I don’t really think of them as “licensed”. We have many Pooh things from a variety of versions — Disney stuffed toys that were mine as a child, “classic” Pooh from the US and the UK. My son loves to read, but at two isn’t quite yet old enough to sit through an entire chapter of the book, however we did pick up a used book version of “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” that is is his favorite – I think because of the detailed illustrations on every page. I think of it as a good way to transition into the “full” book when he’s older.

    I wish someone would produce a lavishly illustrated (as in, big illustrations on every page) version of the original Pooh stories.

    We do also have some Sesame Street licensed toys (including a couple of electronic ones) that are for in the car only (we travel by car a great deal – living in Maine = long distances and basically no public transportation). We also watch Sesame Street videos on the web (both on YouTube and the great new SS site).

    I guess the theme here is that licensed characters from my own childhood = ok. I have no idea why that is, but it does seem to be the way the rule has evolved at my house.

    Candy, juice, soda and other sugary treats:
    Candy: My son was on prophylactic antibiotics for several months until he could have surgery to correct a defect in his urinary tract. At that time he started getting a single gumdrop as a reward for taking his medicine without a fuss. Maybe that makes us bad parents, but the first six weeks of holding down a screaming toddler to shoot medicine into his mouth will break your will too. The end result of this is that my son thinks of gumdrops as a reward for taking medicine. He may someday progress to asking for medicine so he can have a gumdrop, but that hasn’t happened yet.

    Juice: My son has never, ever been willing to drink plain water. We’ve always had to flavor it somehow. Right now we make him lemonade, which does have some sugar in it. He can also have a cup of V8 once per day.

    Audio Books: We love, love, love audio books for in the car.

    Cell Phone: We don’t have a land line, so my son sees us use cell phones all the time. He has a toy one, which he uses to “call” lots of people, and talks to people on our phones as well. As to getting his own … well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For me its less about his age and more about responsibility and need. For example, a friend who is divorced gave his six year old daughter a cell phone (with the mom’s permission) because it helped reinforce the idea that the daughter could talk to her father whenever she wanted, and eased her fears about dad “going away forever” due to the divorce. Its one of the firefly phones, so she can only use it to call numbers her parents have programed into it.

    Videos/DVD/TV: If we didn’t watch TV how would my son be able to learn to love baseball??? :-)
    I do watch sports on TV with my son, and have since he was very tiny. (We’ve also taken him to live games.) As I mentioned above, we also watch some stuff on YouTube. We also play some games on-line … on the Fisher Price site there is an ABC “game” that he loves, and I do credit his love for that game … and desire to play it over and over and over and over and over again to the fact that he knows the entire alphabet at two.

    July 23rd, 2008 at 7:34 am

  21. K G S says:

    It sounds like a lot of parents are seriously concerned about electronic devices isolating their children. At what age do you think this begins? I think many electronic devices for kids are silly, but they don’t scare me. Most days I have a hard time even taking a shower by myself because my daughter wants to do absolutely EVERYTHING with me, and I had the impression this was pretty normal toddler behavior. I can’t remember ever honestly preferring using electronics by myself to playing a board game with my parents– the times I didn’t want to interact with family members were more about cranky teenage control issues than some electronic siren song. I guess I’ve been assuming that if parents emphasize having fun together every day, young kids are pretty unlikely to isolate themselves. Do you have experiences to the contrary?

    Concerns about jewelry seem more like a practical issue to me than a philosophical one. Jewelry would have to be pretty flashy to be more of an attention-getting device than clothing is. My daughter doesn’t have pierced ears because I’m afraid she’d rip an earlobe climbing a tree with earrings on.

    July 23rd, 2008 at 11:08 am

  22. Kendra says:

    I found myself nodding in agreement with your list on just about everything.

    I basically agree with and embrace your philosophy, although I have not been as hardlined about it in practice.

    We do let our kids watch videos – we have an assortment that have mostly come to us secondhand by way of consignment sales. I recognize they are not necessarily beneficial to my kids (my kids will not be smarter/happier for having watched them), but it does extend my sanity a little longer in the afternoons when I’m trying to get dinner together.

    Regarding jewlery/princessy things – I actively resist all things Disney princess (I hate that mouse ;). However, we do have generic princess dress-ups (which my then 2yo son loved wearing more than his sis).

    I was a bit of a tomboy, and suspect my girl will be too. That said, I did let her get her ears pierced at age 4. Not exactly sure why, I think I actually wanted her to experience something “girly” b/c I don’t think she gets a lot of that exposure otherwise. It’s a bit of a contradiction, but I am okay with that decision.

    Overall tho, I do agree with you that in general, less is more, and things that require batteries or lights are poor substitutes for more organic activities/pastimes.

    July 23rd, 2008 at 11:39 am

  23. kristina says:

    Toy guns. Seriously. I thought that became a standard no- no in the 80′s, but my son has received 2 (both from family) in the last 4 months. One was a marshmallow shooter, but isn’t that a gun? The other was a wooden gun! Unbelievable. He even said “oh, my mom is really going to be upset about this.”

    July 23rd, 2008 at 3:00 pm

  24. gertie says:

    I guess our basic philosophy is that we don’t go our of our way to introduce technology or gadgets into our daughter’s life, but we also don’t go out of our way to restrict it either.

    Before baby, we didn’t watch much tv (mostly food network, history channel, and some sci-fi). We’ve reduced that a little, but not much. We did upgrade to the digital package so we could watch our shows after the girl goes to bed (she really doesn’t need to watch Battlestar Galactica, for example, but we catch every episode). My daughter (she’s 2) also watches half an episode of Sesame Street a day, while I make breakfast and clean up the kitchen. Sometimes I let her watch Finding Nemo, but I restrict it to half an hour (except for a few really tough days there…)

    Before baby, we used the computers for entertainment. Now, we still do. Both my husband and I play games, and I also read blogs, write my own, and spend a good amount of time uploading and processing photos. Our office is also the playroom, so this is my daughter’s independent play time for an hour or two in the evening. Sometimes she sits on our laps and watches, moves the mouse around, etc. She’ll probably get her own hand-me down computer and desk at a young age, but never an internet connection in her room.

    We ban talking toys from our house, and I’ve gripped about licensed products so much that we haven’t received any as gifts, except for one stuffed turtle from Finding Nemo, but it just looks like a turtle. Her basic toys are blocks, books, animals, and cooking accessories (a tea set, I’d guess you’d call it). She does great with those. As a teacher and former day care worker I can tell you that kids don’t attempt to “read” electronic books, they just push buttons or jab the stylus to make noise. Kids only attempt to “read” real books, and that’s how they learn.

    As for jewelery, I don’t have a problem with it, except for earrings. Piercing a child’s ear before they are old enough to ask for it seems like torture to me. I will let my daughter get her ear pierced as soon as she’s old enough to understand and accept the pain (not sure what age that will be). Incidentally, I’d let a son pierce his ear too, if he wanted to. My husband has an ear pierced, and I have several holes in each ear. We both wear necklaces and bracelets most of the time.

    Also, I don’t see any problem with a child making his or herself attractive. I would have a problem with a child making him or herself sexy, but I think there is an easily recognizable distinction between the two. I wouldn’t ban jewelery unless I saw my child starting to exhibit inappropriately mature behavior. I remember getting my first gold necklace at seven, and it was a big deal. It was a right of passage, but not a sexual one. I understood that I was old enough to be trusted with a valuable possession. The thought never entered my mind that boys would like me more because I had a gold necklace.

    Make-up is a much more difficult issue for me. I wear make-up every day to cover up severe rosacea. I enjoy special occasion (evening) make-up, but HATE the fact that I feel I have to wear it everyday. However, it allows me to lead a “normal” public life. That being said, my two year old daughter watches me get ready and mimics me. She could probably apply a full coat of makeup to herself if she could only open the bottles. It makes me sad, to see her happily powdering her face, and I’m at a loss as to how I will approach the makeup issue when she’s older.

    July 23rd, 2008 at 3:01 pm

  25. Jen says:

    I have some hard and fast rules and I have some areas with no rules at all. And then, there are those wacky in-betweens.

    1. Licensed characters- I have strong opinions on this one… Most of my chagrin comes with licensed characters on clothing. Frankly, it’s not the characters that bother me. It’s the free advertising for the companies that market these characters. Ugh. Granted, we do have a retro Mickey Mouse ringer T that I found in a thrift shop. I guess every person has a modicum of hypocrisy. Maybe part of my irritation is that most of those shirts are garish and loud. As for character toys, I really stay away from them, even if my daughter hasn’t seen the show they’re in. Most often it’s because I want her to have her own imagination in how she interacts with her toys and I don’t want her playing Episode 5 of Dora. With the shows she doesn’t watch, I figure it’s probable that she’ll end up seeing them one day, and the less stuff with characters, the better.

    2. Candy, Soda, Juice – We do occasional candy. Really once in a while. Soda is an absolute no. And juice is also occasional. My big gripe here is grandparents trying to be grandparent-ly and offering snacks when they aren’t needed, let alone requested. This drives me batty. DON’T offer my kid sugary snacks she hasn’t even asked for. Sorry, pet peeve.

    3. Electronic Books – I don’t really have an opinion. AJ, you say that “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.” True, but my daughter often sits alone and “reads” a regular book, as I’m sure most kids do. I think that as long as you’re not using it as a substitue, you’re golden.

    4. Audio Books – I LOVED these as a kid. I’m a huge reader and always was. But when cleaning my room or riding in the car, (I got totally carsick), these were GOLD. I’d say 5+

    5. Talking Stuffed Animals – Ditto to what you said.

    6. MP3 Player – Watching my 8 year old niece leave hers in the car countless times doesn’t make me think most kids need one until they’re much older. I agree, they’re isolating. I love mine, but again, I use it to tune out for awhile.

    7. Digital Camera – Really depends on the kid. Perhaps 4+ for a careful kid with an interest or 8+ for anyone else?

    8. Cell Phone – I say when they’re old enough to hang out alone with friends… and then, VERY limited. Definitely by the time they’re driving and most likely by 18.

    9. Videos/DVD – I much prefer these to TV… they’re occasional, and honestly? I wish they were less frequent. I’m not as perfect as I want to be

    10. TV – less frequent and hopefully decreasing as time goes by. It’s hard to go back

    11. Movie Theaters – summer brings the $1 movies where the theater is chock full of younguns and no one minds if its noisy. Other than that? 7ish

    12. Video games – love/hate. Love to play them :) Hate watching kids zone out to them. We have an original nintendo and the kid doesn’t play it at all. I do want a Wii :)

    13. 14. 15. Computer stuff? I don’t know…

    16. Princess and Pink – my daughter is the daughter of a self-proclaimed tomboy and yet still loves pink and princess stuff. I have no idea where the passion comes from. I say as long as it’s not licensed, I don’t care.

    17. Jewelry – if it’s a special piece from someone for a special occasion, I don’t see the harm.

    18. Make up and ear piercing – ear piercing can happen (studs only) when she’s old enough to understand the process and how to take care of them Make up? I’d be happy with never. I don’t wear it so my daughter isn’t imitating me. I can only hope it lasts.

    I’m “crunchy” by my surrounding crowd’s views… i think it just means different tending towards the natural.

    July 24th, 2008 at 1:08 pm

  26. Diana says:

    Thanks for the list, AJ. Found myself agreeing with most of it, though we do use videos and the kids have LeapPad thingies for marathon car trips…

    The anti-princess thing, though, has probably been the biggest for me as it’s sooo pervasive! I’ve written on my blog about it 3 times, the most recently of which is linked at my URL here.

    July 24th, 2008 at 11:06 pm

  27. Joe says:

    Cell Phones?


    Only a doctor or a firefighter, or maybe a superhero needs to be reached at a moment’s notice. Sure, there is always the “in an emergency” thing… well, everyone else has a cellphone if an emergency comes up. I observe kids everywhere with their eyes buried in that tiny screen, or ignoring the people around them in social group because they are too busy yakking on the phone. I don’t recall ever seeing a kid lending his cellphone to a stranded motorist, though.

    There is a lot of concern about brain damage/cancer from cellphone use, and it does not appear to be fear-mongering at this point. I’ve got a newsflash for you: they are completely unnecessary, and your child will learn to become selfish and unaccountable… “I didn’t have a signal”, or “I am going to be late”.

    July 28th, 2008 at 12:30 pm

  28. Jennifer says:

    Computers – never in their rooms. Ha ha ha.

    I was pretty smug about this – our computer’s in the living room, where we monitor everything VERY closely.

    Then our 13-year-old son was given a free computer and I decided it was okay in his room – no Internet connection – as long as he only used it for specific 1/2 hour increments.

    Until… I walked in one day and was shocked to see a Google window on his screen. Surprise! The neighbours have wireless Internet, and the same teacher who gave him the free PC slipped him a wireless Internet card without telling us. Sheesh.

    We’re back to NO COMPUTERS IN THE BEDROOMS now. :-)

    July 29th, 2008 at 1:01 pm

  29. Laura says:

    My son is 3 and gets curious/interested when he sees anything in the non-gun weapon category (swords, etc.). To me, weapons of any kind will be off-limits in our home permanently.

    September 17th, 2008 at 8:49 am