As a parent, of course, I wanted to buy him things that I saw as 'suitable' and not just follow his requests which may have been informed by a TV advertisement, which in turn may not convey accurately that the toy was, in fact, quite boring.
As with all young children, when he was under the age of 5, many of these highly advertised toys were simply broken or ignored after the initial novelty and fun wore off.
When I watch the advertisements on Saturday morning television, I find they are geared completely toward girls and boys from around the ages of 3 to 12. And they come thick and fast. When my son was in the 5-7 year age-bracket, he would say, at every ad break, "Ohhhh, I want that Mum! I want that one too! Ohhhh, Mum, I neeeed that one!". Sometimes I would answer and sometimes I would not answer. It wouldn't have made a difference, he was mesmerised by the power of marketing. There have been many studies into the effects of advertising on children since the 1970s.
Some of these studies have claimed that advertising has no or negligible negative effects on children; however, opponents of child-directed advertising believe that commercials aimed at young children can have a profound impact on their beliefs, values, and moral norms. Critics fear that children, more than adults, are susceptible to the seductive influences of commercials because they do not have the necessary skills in their own self-understanding to protect themselves against the attractive and cleverly put advertising messages.
A useful summary of these ideas is found in "The Impact of Television Advertising on Children's Christmas Wishes" by Moniek Buijzen and Patti M. Valkenburg: www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/96454928_4.html
"So trying to keep certain things off television or out of books is futile. That same energy should be applied to helping children develop their own capacities for judgement, taste and sensitivity, so that they know how to make decisions that are based, we hope, on positive values."
This quote was written more than thirty years ago by John Culkin, a media scholar, critic, writer and educator, who had a great input into the content and style of 'Sesame Street' when it was first written in the mid 1960s. It has changed the way I view these "certain things" he eludes to.
I have spent time watching television shows and movies with my son discussing along the way what is real and what isn't and also explaining how advertisements are trying to persuade me to buy their product. This seems to be paying off more so now that he is a pre-teen (or 'tween' as the advertising companies would call him). I find he is now less persuaded by the advertisements on television.
He has recently expressed an interest in the stars. He wants binoculars, telescopes, books and observatories. We are now able to discuss the likelihood of a particular toy or gift being labelled a "good" part of the family, as "junk" or even as "not right now" (too expensive)....
My son said to me today, "Mum, it feels really good inside to give to other people. That's a Christian way isn't it?"
Yes, I agree with him. It's a God Way. God gave us life, he gave us light, he gave us darkness, He gave His son for us. He is the Ultimate Giver, demonstrated right throughout the Scriptures. (2 Corinthians 9:10)
What does He want from us? Only that our hearts to be directed toward Him. Deuteronomy 6:5 "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
With the difficult decision of choosing a gift for my son this Christmas, who knows what the eventual choice will be. Ultimately I think I will be directing the choice toward the stars, after all, most of the joy that I personally find in giving, is in the joy in the eyes of the receiver when he gets a gift that he really, truly values. These activities will also encourage him to go outdoors, away from the television!
Whatever the gift, we will find joy in giving and a definite bonus for this Christmas is the fact that my son has perceived for himself the significance of the true joy of his giving gifts to others.