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Modern parents' toy story

  • 12 September 2008

Last night, our six-year-old son had a nightmare. Despite reassurance and a cuddle in mum and dad's bed, his eyes were open and his brain was switched on. He had decided he wasn't going back to sleep. So, at five in the morning, we found ourselves in the peacefulness of the pre-dawn, drinking hot chocolates and musing on the important topics of our world.

Like most parents, we're concerned about what it means to be raising children in this modern world. So concerned that we've turned to researching and writing to help ourselves and others make sense of the cavalcade of images and ideas our children are exposed to. Media violence, advertising and commercialisation are topics discussed regularly at our dinner table. We try to break the issues down into concepts and words our children understand.

But over that hot chocolate conversation we got a glimpse of what it is we're trying to achieve. In between sips, our son told us he was going to save up his money to buy a Ninja Turtle: one of those small, green karate machines which, along with Pokemon, Bratz and Shrek, represent all that we tried to flee by tree-changing to a more self-sufficient lifestyle in rural Victoria.

And while we've managed to keep most of that stuff out of our household up to now, when our six-year-old told us he wanted to buy one, we just smiled.

We smiled because our son has been indoctrinated. Long before he could speak, he has heard us rant about advertising and commercialisation. He can't watch commercial TV or enter a retail zone without us deconstructing the ads — or deconstructing them himself. He talks about how he feels when other kids engage in violent play, and we have long had a 'no gunplay' rule in our house.

Despite all this, his statement that he'd like a Ninja Turtle demonstrates two things.

The first is that our children are not our children. They, like all of us, live in a world saturated in brands, commercialism and all manner of hyped-up toys. Completely denying that means living some sort of reclusive lifestyle that can cut people off from more than just popular culture: believe us — we know.

The second is that in expressing his wish, we've experienced a greater parenting triumph than if he never asked at all. It shows that he feels enough security and autonomy to tell