The first lesson came from Jack in the Box.
On an extremely rare trip through the drive-through, Sweet Boy noticed the clown-like figure on a poster and asked who he was. Soon, he was noticing the same face on car antennae in local parking lots.
My explanation was blunt and honest: Jack in the Box is a restaurant. They use a clown in their ads to make kids think the food is yummy and fun, but it’s really just junk food that we eat every once in a while.
Only 3, he actually grasped the concept immediately — and repeats it every time we see a Jack in the Box image.
My husband and I both have college degrees in communications, so we like to think we’re pretty media savvy.
You won’t catch us tuning into the nightly news to learn about the latest “danger” to our family. (“Why your child is likely to be sucked into a black hole. Tonight at 11!)
I’m not going to fall for the cultural assertion that my kids are unsafe every moment they’re out of my line of sight. (For more on this, see one of my favorite blogs over at FreeRangeKids.com.)
I’m quite likely to critically pick apart (on a good day) or scream at (bad day) any marketing ploy designed to play on my emotions as a parent. (In my world, choosy moms don’t choose sugar-laden peanut butter by Jif, and, Lysol, spraying chemicals over every square inch of your house is not “healthing.”)
Still, it can be difficult to pass on that same savvy to a small child.
We’re lucky to be raising a child in an age of DVRs, YouTube and cable TV. Sweet Boy almost never sees ads on TV. He doesn’t know what the newest “must-have” toys are. His opinion of high-culture children’s programming includes classic Donald Duck and Chip N Dale cartoons. I don’t think he knows that sugary breakfast cereals exist, much less that they are associated with fun-loving cartoon characters.
But still, it’s impossible to avoid the onslaught entirely.
Recently, Sweet Boy and I were shopping in the rarely visited snack aisle when he noticed fruit snacks at his eye level.
“Are those Scooby snacks? They have Scooby Doo on them!”
Actually, I explained, those are just normal fruit snacks, but that company put Scooby Doo on the box to trick kids into thinking they’re special.
“Oh,” he said, without a hint of disappointment. “Like that clown at that restaurant.”
Exactly, smart kid.