Do your kids ever surprise you by knowing something you haven’t taught them? Something you wish they didn’t know?
The other day, while we were driving home from somewhere, my son started pointing at signs for various buildings and asking about them. “Is that where we get coffee?” “Is that where we get fries?” “Is that Target?” And he was right every time. It was simultaneously impressive and unsettling.
It’s amazing to watch my son’s mind expand, but it’s disconcerting when the logos of fast food restaurants and department stores are what’s filling it.
As a citizen of the world and an increasingly perceptive little human being, my son is becoming aware of things that I don’t even know he’s aware of (the conflict created by my inability to know his interior self will surely grow more severe as he gets older). Some of these things are harmless and even make me happy, like when he correctly identifies his Flash underwear solely by the superhero’s lightning bolt emblem. Other things give me pause. Like when he sees a Pepsi logo and knows it’s soda, even though he’s never had soda.
Here are some of the things he’s learned, for better or worse, at the ripe old age of two:
Sports logos: My son recognizes the logos for Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Football league, as well as those of the Red Sox and the Miami Dolphins. This also makes me proud, especially since he figured them out himself, by association, rather than because I explained them to him.
Target: We need to stop taking him there. On the plus side, he legitimately hates Wal-Mart. If you can call the catastrophic freak-out the last time we took him there a “plus.”
Starbucks: Another one he figured out himself. As I mentioned above, when we pass a Starbucks he asks, “Is that where we get coffee?” That awareness, combined with the fact that he refuses to go to bed at night, should be enough reason for me to stop giving him grande lattes.
McDonald’s: We never go to McDonald’s. Except on road trips when we’re hung-over. Since my two-year-old is rarely hung-over, he hasn’t had much occasion to stop and have a Big Mac. He’s had a few fries before, and a couple of McNuggets maybe twice. Which doesn’t explain his ability to identify the golden arches.
It speaks to how powerful and insidious the branding of those companies and products is, that a two-year-old can already identify them. Kudos to them!
Sports logos are one thing, as it will be some time before he learns to associate sports with commerce; right now he’s just enjoying them as the games they are. But McDonald’s? And Starbucks? This is not essential knowledge, and it’s nothing we’ve tried to impart. It’s osmosis; the dark side of our kids’ ability to absorb information from the world around them just by virtue of living in that world. When a toddler can tell an Apple from a Zune, while it may be good for shareholders, what good is it doing our kids?
In a society where corporations continue to amass unprecedented levels of power and influence, it’s alarming to see a toddler get indoctrinated into consumer culture so quickly that he can identify corporate logos and he’s not even three. Worse, I fear it’s not something my wife and I can easily arrest or reverse, even if we tried. As difficult as it is for my son to escape exposure to these things when he’s home with us, short of going off the grid, Ted Kaczynski-style, it’s just plain impossible to shield him from them when he’s outside. By the time he’s five he’ll already be primed to buy his favorite things via Amazon Prime.
As hypocritical as it may seem after this post, I enjoy many of the conveniences and comforts provided by some of my favorite brands. I like Starbucks. I like Apple. I know how callously commercial my favorite sports leagues can be, and that doesn’t stop me from watching their games or buying their gear. I’m part of the problem. Most of us are.
I have no idea how to stop the ball from rolling, and it’s only going to get worse. I guess I just have to do my best to shield him from whatever I can.
I should at least be able to keep him in the dark about Budweiser and their ilk; I never have that junk in my house. Nothing but craft beer for me!