Learning is Detrimental

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.

corporate logos, corporate culture, consumer culture, parenting, kids, society, lifestyle, branding, advertising, education, shopping, culture, lifestyle, homeAs 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.

UPS: Every time he sees the UPS symbol, he yells out “look, it’s packages!” This one I taught him, along with the Postal Service, because he’s fascinated by trucks and always asks what they are.NFL, football, NBA, basketball, MLB, baseball, corporations, corporate culture, society, parenting, learning, branding, consumerism, fast food, kids, influence, marketing

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? they live, movies, consume, consumerism, conform, sleep, culture, society, corporations, children, parenting, toddlers, learning

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!

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11 thoughts on “Learning is Detrimental

  1. It’s both shocking and amazing when toddlers go through this stage.
    I was a little spellbound the first time i heard a 1 year old say iPad. I guess whether we like it or not they are absorbing this world and every commercial in it.
    I guess we should be grateful that not everything has a theme tune!

  2. It is amazing yet some what freightening at the rate these kids develope as well as the things their minds are developing with. My 3 year old often carries on conversations using words and relating to,symbols he should not,know and it never ceases to astonish me

  3. Oh how I hate the land of the Golden Arches. We stop sometimes to grab a coffee on the road or pick up a quick snack of fries. Now when The Brookie sees the sign she starts begging for fries… *sigh*

  4. My boy’s first logo was Best Buy. That damn bright yellow… kids love that stuff. And like you, we’ve been to McDonald’s once on a road trip, and since then he recognized the arches as “The place where we eat fries!”

  5. I’ve had much the same observation with our oldest, which is complicated by the fact that I work in marketing for a living.

    This kind of awareness probably isn’t completely bad. The rise of Pinterest and Instagram means we’re headed to a post-literate society anyway.

  6. Yep – kids are mini data recorders and it is amazing to watch them soak things up. Best thing to do about it? Be aware that they’re also watching YOUR every move and learning from it. It’s clearly not possible to be perfect, and it’s also unrealistic to think we can keep our kids in a cave, so I suppose the most pro-active thing we can do is guide their choices and teach them to make their own intelligent decisions (as in Target (yes), Walmart (no)). Being aware is step one.

  7. This is such a great milestone and skill! Identifying logos is a huge pre-literacy skill. It’s a precursor to learning to read.

    And the way I see it, as long as he doesn’t assign value to the logos, you’ve done a great job protecting him from overexposure to capitalism. (For example: recognizing the Golden Arches as McDs = good decoding. Seeing them and saying “yummy, I want McNuggets! = bad).

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