Sunday, 4 April 2010

Managing Consumerism: encouraging my children's ability to self-regulate

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone,

I hope you are having a wonderful Easter long weekend. I've been enjoying catching up with family and friends.

Last month a reader of my personal blog asked me how I handled my children's exposure the blatant highly sexual messages being shown in the media and advertising. I answered her question then, but I realised that my answer can also apply to how I try to teach my children how to manage consumerism.

Firstly, I should explain that I believe everyone innately knows what's good for them - that is, we all have the capacity to self-regulate. And the better we are at this, then the better we are at critically examining messages given to us (by the media or advertising) and also fortifying ourselves against the hype of buying more than we need.

I believe that we are all born knowing how to listen to our bodies and emotions. As babies, we knew when we needed something and we demanded it. I do not believe that babies ever demand something they do not need - and by that I mean need physically or emotionally.

My biggest challenge as a parent has been (and still is) to decipher my children's (sometimes incomprehensible) messages and respond in a way that does not diminish that expression of need.

When my children were babies, I tried my utmost to trust and respect my children's inate capacity to demand for things that are good for them. Eg. Trust them when they signal to me that they are hungry and allow them to feed as their little bodies required. (Despite me nervously thinking at times that they're eating too much/too little/too often/too far apart). I trusted my babies when they went through difficult times of sleep (or non-sleep) and trusted their signals on how to help them through it - in most cases, I chose to respond by simply being there to hold them (in different ways) as they tried to sort out their body changes and their sleep.

As they got older and grew into toddlerhood, another layer of complexity was added - how to respond in a way that sets boundaries but still respects their emotion. I guess in a way, my approach can be summed up as: "The emotion is always okay but there are appropriate ways on how to handle it." Eg. I tried to show my children that they always have the right to be angry and they also have the right to express that emotion...but they should express it in healthy, non-harmful ways - such as, through words or drawings or letters.

My then 4 year old daughter tasting Fairy Floss for the first time...and no she didn't finish it.

So where am I going with this? I believe that it is important to not lose or diminish the capacity to listen to our bodies and emotions. I believe that we can steadily lose that capacity when we are constantly told to ignore our needs so that we can behave in a way that is "easier". And when we lose that capacity, we also have a diminished capacity to self-regulate and block harmful messages or habits.

Looking back through my personal blog, I can see that I've documented a couple of my children's experiences with self-regulation:
- When my daughter refused to take on a boyfriend (yes, she was 6 years old when she first experienced being pressured to have a boyfriend at school.)
- When my daughter chose to delay instant gratification for a bigger goal.

Now I have to say that while I am going on about self-regulation, I do limit their exposure as much as possible to harmful material in the first place. We do not watch commercial TV at home. My children are not allowed on the internet except when I am surfing the web with them. (I posted about the other things I do in this post.)

I try not to freak out about the things they are exposed to outside of our home - what's at the shops, at friends' houses, at after-school care etc. The way I see it, their exposure to those things give us plenty of chances to discuss and deconstruct the messages. I am not a believer in total censorship, nor do I want to discount my children's inate need to understand and belong to their community.

I only hope that I am able to continue walking that (sometimes very fine) line between teaching my children how to listen to themselves, how to behave in a socially appropriate manner and how to critically examine their norms.

Anyway, this post has rambled on enough so I'll stop here.

Wishing you all a wonderful week ahead.