Adventure Ideas Parenting Talking Point

Branding the Children

Mickey Mouse Balloon Disneyland Orlando
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Branding the children

Kirstie Profile SmallHannah is sent a new dress for her birthday from a relative. The package is addressed to me and I accidentally open it. It is a beautiful dress, branded with Dora the Explorer and coming with matching tights. It will be a great hit and she will love it. But, I wonder, would she give up the summer she’s just spent with her mum, dad and brothers, touring Central and Eastern Europe by bike, sleeping in everything from a tent to a castle, in order to possess that dress?

Are kids caught in a materialistic trap?

The reason I ask the question is that over breakfast (branded with Kellog’s Cornflakes and Mother’s Pride) I read in The Guardian about a Unicef report that finds British children are caught in a materialistic trap, where parents ‘buy off’ their kids with designer goods as a substitute for spending time with them. One might say it’s the way of the world; that in these cash strapped days we are all working too hard investing in our future to invest time in the present. But apparently it’s not the way of the world. According to the children’s agency report, this consumer culture doesn’t exist in Spain or Sweden. It turns out that Britain is at the bottom of the league table for child wellbeing across a wide field of 21 countries. As we buy our toddlers off with Ugg Boots, people in other countries are spending time with them splashing about in puddles.

Ironically, the firstpage of the same newspaper brings news that the British government is aiming to be more ‘family friendly’ and win women’s votes with new plans to cut school holidays. So how is that family friendly? How is it going to nourish kids already starved of family time? Due to school restrictions, summer is the one time Stuart and I get to spend quality time with our children and all of us value it. In fact when we chat about our experiences together, the only thing we can ever remember is the time spent abroad. But now we’re being encouraged to spend less time with them so we can work more and earn more money to buy them Manchester United shirts.

Girl studying a map in Germany Danube Cycle Route

Do kids prefer stuff or time with the family?

So kids, do you prefer stuff or me?

Maybe I am being over-precious about our time together. Maybe our children would love designer stuff instead of six weeks with stuffy old Mum and Dad? I ask Hannah which she would prefer; a new dress with a favourite TV character embroidered onto it, or a summer of uninterrupted fun with the family. She thinks hard for a few moments and asks me to repeat the question.

“I like to go on holiday,” she decides, confirming my suspicions that family time beats branded goods. “I really liked going on the back of your tandem all summer. It was well ace. Even when I had to pedal.”

But before I get too big for my unbranded, Primark boots, she stresses that a bit of designer gear wouldn’t go amiss in her travelling wardrobe, “If you like you can buy me a new dress for the ferry. Peppa Pig would be nice if you can’t afford Dora.”

Kids playing in a river while mother watches from a bridge

The Unicef report suggests kids want to spend more time with their families, outdoors, doing stuff together

There’s more on this story and plenty of comment on the BBC News Home Editors blog.

Talking Point

Do you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your kids? Have you ever ‘bought them off’ with brands? Do your kids say they want to spend more time as a family outdoors, doing stuff together? Or have you got the balance right?

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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