Parents have it rough, and this year perhaps more than most. Toy companies are marketing directly at kids, and the kids are responding, "Yes!" while parents' wallets are saying, "No!"

But who's to blame? The parents, for not setting good boundaries for their kids? The kids, for having low discernment skills? Or the advertisers, for putting on an irresistible show? Perhaps a little of all three.

I read an article yesterday about parents complaining to toy companies this Christmas. The organization leading the push-back is Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and they want ads to stop being aimed at kids. Let parents make the decisions, they say.

I like this idea, but even I want half of the toys on TV, and I'm 35. Maybe it's because I only had one Star Wars action figure as a kid: no spaceships, no detailed model of a far away planet, no accompanying action-figure troops, and certainly no special effects, like these kids had:

I'm still jealous, and this ad is from the 80's. Commercials have come a long, tempting, way since then, and kids are even more seduced now. Only the strongest could resist such an onslaught of allure. I want to say to the marketing minds behind this brilliance, "Stop sucking us in. Enough is enough. Help us to lead simple lives. Quit enticing me...er, my children!"

But my first responsibility is not to change the market. It's to curb my own desires and to teach discernment to my kids. My girls have to learn the difference between wants and needs, quality and junk, genuine interests and peer pressure. I can't protect them forever.

Now what about the advertisers? They certainly carry guilt, but how much? Well, just imagine how toy advertising would change if they cared more about our kids than about profit. We might be able to say, "Susie, if the advertiser says it's a good toy, then it's a good toy because he loves us and wants the best for you." Sort of a What Would Jesus Market? approach.

I must admit, Ad folks, I change the channel on most of your toy commercials. They're just too much and too often and too flashy. Yet, I try to give you the benefit of the doubt because what if you aren't thinking about the 1000s of other toys on the shelf, but only the one you're pushing because you swear it's good for my child's development and because you hope it will replace the more meaningless toys my kids already have?

I know if I were you, these are the toys I'd want to market. And I'd want to tell the kids AND the parents about them.

Readers, check out the article to hear what parents and advertisers are saying about toy ads this year. Or visit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and send a ready-made letter to the toy companies. Or, tell me what - if any - toy commercials should NOT be taken off the air.


Bradley J Moore December 2, 2008 at 8:02 PM  

I would say I am to blame too as a parent, wanting to saturate my girls with "stuff" on Christmas, sometimes whether they want it or not. Every year I think "This year we will just make crafts instead of buying junk" but it never pans out. I am much better, however, than I was a few years ago!

Sam Van Eman December 2, 2008 at 9:30 PM  

Brad, I want to saturate myself with stuff. I don't really, truly want it, but I missed out on a lot of the thrills when I was a kid.

For instance, I never owned a video game, so during college I bought a yard-sale Atari that came with about 40 games: Frogger, Pitfall, Combat.... I played until my fingers hurt - which was about a week.

Then I got bored and gave it away.

I think I knew this would happen, so it isn't surprising that I don't give much to my kids at Christmas nowadays.

And I don't feel guilty about this because they have grandparents.

Billy Coffey December 8, 2008 at 8:45 AM  

I agree with this 100 percent. It's sad, really, that I not only have to shield my kids from certain television shows, but from certain commercials as well. That goes for me, too.

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