Born to Buy: The Invention of Modern Childhood

This is the eighteenth and penultimate discussion in a “book club” series on Born to Buy by Juliet Schor, which focuses on consumerism issues and young children. You can jump back to the first discussion if you’d like. This discussion covers the latter half of the final chapter, “Decommercializing Childhood”, starting on page 200 at the subheading “The INvention of Modern Childhood” and finishing out the book.

born to buyThe book closes with a very strong section that discusses the role that parents and local communities play in shaping the growing commercial identities of children. There’s also an interesting bit about how the definition of childhood has changed over time. Both are intriguing and worth discussing.

The Changing Meaning of Childhood
Schor offers a very good description of the development of the modern idea of childhood over time. In the far past, children once past the infant and toddler stage were largely treated as miniature adults, particularly when puberty arrived. A post-puberty child was considered to be a full adult – dressed like one, acted like one, and interacted with others like one. The separation of childhood into its own separate state, particularly one stretching past puberty, is a relatively modern human invention.

What does that mean? It means that the idea of protecting children is only a good idea in the short term. In the modern era, that boundary between adult in child is porous and becoming more so all the time. The real question is what’s coming through those pores? Is it material that values and respects people or demeans people? We can protect children from the “bad” stuff all we want, but profound change won’t occur until we start addressing these questions as a greater society. We’ll get there, but it will take time – there are profound cultural changes going on right now and the best thing we can do as individuals is to make these changes better for everyone rather than fighting them tooth and nail every step of the way.

Ten Things You Can Do
Over the last ten pages or so, Schor sprinkles a ton of suggestions for what parents can do in the home to minimize consumer culture influence. Many of these boil down to “spending more time together,” but they’re still excellent food for thought. Here are several of my favorites:

Eat together. A family meal is a perfect time to discuss things and bond more as a family. Establish it as a tradition.

Eat healthy food. Instead of just making an “easy” prepackaged meal (the end result of a clever marketing campaign), focus on making healthy and natural meals from scratch.

Try gardening. Gardening is an activity the whole family can participate in together, it drives right into the idea of eating healthier, natural food.

Turn off the television. Yes, that’s a pretty obvious theme, but it’s a good one. Replace TV night with game night or reading night.

Spend time in the outdoors away from urban areas. There’s no media interaction there, it’s incredibly healthy mentally and physically to get away on occasion.

Be open with your finances and consumer choices. If you can’t open the books, what are you hiding? You should be able to explain every choice and every bill to your child – not only will this educate your child, but it’ll keep you on track financially, too.

The next discussion, coming in two days, will be the final discussion and will wrap up the book.

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