Consuming Kids

This weekend I participated in a viewing and panel discussion on the documentary Consuming Kids. It was amazing. And frightening. A documentary I think every parent and educator should watch. The way the modern day marketing machine preys on our kids from birth on is mind boggling – literally wanting to steal their imaginations. You can read more here.

While the information is indeed scary, I believe there are things we can do as parents to help combat the messages being sent to our children. We can spend more time together as families talking, playing, working and just being. We can turn off the t.v. and the computer and give our kids time to explore, build, and play with their own imaginations. We can teach our kids to be makers and to create their own beauty thereby lessening the message that fulfillment and beauty comes in the form of a purchase. We can teach our children to dissect the messages they do get thereby diminishing the impact. We can model self appreciation by speaking out loud our own appreciations for ourselves. And we can surround ourselves with a community of people who have our best interests in mind.

There is an organization called Center for Commercial Free Childhood which is helping people organize screenings. Because I believe if we spread the word we can make change and give our kids the childhood they need and deserve to live a happy, satisfying life.

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Commercial free childhood

October 2009 351

If you’ve been on this site for a while you may remember a post about a documentary called Consuming Kids. It’s put out by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and it’s all about making sure that the marketing machine that is aimed directly at families and kids stays regulated. And believe me, they’ve got a big job ahead of them.

Just recently this same center had a big victory with getting Disney, (yes, big giant Disney) to offer a refund for any Baby Einstein products purchased since 2004. The threat of a class action lawsuit regarding false advertising claims of smarter infants and toddlers and kids was what convinced Disney to take this step.

It’s a limited offer, so help us spread the word by sharing this info with any parents and especially grandparents you may know. The grandparents seemed to be an equally large target for those claims of producing bigger, smarter, faster infants.

And now does this mean that infants and kids can be left to their own pace? Well, it’s a step in the right direction to be sure.

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This time of year seems to sneak up on me and every year it causes both excitement and dread.

School? Lunches? 6am alarm?? NOOOO!!!

Regular schedule? 8 hours of working at home alone? Earlier bedtimes? HOORAY!!!

For the past 7 years we’ve had our elementary school Back to School Clothes Swap. In the past 3 years we’ve added a book swap too. Both have been hugely successful.  This year I just don’t have it in me* so this post is to help those that want to organize their own. (or take on the Zilker Elementary swap??) You can do a big community wide swap or just do a smaller one with friends. It’s a great way to both purge your own closets and get your family the things they need to get back to school. Goodness knows summer sees a lot of growth and those pants from kinder just aren’t gonna cut it for 1st grade. Unless of course you’re into clam-diggers. Which you might be! In addition to saving money and consuming less, the swap is a super fun way to encourage kids to take style into their own hands, create their own get-ups and not fall victim to the marketing machine which really preys on families during back to school time.

Our school swaps have had as many as 500 people attend. Our motto being, BRING WHAT YOU CAN. TAKE WHAT YOU NEED. There are no limits, no tracking of who brought what, no money exchanged. Just bring it if you can. Take it if you need. And here are my simple steps for…

  1. What we’ve learned about how to throw a successful community swap.
  2. How to throw your own swap on a smaller scale.
  3. The option to take on the task of running the Zilker Swap. (well for this just email me and I’ll hook you up!)


These are a lot of work for 2 days with a HUGE return. There are no committee meetings required and really can be created with not that many committed folks. More is better of course but not mandatory.

  1. Secure a large space like a school cafeteria or gym or the like.
  2. Alert an area thrift store that you’ll need a pick up at the end. Here we use Goodwill because they come in with a truck and bins at the end and take EVERYTHING. If you haven’t planned this in advance, it’s a big task but you can have everyone take a carful to their local favorite thrift or charity.  There will be A LOT left over.
  3. Get a cohort who can help you steer the ship. (this is crucial because it not only makes it easier but makes it more fun)
  4. Put the call out for volunteers to help set up and help the day of the event. You don’t need many but you will need some. The final clean up at the end you can just wrangle anyone who is still there picking through items.
  5. Pick a day and allow drop-offs the day before and the day of ONLY!! Do not try to take things days or weeks in advance unless you can have them dropped off in the space you will be using.
  6. Try to get a screen printer who can organize the screen printing portion of things. A screen printer is total value added. By having a screen printer you can make some clothing that might be unwearable because of a stain wearable. Plus, it makes the clothing options more fun and makes kids get excited about their expanded style options. If you can’t get a screen printer, continue without it.
  7. Get some sewists who can come with their own sewing machine. Set up an area for sewists where people can come and help mend, embellish or repurpose. You can also have a sewist making T-shirt bags. A GREAT and simple project which serves as a great swapping bag.
  8. Make BIG SIGNAGE for each sorting station. We tend to make different groupings each year but basic divisions like ADULT DRESSES. ADULT PANTS. ADULT BLOUSES. ADULT T-SHIRTS. For the kids item divide by size such as INFANT. TODDLER. 6x-12. You can also break this down further into bottoms and tops but it’s not imperative. Especially for the infant items, just toss them all in together.  SHOES can all go together as can COATS. Perhaps in a cold climate you’d want to break that down by size but here in Austin we just threw them all in together.
  9. On the day of the swap, as people come in with their bags, have them sort their own items. In the past we’ve had people drop off their bags and then have volunteer sorters put them out on tables but we’ve learned that it’s easier to have each person sort their own stuff. They know best what’s in there so it’s faster and more efficient. Have a couple of sorters at the front to both direct people and also to help those that might need assistance such as mamas with younguns.
  10. If you feel like having a mic, that can be fun to build excitement and also to alert people to specialty items such as a cool pair of boots or some such item. It might not be necessary but I am rather fond of microphones so there’s that. Also good at the end to let people know you need help filling the bins and sweeping the floor.
These are easy and require way less work.
  1. Pick a date and a location. You can do it in a house or even in a neighborhood park.
  2. Alert your friends and especially those with kids in various sizes. If all are the same the pickings will be slimmer. Expand your options by including families with different age/size kids.
  3. Sort your items as they come in: kids/adults/t-shirts/dresses/miscellaneous/etc.
  4. If you have a really small group you can just sit in a circle and do it show style. Pick an emcee (that’s usually my role!) and go through each bag item by item. Takes a while but is super fun!
  5. At the end each take a few bags to your favorite thrift or drop off bin. The bins are great because it doesn’t matter what time it is. Open all night!
*It must be noted that not only do I feel relieved not to be taking on this task but my children all thanked me.



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Play Again

Children in Nature Austin held a viewing yesterday of a new documentary called Play Again.  It was an incredible film showing the statistics and effects of screen time on the modern day childhood. Some of the stats were scary such as the fact that the average child in the US watches 7.5 hours of screens per day.  To me that seems virtually impossible but all the kids interviewed concurred with some as high as 12-15 hours per day on weekends. This number includes computer time/video games/phones, etc. Any screen at all.

In the film they featured 6 average teens who talked about their screen usage, virtual relationships, game time, etc. They all presented themselves very honestly and, to the filmmakers credit, without any judgment at all about their behavior. They then took these 6 kids out on a nature excursion in the amazingly beautiful woods of the Pacific Northwest (this Texas resident was drooling over the lushness of it all). The belief systems of the kids was revealed in a really poignant way – again without judgment at all.

One of the points made in the film was how we as adults have to model the behavior we want to see in our kids. This is something we have talked about often as part of Slow Family’s mission – model what we want to see. If we are texting, ignoring our face to face relationships so we can check our virtual ones, losing connection with those who are closest to us, that’s what our kids will see and copy. This film definitely has caused me to look again at my own relationship with the virtual world. Don’t get me wrong, I love my virtual time. I love the communities formed around it. I love the sharing of information, photos, ideas via the virtual world. But I have to remember that the real connection has to come first. And foremost. And if I want connection with my kids down the road, that connection needs to be established first.

The film showed too that the connection to nature needs also to be established now if we are hoping to have stewards for our planet down the road.  One of the experts interviewed stated that there “must be a valuing of the earth. If there is no valuing, there is no protection. And if there is no protection, there is no hope.”  I don’t by any means want to sound alarmist but I do agree, that if our kids don’t feel a connection to nature, there will be no desire for them to help protect the planet we live on. And as one of the kids said during their campout, “I like earth. It’s my hometown.”  And I won’t even go into the cravings to consume that are created when screen time is increased.

This film is just now making the festival circuit but is available on their website Play Again Film . I highly recommend every parent watch this film. And I recommend also that every teen and pre-teen watch it with them. (just be forewarned there are some graphic video game images so you can determine for yourself if your child is old enough to see it.) It’s a really insightful and informative film and I think it allows the viewer to form their own judgment – not about others but about themselves and their own behavior.

We don’t have to panic. But I do think we need to ponder, Is what we’re doing working for us? As a family and as a society and as a planet too. As one of the kids said, it’s up to each parent to look at their child’s screen behavior and determine if it’s too much. Is it getting in the way of real relationships with other people? With their own family? With their own self?

As one kid said when they were out in the woods, “This is cool. It’s like more realistic than video games.”

If you see it, I’d love to know what you think. And if you’re in Austin and want to find ways you can get in nature near you, check out Nature Rocks website which has parks and nature events listed by area.

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