It was a Sunday afternoon and we had just finished a “Sunday special lunch.” I was just beginning to work on some pending chores when the kids came scuttling and announced that there is an art competition within the apartment complex organized by a well-known jewelry brand.

“Please, can we go?” the pestering began. I didn’t think much of it and saw it as a Sunday afternoon well-spent drowned in artwork, so I let them. Well, they came back two hours later and dropped a card in my hand. It contained the jewelry showroom’s address and mentioned that if we wanted to collect our child’s ‘prize,” we would need to visit their showroom.

I explained to her that this was a marketing gimmick and they are not really interested in giving away prizes. They are only interested in making Amma go to their showroom and buy something so they can make some money. She seemed convinced and let it go.

Pester power

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Two days later, she comes back with the details of another girl winning the “prize.” To top it off, her Amma had also got some pretty jewelry. The “prize” was “free.” Now, it became tougher for me to convince her that I don’t want to spend my money on their product. I explained some more but this time she was visibly upset. I suspect she saw it more as my not being interested in her prize.

A few days later, I saw another huge hoarding that screamed “Kids Carnival – uncover the artist in your child!!!” And no, this wasn’t for any children’s toys, games or anything to do with art or children. This had to do with selling homes in an upscale area.

In the days that followed, I started paying special attention to the kinds of things my kids asked for, where they saw it, why they wanted it and how many times I am able to deny it to them.

Enter the supermarket and the kids pick up some candy/chocolate close to the billing counter. Every time it happens, I tell them it’s unhealthy. Sometimes my authority wins, other times their pleading wins. This time, however, my kids countered it with, “No Ma, it is healthy. They say it has healthy Vitamins (my younger one even pointed out the cute bright blurb that read that read: Now fortified with blah, blah, blah). So I went back and checked some ads. It was true — the ads reiterated that it was a ‘healthy and tasty’ choice for kids.

Most mornings, when I am rushing to give them good, fresh, healthy, home-made breakfast, I hear this, “Amma — give us something nutritious and quick to eat — like chocos and honey loops.” I neither have the time nor the patience in the mornings to go through another round of lecturing that they contain high amounts of sugar, so I shoot it down with, “Eat what I give you.” I painstakingly pack some great vegetable rolls with good old chapatis, but they think they are deprived of the Tasty Maggi. Of course, they also envy the lucky boy whose mom packed Maggi and fruit cakes for lunch. We drive through the streets, and they want the deliciously healthy pizza, the natural fruit ice-cream, the fortified and flavored milk shake, the nutritious fizz drink. They also ask for the dunking cookie to make their milk tastier.

Can you see a pattern here? Just sample the number of “Nos” a typical parent has to say to these kids — everyday! And to think the most common grouse I hear about today’s parenting style is that ‘parents don’t say NO enough’! That, kids of today are brought up with a sense of entitlement because they don’t hear NO enough?

I am not even delving on the ‘importance of saying NO‘ as parents. There’s enough said and done about the likes of “How to say no“, “The benefits of limit-setting” and even its polar opposite- “The Yes-parenting style.

But the truth is: We get tired of saying no all the time. We get tired of guarding our children against constant enticement towards useless, and worse, harmful products. There is no denying that it can be an enormous drain on constructive parenting energies.

So I went soul-searching to find some alarming statistics:

The advertising industry spends $12 billion per year on ads targeted to children, bombarding young audiences with persuasive messages through media such as television and the Internet. The average child is exposed to more than 40,000 TV commercials a year, according to studies. And ads are reaching children through new media technologies and even in schools–with corporate-sponsored educational materials and product placements in students’ textbooks.
Further, they state that research recommendations have been adopted to help counter the potential harmful effects of advertising on children, particularly children ages 8 and younger who lack the cognitive ability to recognize advertising’s persuasive intent.

Dr. Dan Cook, Assistant Professor of Advertising and Sociology at the University of Illinois, says:

Observe a child and parent in a store. That high-pitched whining you’ll hear coming from the cereal aisle is more than just the pleadings of a single kid bent on getting a box of Fruit Loops into the shopping cart. It is the sound of thousands of hours of market research, of an immense coordination of people, ideas and resources, of decades of social and economic change all rolled into a single, ‘Mommy, pleeease!

“If it’s within [kids’] reach, they will touch it, and if they touch it, there’s at least a chance that Mom or Dad will relent and buy it,” writes retail anthropologist, Paco Underhill.

Dr. Kunkel, senior author of the American Psychological Association(APA) re-iterates :

“Targeting young children can instigate parent-child conflicts when parents deny their children’s requests. It also has a high likelihood of encouraging and even advocating behaviors like alcoholism when young children are repeatedly shown beer ads during a football game.”

OK, that explains the morning fights we get into. So naturally, the next question is: What is being done about this mass conversion of young minds to the culture of consumerism?

For starters, here’s finally some acknowledgement of the impact of their targeting kids by some major FMCG brands. At least 11 major brands that come under theInternational Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA) have pledged to stop targeting children below the age of 12.

Under the new policy, which is an extension of the commitments made by IFBA members in 2008, responsible advertising and marketing towards children will cover outdoor, mobile and SMS marketing, interactive gaming, DVD/CD-ROM, direct marketing, cinema and product placement other than TV, print and the internet. Though many of these brands already adhere to these guidelines on mainstream media such as television and print, they will now restrict themselves from targeting kids on below-the-line advertising activities that include tie-ups with cartoon characters or joint promotions at events targeted at kids.

Furthermore, some countries like the United Kingdom, Denmark, Greece and Belgium have passed legislations that restrict advertising to children. Other countries like Sweden, Quebec and Norway have made it illegal to target young children below the age of 12.

However, it is established that the role of parents can never be diminished in such a context. What can we do guard our little men and ladies from the terror of consumerism?

1. Tell them: The only way to counter the influence on their minds is to keep influencing them the other way — to let them know the reality behind all that glam and glitter. Sure, this will come with its share of conflicts, arguments and guilt. To stick to our guns and keep that pester power in check takes the last ounce of energy we have left in us — and yet, we have to do it.

2. Show them: When they see us battling temptations and consciously making healthy, responsible choices — they can’t help but notice. And then imbibe. Hopefully, when are able to make their own decisions, they will know the art of battling temptation.

After all, we are not only trusted custodians of their little physical selves. We need to rein in their enormous mental prowess too!

So give yourselves some credit, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to do a lot of convincing!!!

Do you employ any methods to inculcate conscious consumerism in children? Let us know in the comments below.

If you liked this article, don’t miss our upcoming articles under the ‘Awesome Parenting’ series. 

This article has appeared on The Huffington Post.