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Facing Financial Facts

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The Associated Press writes that a group of concerned parents has started writing letters to toy manufacturers. The parents want the companies to stop marketing toys to their children, and market to them instead. The toys in the ads are not harmful to the children. The toys in the ads do not teach bad behavior. The ads, it seems, damage something far more important to the parents-their own self-esteem.

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On Monday, the National Bureau of Economic Research officially declared that the United States is in a recession. The announcement surprised few, but parents who feel the pinch are turning to corporations for help. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood encourages parents to ask toy makers and retailers to stop marketing to their children.

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While the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood itself has noble ends, AP represented them badly in its article. The article quoted parents saying things like, ". . . [toy manufacturers] are placing parents like me in the unenviable position of having to tell our children that we can't afford the toys [they] promote." Such quotes leave the reader wondering what is wrong with a parent who cannot bring himself to say no to a child.

AP also quoted a representative saying, "It's cruel to dangle irresistible ads for toys and electronics in front of kids -- encouraging them to nag for gifts that their parents can't afford." The only cruelty here is on the part of a parent who cannot tell the child the truth.

There has always been a range of socio-economic abilities in the world. Parents who pretend to their children that there is no limit to their ability to provide that child's wants are deluded at best and bad parents at worst. While no child welcomes the word "no," all children need to hear it. Children who do not hear the word grow up not knowing the difference between your possessions and theirs. English has a word for such people: thieves.

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Generations of Americans have heard that certain material possessions were out of their reach, without great harm. For many, this has motivated them to work hard and prosper. Many of America's great public figures have risen from meager circumstances. It is more important for a child to have a firm grasp of reality than to have his or her momentary desires. Parents who are disturbed by telling a child they cannot afford a particular thing may use things in place of attention and affection. These parents will not suffer from a dose of reality themselves.

Children are loved by their parents, not by toys. Children benefit from the love of their parents, whether or not that includes showering them with gifts. Most small children will not know the difference. I invite those who do not believe this to give their children a large, empty cardboard box. The kids will have fun; it's their nature.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a fine organization with noble goals. This particular project, however, wastes resources and energy. Manufacturers will not stop marketing to children, and every stamp wasted on letters asking them to do so represents 42 cents that could go to charity but will not.


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Ann Weaver Hart is a political columnist and social critic practicing her craft in Bryan, Texas since 1995.
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