Just Say "No"?

This got me thinking this week. (Warning: Rambling to follow.) Now, I’m not saying I’m in favor of high heels for babies, partially because, ew, wrong, and partially because, knowing I have roughly the same coordination as a toddler, and knowing how well I walk in heels, I foresee disaster. But I feel like there’s this attitude in the media I consume which responds to just about all of this nonsense with, “But where are the parents? Why can’t they just say no?” And I notice that, for the most part, the people writing these posts are not themselves parents.

Now, I don’t want to come across as one of those, “Say no to my precious princess? Never!” parents (although she’s nearly 18 months old, still breastfeeding, and still sleeping in my f-ing bed, so I clearly do have a problem saying no to my precious princess). But I don’t think these writers appreciate just how difficult saying no all the time is.

There are thousands of things that reasonable parents don’t want their kids to have that are being marketed, aggressively, to children. Baby high heels. Makeovers for seven-year-olds. Thongs in size 2T. “Breakfast” “cereals” that are basically globs of high-fructose corn syrup held together with sawdust. Staying tuned for the next 22-minute advertisement for a line of licensed-character products. BRATZ dolls. Video games the point of which is killing women dressed like BRATZ dolls. Disney princesses.* $130 blue jeans as worn by Taylor Swift or some such person. And on and on and on. And the people marketing these things have spent billions of dollars insuring that your precious princes and princesses will not shut up about these products for more than 20 seconds a day. They call it the “Nag Factor”; it’s been a wildly successful marketing ploy.

You, as a parent, do not have billions of dollars to promote your agenda of steamed broccoli and nice, non-gender-specific, developementally oriented wooden toys from Sweden. You also don’t want your entire relationship with your kids to be defined by the word “No.” That may sound self-serving, but all of the parenting stuff I’ve been reading recently suggests that this is true for all ages. At the toddler stage, you are advised to design your home environment so that you don’t have to say “No” all the time, because your child will tune it out if it’s all they ever hear, and also to try to only say “No” if the thing they’re doing is actually dangerous, as opposed to just annoying or messy. With older children, the advise to pick your battles and respect your kids’ choices to the extent possible is pretty prevalent right now. Furthermore, it’s more than just self-serving to not have a constant litany of “No” and “But Mo-om!” in your house. It develops trust and it means your kids are more likely to listen to you when you really, really need them to. Also, it’s one thing to say, “No, I won’t be buying you the toy you want above all others” on an average Tuesday, but every parent wants to see that look of joy and delight on Christmas morning, a Chanukah evening, or a birthday that they can produce by getting their child what they wanted most in their dearest, deepest heart.

So you might, as a parent, decide that high heels are fine for your three-year-old, just to keep the peace, even though you think it’s atrocious that a three-year-old should be taught to strive for that particular image. But one of the posters said that this is one area where the government should not shoulder the responsibilities that fairly belong to the parents, and I think that’s not necessarily the right way to think about this. I mean, yes, if toddler high heels were the only objectionable thing being advertised, then fine, leave the burden on the parents. But it’s not, not by a long shot, and there are things governments can do to ease the burden of saying “No” all the time on parents. Like not allowing for the kind of aggressive marketing aimed at children. They got rid of Joe Camel; can’t they get rid of other stuff, as well? Lucky Charms aren’t much better for your children than cigarettes. And there’s a lot more that I’m sure can be done to control the kinds of messages and products being marketed to children, and that the government can do, and indeed, only the government can do.

It might not be a bad idea for parents to do something, too, but I have a feeling that their would be too much to hope that any parents’ group wouldn’t fracture for lack of agreement about what, exactly, is bad for children. Like, there’s a parents’ group that evidently got a warning label put on the original Sesame Street DVDs stating that these were not for children because it depicted children, like, biking around their neighborhoods unsupervised and such. I would clearly not agree with that. Or I’m sure there would be parents’ groups that frowned on frank discussions of sex in media aimed at the tween set. I wouldn’t. But plenty of parents I’m sure would be fine with Lucky Charms, and I sometimes feel like a wingnut with my objection to Grand Theft Auto. You’d have to have several associations of parents, each with their own set of problems with children’s stuff, giving their various certifications and boycotts. I don’t know how that would work, really. But it’s a thought.

Okay, here’s where I’m going to ramble a bit, so if you prefer more coherent posts, stop reading now. First of all, with the sexualization of kids at younger and younger ages. I buy some of Zoe’s clothes at Gymboree, which makes pretty high-quality and cute stuff for children.** But I’ve had a big problem with how very gendered their clothing is, even the stuff for newborns. And it’s one thing to have, you know, a monkey for the boys and a monkey with a PINK BOW for girls even for the 0-3 month set because gosh, don’t you know, girls just like pink, it’s nothing to do with socialization at all, but then I noticed something that really bugged me. Zoe already had a pair of shorts from the girl side, and they were pretty short, but I didn’t care, I mean, she was a baby, what difference does it make? But then, we had a bit of a clothing emergency at the mall – namely, she peed all over her clothes while I was changing her. So we ran – nakey – into the Gymboree and over to their sales racks. Well, I already had most of the stuff on the girl side so I went to the boy side and got her an adorable t-shirt with an elephant on it and blue shorts. When I put the shorts on her, I realized that the boy shorts were about three inches longer than the girl shorts. And then that just struck me as wrong. Why do girls who are not even a year old yet need to show off their legs more than boys? Why can’t they produce basically the same shape shorts for the same shape bodies – baby-shaped bodies? That’s just weird, I’m sorry, but it is.

Second, not for nothing, but every time I read posts about the discipline parents ought to be giving children and aren’t, I notice a theme. I notice that most of the people writing do not have children. And I notice that there are a lot of stories along the lines of, “If I ever behaved like that, my mother would put a stop to it so fast it would make your head spin.” But I don’t hear, “When my child behaved like that, I put a stop to it immediately; you never saw my children behave like that.” It’s easy to think of your mom as whatever it is you think moms are supposed to be, but until and unless you have children (and sometimes not even then), you don’t realize that your mom had to put effort into that stance, and may remember the incidences in question in a far different light. You may remember that, that time you screamed for a cookie in the supermarket, your mother took you right out of the supermarket and sent you to your room, but what you don’t remember is that she was very frustrated and upset and embarrassed by the first fifteen minutes of you shouting for that cookie, and that because she had to take you out of the store, all she had to give you for lunch the next day was a weeks-old pear and some crackers. You may not remember that, in fact, you screamed for cookies EVERY TIME you went to the supermarket, which resulted in her having to rearrange her life to go to the supermarket without you, which was enormously trying and difficult. You know, The Daily Show had a great routine recently where they were trying to figure out what Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly were talking about when they kept on about a purer, simpler time in America and eventually realized that these men were referring to their own childhoods. And one’s own childhood is always experienced differently than the adults who are experiencing the exact same time, because duh. That is all.

Finally- and I’ll keep this short because God knows it touches on everything – why are we so willing in this country to absolve the government of responsibility for everything? Oh, that’s not for the government, that’s for parents (and a lot falls into that category, including figuring out affordable education and health care). Oh, that’s not for government, that’s for corporations to police themselves on (and they do such a good job of policing themselves). Oh, that’s not for the federal government, that’s for the state governments, who aren’t going to deal with it either. Excuse me, but what do we have a government for? The United States is not exactly fending off invasions every moment of the day; we can let the government spend money and time on something other than the military. And if the government is not there in order to use its resources – resources it has because of the very collectivity of its nature – to make the lives of its citizens better and easier, and to police the organizations (like corporations) who don’t have its citizens’ best interest at heart, then what exactly is government for? To give 24-hour news channels something to do?

Okay, I’ll stop. God knows I could go on. And on. But I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to do so in other posts.

*My mother-in-law found a Disney-princess-themed kitchen set at a garage sale which I find hilarious because if you turn the pages in the “cookbook,” you hear things like “Ariel, why don’t you make that delicious apple pie the prince likes so much!” I’m serious. All else aside, why are princesses baking their own pies?

**Actually, as I was linking this, I saw their new Daisies collection and omg so cute. Clearly Zoe will be sporting some of those pieces this spring.

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