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I can afford it, so what’s the big deal?


I can afford it, so what’s the big deal

Are you a victim of branded toys? Of emotional blackmail?……….The question thrown by ParentEdge had me introspecting over the last few days as a few scenes slowly  played on before me. I was away at work while it was one of those days when my four-year-old wasn’t feeling on top of the world. When my in-laws could no longer handle a cranky grandchild, they had to take resort to a brand new model of a bulldozer (on my suggestion over the phone) kept ready for him in a cupboard stocked in advance with a few toys…..A friend once remarked out of surprise, on seeing me purchasing gifts for my son quite often, “Are you sure you are not getting him too much? It may not be all that good for his creativity, you know.” I had almost scoffed at his observation, not bothering to get into a debate. After all he was a friend.

Later, when my daughter was to come into my life, I sometimes wondered if we, the parents, would be able to meet the demands of two children with a single income (I was about to quit from my job), considering basketfuls of toys are not enough for today’s children and that I have heard people commenting how mothers are coming out in hordes today to pursue jobs to satisfy the never-ending demands for addictive materialistic pleasures for their children (this was a senior citizen’s observation – not mine). A well-wisher, a doctor by profession, on hearing my concern, said, “When your son turns seventeen, he is going to thank you for a sibling he got since his childhood days, not the expensive branded toys and gadgets he wanted but sometimes did not get during his childhood.” When in my seventh grade, I had a peep into the ‘strange’ world of the uber-rich kids of better-off nations then, and I got to know from our school Moral Science teacher how such children turning wayward was getting common, all attributed to having too much too early – “Steeped in a comfort zone brimming with all kinds of materialistic pleasures that include toys and gadgets and too much freedom before the maturity to handle it sets in, the children don’t know what to do with all that and are losing a sense of target”, she had said.

To a teenager’s mind, who grew up on a diet of chocolate bars ONLY during special occasions and modest gifts ONLY on birthdays from relations and some rare gifts from some guests who visited sometimes, my teacher’s words had sounded like “Grapes are sour!”. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ India is suddenly seeing a lot of money with middle class parents where the mother too is working and simultaneously a market that is widening its jaws to draw in more and more children with high-end fancy toys and gadgets. On one hand, there is not enough time with the parents for their kids, on the other hand, there is more than enough money. Is it surprising that to strike a balance, the working mother fills in her child’s ‘empty’ hours with expensive toys? It all seems fine, particularly with the USPs like “Increases motor skills”, “Improves eye-hand coordination”, amongst many others, written loud and clear on the branded toy boxes. When there is much more than sufficient money and the child is attention-deprived, is there anything wrong with that? Or rather, isn’t there something actually good about the purchase of educational toys, more so the branded ones, no matter how expensive they are, because they are scientifically made, supposedly backed by a lot of research, to keep the young one engaged in constructive ways? Else, what is all that pile of money for? But then, the whole thing calls for a few minutes of looking beyond what catches the eye.

If too many toys fill up the waking hours, then where is the room for books (it goes without saying that children will prefer a toy to a book, no matter how much of a bookworm one is) and where is the scope for creativity? Didn’t we devise our own games during our childhood days to never allow rainy evenings forcing us to stay indoors dampen our spirits? My son and his friends got fascinated by a bey-blade stadium, a recent acquisition of one of their circle – it was phenomenally priced. When the message came from the mothers that it was found to be too expensive and not worth it, two of them got down to the business of making one on their own!

I am yet to know about the success of their mini-venture and the utility of the final product, but it definitely delighted many mothers around! And yes, the boys were surely getting innovative there! Getting too much, sometimes before asking for it – does it help in valuing things? How do you explain the dolls and toys from our childhood years still adorning the showcases of our parental homes? Even at that tender age, the single basket of play materials that filled our free hours drove home the point that one’s own belongings have to be valued because if lost or spoilt, they wouldn’t be replaced. Over the years, it translated to value for money.

There is something called delayed gratification. It teaches us patience. It shows us one may not get everything one wants from life – that it is nothing abnormal to cap our endless desires sometimes. How dangerous it would be to have a big fraction of a generation growing up with the strong belief that anything is attainable – during the junior years wouldn’t it make them somewhat insensitive to their less lucky friends all the more? Wouldn’t it silently encourage them to obtain something by hook or by crook, if it is not achieved by fair means? Think of the frustration when something one sets one’s heart on is not achievable for reasons beyond one’s control! Even if we sat on loads of cash, and generously poured it on expensive gadgets, is there any limit there? Does it end anywhere? Are we at all teaching our children to draw the line somewhere and say ‘STOP’ when necessary? Single-income families have a different problem to grapple with here. It’s not too much of toys, but handling the emotional blackmail.

Which mother in the world wants her child to feel bad when everyone else in his group owns and discusses about some branded toy that has newly come in the market? The peer pressure (has toddlers to teens in its clutches) goading the child to crave for that branded toy is something many mothers succumb to – reluctantly though. The hole it drills into the pocket has to be compensated by cutting down on something else – maybe something better and sometimes necessary – say, a short trip to some place. Isn’t it time the grandparents woke up to the occasion, took charge, and swapped roles with these new-age, branded, pricey playthings? And to think of the ‘Go green’ way of life we keep talking about (is it a fashion to discuss it or do we really believe in ‘Go green’?).

The majority of today’s toys are made from plastic and synthetic materials, unlike yesteryears’ nature-friendly toy materials like clay, stone, rock and wood, that didn’t choke the earth the way many non-biodegradable, branded toys of today are doing. Ever wondered why topics like child obesity, childhood diabetes and reduced academic performance never made it to the news in the past? It’s a pity, but many young children of our city guiltlessly settle for an hour of gadget-time in lieu of an active hour in the midst of friends in fresh air in the park or playground that would do tons of good to their brain and body. What about social skills? Aren’t they getting neglected? What about the lazy hour spent with the toy alone? Or an hour spent before the screen?

With famous companies investing time into research and money into coming up with exorbitantly priced (but highly addictive for the young children of impressionable age) gadgets for today’s rich parents to quickly grab them to give them the feeling “This will keep my child happy,”, the laws of toy-making art has slowly but silently changed – a strong skill that inspired creativity in children has been stolen by the money-making toy manufacturers of today. Our famous ex-president APJ Abdul Kalam had once observed we are very much into collecting foreign products. He said – Self-respect comes from self-reliance. Often, without batting an eyelid, we shell out thousands for a branded toy, never or rarely sparing a thought for the local toys coming from manufacturers striving to make their mark in this toy industry or like the Channapatta wooden toy makers from our very own India are struggling for survival. And now realization dawns on me when I am reminded of how my father scouted the markets for days to get a wooden toy for my son on his birthday, not falling to the temptation of numerous branded toys made of plastic. Was he trying to pass on a strong message to all of us? Maybe we could go for a balanced mix of reasonably priced branded toys (that do not encourage long, sluggish hours at home on a chair) and locally made toys that promote the inborn creativity in children and inspire them to come up with better versions of them on their own (with a little bit of science acquired from books and school). Is it only to appease the child or is it also to feed our ego that we go for pricey toys? “Yes, I can afford it, so what’s the big deal?

For the people raising a hue and cry over it, it’s just ‘Grapes our sour’!” and disdainfully we can walk away, shaking our heads at how a storm is being created over a teacup. Before many of you readers bare your fangs and come baying for my blood, saying “Enough of this preaching!”, please do let me tell you this – * After I left work, it took me quite sometime to realize I had perhaps been on my way to creating a Frankestein in my own home. * I thought it strange that my son still hankered for toys even though I was at home and he got my company.

Fact is the damage had already been done! Addiction to toys had already set in, something that I had unwittingly created in him! * It took more than a year for some sense to prevail on him. I sincerely hope mothers would think twice before falling for such expensive, branded toys quite often. I tried not to sound preachy, but to be honest, I spoke from my heart – I spoke from my own experience and from what I have seen around. As somebody had put it, an hour of one-to-one time with the parent is thousand times more precious than a box of high-end toys and gadgets from the best manufacturers of the world.  Toys, irrespective of their price tags and brands,  would eventually be forgotten but NOT the memories of those precious hours in the company of a loving parent. Let us not sacrifice the unalloyed, fine things of childhood at the altar of “too less time for kids but too much money for them”.

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17 thoughts on “I can afford it, so what’s the big deal?

  1. Aparna

    Good post, aparajita. Very well-argued and in my humble opinion, very necessary! My husband and I call this attribute of present-gen kids, the “culture of entitlement”. Its something we as parents have created – a monster of our own making! My kids have very few toys (too many books tho!) and are quite happy getting the odd gift on their bdays or from loving uncles and aunties.

    Reply
  2. Aruna Ram Kumar

    Aparajita…you took time to ponder about what has been posted at Parent Edge and then share your thoughts about the emotional blackmail and branded toys. I appreciate you so much for that…..goes on to show we as parents become better by even facebooking :) That being said I feel toys cant be separated from a child’s life….quality time spent by parents playing a toy with child is priceless as compared to locking a child in a room full of toys all to him/herself.

    Besides, some toys sharpen their thinking some of them enhance motor skils (such as playing with dough and clay….beads). So I do buy….I dont overbuy….as parents we need to know the line that we shouldnt cross when it comes to emotional blackmailing by children. Thanks for your post.

    Reply
  3. Rumela

    Absolutely in sync with your thoughts. what the child needs most is a playmate – not just a plaything. As a parent it’s easier to shirk the job of being a playmate (it can be quite tiring given the energy levels of young children) and buy a plaything instead. What I have tried to do over time is to let my daughter have a fixed budget for gifts each quarter – tying it to some festival/occasion (Pujo in autumn, Christmas in winter, Bengali New Year in spring, her birthday in summer) – and I let her plan what she wants within that budget. That really forces her to prioritise what she wants and park some items for later (delayed gratification as you said). Sometimes, the items on the parked list fall off completely because she realises they were just momentary temptations.

    Reply
  4. Aparajita Bose

    Here I was fearing a backlash from many working mothers :-)! But no response yet?! Doesn’t this issue bother/come in the life of modern parents? I hope I’ve not hurt anybody too much into maintaining a studied silence.

    Reply
  5. Aparajita Bose

    Here is a response from an old friend, an ex-colleague, much junior to me too (Rumela Sengupta-she is on Facebook) when I asked her to respond to my blog with her own inputs~~~~~~~~~~~

    I replied in the Parent Edge portal itself – my comment is awaiting your moderation !

    This was the comment I posted

    Absolutely in sync with your thoughts. what the child needs most is a playmate – not just a plaything. As a parent it’s easier to shirk the job of being a playmate (it can be quite tiring given the energy levels of young children) and buy a plaything instead. What I have tried to do over time is to let my daughter have a fixed budget for gifts each quarter – tying it to some festival/occasion (Pujo in autumn, Christmas in winter, Bengali New Year in spring, her birthday in summer) – and I let her plan what she wants within that budget. That really forces her to prioritise what she wants and park some items for later (delayed gratification as you said). Sometimes, the items on the parked list fall off completely because she realises they were just momentary temptations.
    ..

    Reply
  6. Aparajita Bose

    And here follows Vanita Nagpal’s response~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I completely agree with you Aparajita, as anything in excess is really harmful…..but as per my experience….my son too demanded a nintendo gameboy when he was in class I. I asked him to study hard and earn it…..He gave me excellent results by standing first in class…..n i gave him then. He learned patience to get a thing at a right time……as time flies, in class iv he asked for ps3. As it was really expensive, though i could afford it, still i didnt gave him that….coz i thought it is not the right time…..later i gave him ps2. But he is disciplined n plays for a limited time period only on saturday n sunday….both brothers share their chances to play…..So Parents play an important part here….making their children understand things n managing the time with their studies and entertainment….Obviously though i am well qualified but still i prefer to be a homemaker…coz my kids need me now…..after class x or xii, they will definitely be busy in shaping their own careers, so i like to spend 24*7 time with them. This is the right time to sow seeds of success in their life n i am sure n confident it will reap soon…….
    ..

    Reply
  7. Aparajita Bose

    And here follows the response of Mitra Bandyopadhyay who has been a senior Mathematics teacher (now into the school management decisions because of her seniority and accomplishments) in Delhi Public School, South Bangalore:

    On Fri, Sep 2, 2011 at 10:37 PM, Mitra Bandyopadhyay wrote:

    In this connection I would like to send you a quote “A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank…… but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child”—-Forest Witcraft

    On 2 September 2011 11:14, Apu Bose wrote:

    Dear Mitradi,
    Remember my latest blog on http://www.parentedge.in (ParentEdge magazine) I was talking about?
    …………….
    Just in case you find it inaccessible, I’m also copying it here. You may or may not approve it, but it’s so relevant, I couldn’t resist the temptation of mailing it to you.
    …………………………

    Reply
  8. Dolly Shrivastava

    You know Aparajita this is my favorite article.I am seeking answer to this question.
    I have always been confused about this topic…..If you buy a new expensive car or a brand new gadget or a 3D TV does it make you really happy! I see people looking very excited when they get something they had really wanted to possess.They post pictures of how happy they are with it on facebook ,orkut and other networking sites.I wonder if materialistic things can really make you happy and you can afford it why not get it. But sadly I don’t feel the same joy. I want to experience the kind of ‘happiness’ they feel.

    My thought goes… what if I get ‘this’ will I really be more blessed and be happier! If ‘yes’ then I will feel lucky. Ultimate goal of life it to be ‘Happy’ by not hurting someone in the process. If materialistic things make you feel so, what’s the harm! I feel deprived because these ‘great things’ fail to give me any kind of pleasure. I see my friends so happy about the dresses the cosmetics and jewelleries they have purchased. They can talk for hours about it. I feel sad, not because I don’t have them but because I don’t share a similar feeling. I don’t fit in any gathering. I hardly get happy and excited about it. Am I a misfit in this world? What do I want from life? I am myself confused! So what do I do to my kids? I don’t know if buying them good things will help them stay happy or spoil them in the long run!
    Very well written article……..

    Reply
    1. Rinku Shrivastava

      Dear Dolly,

      What I want to explain you is what is happiness…….

      I think as if you are trying to explore around what is happiness….
      When everything goes Ok., you are happy. When your child smiles you are happy, When your child walks for the first time or stands on his own you are happy. Just think about those who dont have these simple things in life. ‘Simple’ because you have it and ‘difficult , infact ‘very difficult’ for those who dont have it.
      Happiness is a relative term . Some are happy in simple gadgets because they have put lots of effort in buying it. It hardly matters to you because God has given you so much that it is not difficult for you to buy it.

      Dont try to explore or go in great details about happiness. I know you are happy, because you have everything in life in which you want to seek happiness.

      and Yeah about kids….. Kids can find happiness in anything, right from a hug, a kiss, a toy , a Tv show or anything. because they are not trying to explore about happiness nor do they have so much of time, so just try to keep upu busy and you willbe happy.

      Reply
  9. Aparajita Bose

    Dolly, I read and re-read each and every line of your response. Because I loved and related to each and every line. Nothing to be ‘sad’ about NOT feeling the urge to own expensive things. Because I too had tried to feel happy the way I saw people around feeling happy on acquiring new gadgets etc. But even though I tried to look happy, I didn’t feel the same way inside. And then I’ve realized it’s no point pretending to be happy about such things.
    Children will go the way parents mould them, at least during the formative years before peer pressure comes in the picture. So if we expect them to be happy by buying them expensive toys, we are telling them in a way “Be happy with your toy”, and encourage them indirectly to ask for more. When I was working, I got toys for my son often, to keep him engaged and to keep his mind off from me, in a bid to help him miss me less (for he couldn’t connect with his grandparents or any nanny ever), not actually to make him happy. Surely, if he felt any happiness with frequent gifts, it must have been fleeting kind, for he forgot about them soon and set his heart on same kind of toys later, maybe just a slightly different version! But it all did him more harm than good. And it took a lot of effort from me later to tone down his unhealthy degree of craving for toys.

    Reply
  10. Aparajita Bose

    Dolly and Rinku and all the readers here,
    I get this feeling that when adults feel happy on acquiring a new car or a high-end cell or a high-end villa/flat/house, they pass on the silent message to their children to seek happiness in things of their level – it could be any expensive toy/gadget.
    So should we blame the children at all for emotional blackmail/us becoming victims of branded toys?
    I wonder!
    Aparajita

    Reply
    1. Shinji

      I tell my 4 year old daughter that if she can’t treat her toys with repcset, that I wouldn’t buy toys for her anymore, and instead I’d buy toys for kids who don’t have any toys at the local shelter. She learned to be gentle with them real quickly! But, we do (after birthdays and Christmas) weed out the old toys she doesn’t use anymore and take them to the Salvation Army. She loves the fact that other less-fourtunate kids can use her old toys. It’s just the new ones she doesn’t like sharing!!!

      Reply
  11. Nachiketa Mitra

    Some tremendous discussion – very enlightening and moving points of view. Just another perspective on branded toys… If your son has seen the Cars 1 or Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2 Movie, he will value a McQueen more than a regular car or the characters of the Kung Fu Panda movie than just any stuffed toy? Why? Because they have watched those characters in the movie and they recreate those scenes and movements when they play with those toys. So, there is more than 1 dimension to branded toys – that of price, but more of identification. The other reason, you want to be careful about buying toys is – most of these get made in China. if you buy branded toys, you would be assured of some quality (e.g., they will ensure that there is no lead paint on the toy) vs a generic one which may be cheaper but dangerous.

    Rest of the arguments – I agree. but then in our time, I got a TV in our home after I had passed my Class X exam… my 6 year olf son can install the “free” version of angry bird on his own on the iPad :). I try hard to teach him about being less materialistic – hopefully he will grow up imbibing those values.

    Reply
  12. Sunny

    Don’t buy him anymore for a long long whaneild take away the toys he has and put them in a box then he has to earn them back with behaviour that you DO like.he wont like that but if you are firm and get other adults in your lives co-operation with whatever course of action then he will get the message eventually

    Reply

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