Giving Your Kids Character Without Characters

[twitter]I just bought tickets for Z and I to check out Yo Gabba Gabba Live this fall. It will be his first live concert tour type show and the first time we’ve really buckled under the pressure of commercial characterization.

Sure, he has a train set and a few pieces are from that train, but most of the track and cars are from Ikea or the generic wooden track bin in the toy store.

Sure, we re-enact lines from The Backyardigans Save The Day episode every night in the bath, but he doesnt have a complete bed sheet and towel set plastered with Pablo, Austin, Uniqua and Tyrone.

Yes, we brought him to a baby fair to get his picture taken with Max and Ruby when he was younger, and he and I will run around the yard pretending to be Super Bunny and Zoom Zoom, but the gear associated with the characters hasn’t infiltrated his toy chest.

Go out and try to buy your kids a bike helmet at WalMart and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything without Cars, Dora, or Elmo on it. Wander the aisles of toys and they’re all tied to Bob The Builder, Thomas The Tank Engine or Diego.

Try and buy diapers without Winnie the Pooh or Elmo or Nemo on the waist band – you can’t. From the minute our children are hours old, the message of characterization starts to weave into their lives.

Two weeks ago, Thomas arrived at our local train yard. The crowds were huge, the tickets were more expensive than usual and there were tantrums from the target audience.

20100530 heritage park - 36The week after that show, we took Z to the same yard and for $3 we rode a full sized train. It was vintage engine pulling the cars, not a bright blue one, but you couldn’t tell that from the inside and all that mattered was the whistle blew and steam chugged.

I’ve heard stories of mall appearances by the likes of Dora where parents offered mall security hundreds of dollars to skip the line and give their children access. Working at a radio station I’ve received calls from frantic parents when The Spice Girls were on tour saying they needed to get their 3 year old tickets to the show.

Z’s 3rd birthday party last weekend featured a blue cupcake cake. The streamers and noisemakers and loot bags were bright and colourful, but there was no Buzz, Woody or Shrek to be found anywhere.

20100530 zacharie party - 11Parents Magazine reports that some birthday parties are becoming extravagant like weddings. Ours was burgers and chips and carrots with our family and neighbours. The star of the show wasn’t a bouncy castle or clown – it was my friend’s 5 pound pug.

I’m trying to give Z a balance in his life. Yes, characters will be involved – it’s inevitable. But we’ll let him choose the ones he enjoys and we won’t over expose him to the marketing of the characters. He’s 3 – he doesn’t know that Yo Gabba Gabba is on tour and wouldn’t really miss it if we didn’t go, but it’s a show we watch together, so we’ll enjoy it together.

What’s your parenting policy when it comes to characters? Is your playroom filled with major players or is it a more generic state of play?

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  1. Derek K. Miller June 5, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Our kids didn't get too wrapped up in character commercialization, though we did have a Teletubbies poster on the fridge, and we took them to see The Wiggles (original lineup!) and Blue's Clues in concert. Oh, and the Ernie and Bert lamp cover in my daughter's bedroom, but I bought that before she was even born.

    But the house wasn't festooned with the stuff. Now my oldest has plastered her room with posters, though — of The Beatles. I can live with that.

  2. jenny June 6, 2010 at 12:05 am

    STOP reading this and go watch the documentary “How the kids took over” . It has been really easy for us to keep our kids away from most characters. Buy no-name diapers (or use cloth). Buy books you loved as a kid. eat at home. hide hide hide and it still sneaks in. Our 4 year old was playing restaurant the other day and he said he could only make burgers. what kind of restaurant is this?? he replied it's Old Macdonalds restaurant from the Olympics (yes we got cable for the Olympics). he sees the neighbours sword fighting with lightsabres in the park and asked one of them what they were playing. he misunderstood the answer and now thinks they are some pollution-fighters squad with “lightsavers”. Not to mention that at Halloween he saw a lot of kids dressed as Transfarmers. I NEVER correct him, I adore the idea of transfarmers…cars that transform into carrots??? now that's cool. So while our kids are not consumers of more plastic figurines etc, it is very hard for me as a mom not to feel polarized. I am considered some conspiracy theorist, granola crunching, holier than though freak to my Dora lovin' peers! Even before I had kids I never shopped at Costco and Walmart – one of the main reasons is I can't afford to shop there – the crap in Walmart is so cheap that I'd buy it. So I don't go in at all…ever. want free toys?get inspired online then walk out your door to the nearest park and make em! pine cones make awesome Fisher Price Little People. a few bits of felt and they are dressed!. Rocks in an old tin is instant pot of soup/stew. the list goes on and on.

  3. jenny June 6, 2010 at 12:08 am

    I would like to add that I don't judge people for buying the stuff. we all love our kids and that's what makes them amazing….our kids and their kids and your kids will all turn out ok. characters aren't a make em or break em in my mind!

  4. Buzz Bishop June 7, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Jenny. The point of the post wasnt to judge anyone on what they do, more to start the conversation based on my own take on things.

    Personally, I think parents exposing their kids to characters too early just leads to a huge outlay of money or overhyped merchandise. But, if that's the way you want to raise your kids – go ahead, they're your kids.

  5. Buzz Bishop June 7, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I saw some GREAT Beatles artwork at HomeSense this week .. was VERY tempted to pick it up for Z's room. His favorite song is still Yellow Submarine.

    Beatles > Wiggles.

  6. Aisling June 17, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Was thinking about this post last weekend when we were camping. Saw a dad bring his son to the pool. The boy was decked head to toe in Spiderman gear. Swimsuit, lifejacket, swimshoes and yes, even his towel.

  7. Aisling June 18, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Was thinking about this post last weekend when we were camping. Saw a dad bring his son to the pool. The boy was decked head to toe in Spiderman gear. Swimsuit, lifejacket, swimshoes and yes, even his towel.

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