Friday, April 08, 2005

Rational Children

There has recently been a long and deletable discussion on the frequently excellent home education email list, ( UK-HOME-ED@LISTSERV.AOL.COM ), about the bloke who stuffed himself full of McDs in order to prove something or other. The part of the discussion that I find most annoying however, is the assumption that our kids are somehow so deeply vulnerable, so endearingly impressionable, so innocently undiscerning as to fall for the apparently appalling Machiavellian techniques of advertisers. The suggestion is that our children are now, through absolutely no fault of their own, set for a life of unremitting obesity, disease and malnutrition.

This attitude is implicitly deeply patronising. How is that some people can see so clearly that they should not make a habit of eating McDs night and day, despite the advertising, but then others are simply unable to grasp this concept? Could the implication be that the unenlightened are actually way too thick?

For the record, children are NOT too thick. 2 year olds can understand the idea of what constitutes healthy food. They can even decide to refuse the unhealthy option. We know of 7 year olds who hate McDs. Given the chance, the information and attractive choices, they are quite capable of being extremely discerning. In fact we suspect that this last sentence may hold a key to the problem. All those parents who would never dream of letting their kids put a foot through McDs door, probably do find that their children seem woefully susceptible to the charms of adverts, but this is actually because these children do want to gather the information as to what the product really is like. OTOH, those children who are given ready access to it, and are also given better choices, and are allowed to eat when hungry, etc, ie: to listen to what their bodies say, these kids more often than not, realise that McD's is tasteless and boring and gives you belly ache.

We didn't mean it as some sort of terrible sociological experiment, but we couldn't help but notice, on the occasion of taking 2 sets of children into ToysRus, that the children who had had to subsist on making their playthings out of mud, sticks and stones were the ones who went shop crazy, dragging all manner of toys off the shelves and refusing to return them etc, etc. The kids who had grown up with the idea of all this stuff were, otoh, so discerning. They knew precisely what they wanted, which was a 50p extension to a Beyblade, which was completely hidden from view at the back of a shelf. That was all they wanted. They also could spot a rubbishy product from a mile off and were not in thrall to any of it.

The assumption that children can never be rational frequently precludes us from even giving them the chance to be so.

In this vein I would just like to add, 2 year olds can watch GTA and not turn into psychos. They do know the difference! "Muuumm, it is just pretend, though you shouting at me isn't".

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