A friend of mine volunteers for an organization called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In a time when marketers have unprecedented access to children, I think it’s a worthy cause.
I had occasion to think about this last night after running into a fellow homeschooling mom I hadn’t seen in a long time. Our kids are grown now so we talked about how they’re doing, what they’re doing, and life after homeschooling. We also did a fair amount of reminiscing, and one of our topics was the lack of product associated with our homeschooling, and how different things are for homeschoolers starting out today.
The natural result of our chosen lifestyle was that we gave our kids a relatively commercial-free childhood. I recall one holiday season we were shopping at a local market near my mother’s home. Santa was there inviting children onto his lap. My extroverted daughter, who was about nine at the time, gladly took him up on his offer. When he asked her what she wanted for Christmas she shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t care. Whatever you want to bring me.” I’ll never forget the confused look on that man’s face. It was hard for him to comprehend that a child might not have a long list of material desires. There’s nothing wrong with wanting things, of course, but in general, my kids rarely asked for stuff. Unless it was at the supermarket and they were requesting a particular food or snack, I can’t recall a single incident of being in a store and having my kids ask me to buy something for them.
How did our family and others create a commercial-free life? Some ideas are below.
From the time they were infants, we met our kids’ needs Whether it was feeding on demand, responding to cries of distress, or providing plenty of loving touch and communication, we responded to our babies’ signals as best we could, and continued to do so as they grew older. When children’s emotional and physical needs are met, they are more likely to feel satisfied with their lives.
They were rarely exposed to advertising Our choosing not to have a television and to homeschool our kids probably helped with this, but I’m sure that the fact that our kids were not directly marketed to had a lot to do with their lack of interest in the latest toys, or clothes, or other fads. In a world where kids are using computers and smartphones at ever younger ages, minimizing advertising is a challenge. CCFC has lots of good ideas for facing that challenge.
They spent most of their time in imaginative play How many times have you heard someone lament that their kid got a new toy and all they wanted to do was play with the box? The truth is, a box is inherently more interesting than most toys. It provides, as Anne of Green Gables would say, more scope for the imagination. Our kids spent countless hours playing with sticks, rocks, sand, snow, water, bubbles, the rope swing in our backyard, and our beloved ducks. They made fairy houses and created elaborate imaginary societies. They rode bicycles and unicycles. They read books and drew pictures and sang songs. They made puppets out of socks then put on shows with them. Of course they also played with toys, but even when they were using their dollhouse or Calico Critters, they were actively employing their imaginations.
We modeled commercial-free living As I’ve already mentioned, we didn’t have a television. We also thought long and hard before making any purchase, asking ourselves whether this was something we needed or simply wanted. The latter wouldn’t necessarily cancel out the purchase, but often it did. We prioritized pursuing our own interests over accumulating things. Since modeling is a powerful way children learn from adults, I am sure that our lack of materialism rubbed off on our kids.
We lived a community-based lifestyle These things were staples in our lives: park days, gathering at the beach, joining friends for nature walks, field trips to the museum, play dates, parties, getting together with friends to read, socialize, and partake of meals. Making copious use of the local library. Volunteering at soup kitchens and elsewhere in the community. Singing in a chorus. All these activities kept our kids engaged with and interested in the world and people rather than acquiring stuff. This lifestyle also laid the groundwork for our kids to explore their various interests in a self-directed way, maintaining curiosity and love of learning, factors that offer more life satisfaction than any material possession ever could.