Before we became parents, my husband and I have had some discussions on this whole consumerist culture among children. We have seen children constantly demand something or the other when they are out, and mostly parents give in. Its not big things they demand, a balloon, a plastic doll, some random thing. What bothered us was not the cost of these items but the fact that a child constantly seemed to keep demanding things, which she would hardly use. Yes, children are targetted by every roadside and rail vendor, but can we not really teach children to resist the momentary urge for immediate need gratification. But mostly, parents seemed quite happy to buy the thing which the child demanded.
We had ambitious plans that when we became parents, we would teach our child the value of experience over the value of possession. Its only when we have become parents now that we realize how difficult it is. Not because it is difficult to resist a child’s demands, but because everyone around you and the child is also constantly asking you to satisfy the need.
Recently, we took Migu to the kite festival in Ahmedabad. Just like in any other mela, there were lots of balloon stalls. Migu saw the stalls, and she saw other kids playing with balloons, and she mentioned the word balloon a couple of times. I dont think they were even demands. She is only recently speaking and identifying things, and she probably just identified and felt happy with herself for having named an object correctly.
Yet at the mention of the word balloon, my mother in law immediately said, come lets buy you a balloon. After mentioning it a couple of times, even my husband said yeah let us. And I was myself tempted to buy the balloon, because I saw no reason why I should not.
But I resisted the urge and told the other adults also, let us not buy it. Migu did mention balloon again a couple of times, specially when we passed a vendor or a child with a balloon. If we had shown signs of relenting, she may have thrown a tantrum to make us get it. But largely, apart from mentioning it, she was quite willing to be engaged by other items we showed her.
Now the point is not whether we can afford the 10 rupee balloon for her. I would quite gladly have given that money to a roadside vendor to shore up his business. Rather, what stuck me at that particular moment, and made me resist buying was the fact that it is actually not even the child who is making a demand. Rather, it is us adults, who see the purchase of the balloon as an easier way to pacify, manage or gain her affections.
This whole situation itself presented numerous opportunities where Migu would have had an experience rather than a possession. If she wanted a balloon and decided to approach another child who had it and both of them played with it together, she would have gained a friend, however momentarily. But how many of us parents encourage children to learn to ask to share an item.
Similarly, if we had bought the balloon, she would have been so distracted with playing with it, that she may have not even watched the kites flying. This is the kite flying season in ahmedabad, they were flying some beautiful kites with lanterns, and she really enjoyed watching it. She even tried to describe it with her limited vocabulary.
I don’t mean to say I never buy things for my child. I have purchased many toys, some of them on whims, many of them quite expensive also. Rather, I will try not to teach my child that she can simply mention an item and it will immediately be bought for her. And I will try my best not to use the purchase of items as a means to control her behavior when she is difficult.