The Blessing a B Minus – The Blessing of a Bad Attitude


I remember the first time my younger daughter said, “I hate you!”  While naturally it hurt my feelings, the fact that my three-year-old looked adorable stomping her foot and scrunching her face helped ease my pain.  But as author Wendy Mogel points out, when an awkward, gangly adolescent mouths off, it’s hard to remember she also has a lot to learn.

In her chapter “The Blessing of a Bad Attitude,” Mogel argues that today’s parents face the following dilemma:  “How do we respect our teenagers’ need to separate from us while fulfilling our parental duty to teach them respect for others?”  The suggestion Mogel offers involves developing a minimum standard for polite behavior in your home.  Everyone’s rules will vary, depending upon your comfort level.  For example, maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I don’t want kids calling me by my first name.

These are some of the behaviors Mogel considered rude when her daughters were teens:

  •    * Curses directly at you or other family members
  •    * Insults you in front of others
  •    * Doesn’t answer other people’s direct questions
  •    * Slams doors frequently
  •    * Refuses to make polite small talk with parent’s friends


Here’s a list of behaviors that are also rude but Mogel chose to ignore:

  •     * Sulking
  •     * Grousing before chores, homework, required tasks
  •     * Eyeball rolling
  •     * Getting mad at you for irrational reasons
  •     * Giving you the “scram eyes” when a friend is over


“The Blessing of a Bad Attitude” argues creating a list like this well help you when your child calls you strict and your parents say you’re too lenient.  Remember, “You can eat, live, buy, and do whatever you please.  Teenagers have very few choices, even when they have lots of privileges.  They’re prisoners in a house they didn’t pick, in a town they didn’t pick, with parents they didn’t pick.  Because their perception of time is so different from ours, they imagine they’ll be enslaved forever.”

The important thing, according to Mogel, is that you don’t let battles escalate.  You need to stay focused on enforcing the rule at hand.  She suggests you start or end your response with one of these words:

  •     * Nevertheless…
  •     * Regardless…
  •     * That is not the issue.
  •     * My decision is final.
  •     * I’ve thought about it and the answer is no.
  •     * I’m not going to change my mind about this.

When I was teaching middle school, parents would always have a mixed reaction after they found out that their moody adolescent wasn’t acting out in the classroom.  On one hand, they were relieved; on the other hand, they were concerned because their kid seemed to be nice to everyone but them.  I would explain to parents that it takes enormous energy for children to hold it together all day at school; therefore, it’s not that unusual for things to fall apart once they are home, in an environment where people love them no matter what they do.

Mogel argues, “It is critical for you not to get lost in the fear that your teen’s rudeness is a permanent moral flaw.  If you do, you will not have the presence of mind to remain tolerant and calm.”  My mom has always said that my senior year of high school I was “too mean to be alive.”  Luckily, deep down, my mom knew there was more to me than that.Of course, now that I’m a parent, it pains me to know that I acted that way, but the fact that I will have two teenage girls in my house at one time seems to vindicate my mother.

The Blessing of a B Minus – The Blessing of Staying Up Late


I love it when my husband goes out of town. I tuck my kids into bed, work on the computer for a few hours, and read my book, without a book light, until way past my bedtime. It feels like I’m fifteen again, indulging in my every whim. But unlike the teenager whose shifting circadian rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep, I’m a walking zombie by the time my husband returns home.

In Wendy Mogel’s book The Blessing of a B Minus, she starts her chapter on time by referring to a solution she offers in her first book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: parents need to “alter their relationship to time, to see it not as a scarce resource but as God’s bounty, a gift to be received in gratitude.” Then, Mogel simply adjusts her philosophy to account for the adolescent’s biological clock.

“Teenagers love to stay up late. They enjoy the freedom, independence, and privacy of being awake when everyone else is asleep. In the quiet and dark they may use less electricity in a literal sense, but there is a special crackle of mental energy.” Much like an overworked parent, The Blessing of a B Minus argues “teens enjoy using nighttime to unwind, to develop their sense of self and identity.”

So Mogel suggests “before you decide that your teen’s habit of staying up late is a problem, make sure you’re not projecting panic about your own sleep debt onto your teen.” More than likely, your teen will use the weekend to recover from the “jetlag effect” caused by these late nights. Mogel insists they are not being lazy when they sleep until noon on Saturday, they are simply compensating for having stayed up late. The Blessing of a B Minus maintains it’s important for parents to remember that “teens don’t fear sleep loss the way adults do.”

Still, it is possible for sleep loss to cause illness and irritability so Mogel recommends you make sure your teenager knows the basics of sleep hygiene: no caffeine after four p.m., don’t use the bed to study or watch TV, and prevent distractions from keeping you awake. “Technology, the very thing that allows him to unwind, is also a deterrent to reasonable amounts of sleep. Allow your teen time every night to enjoy technology, but set a cutoff point. I often required my daughters to place their laptops and cell phones outside their bedrooms after ten-thirty at night.”

Mogel explains “raising teenagers is an endurance race, not a sprint.” Don’t be afraid to let your teen be your inspiration. “Teens can remind us of what we have lost through fearlessness, exhaustion, withdrawal, and tentativeness…They will not extend an invitation for you to join in whatever captivates them, and often you wouldn’t want to anyway. But if you respectfully observe their expertise in wholehearted indulgence, you may find yourself with a fresh supply of energy.” Maybe, it’ll only be for a few days while your spouse if away, but if you’re at all like me, that’ll be all the time revisiting your adolescence you need.

The Blessing of a B Minus – The Hidden Blessings of Raising Teenagers


In her first book, The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, author Wendy Mogel, focused on the early years of childhood, emphasizing the need to resist overprotection of our children. She follows up this bestselling book with advice for parents with a teenager. Her philosophy to view adolescence as a blessing might bewilder parents yet Mogel insists this shift in perspective is more effective than trying to control your child.

The Blessing of a B Minus addresses common “complaints about teenagers and reconceives it as a sign of good health, psychological development, or spiritual progression.” Whether its teenaged rudeness, procrastination, self-centeredness, or late nights and groggy mornings, Mogel manages to find answers to some hard to deal with aspects of adolescence.

“At the first whiff of middle school, even the most laid-back parents find it difficult to practice loving acceptance of their children. When children hit their tweens, it suddenly seems that there is so much more at stake for them than there was for us when we were growing up, so much more danger on the horizon…We decide that it was fine to revel in our child’s ordinary glory when she was younger, but no longer. Now, it counts.”

But Mogel explains that it’s not loving to expect a child to be good at everything all the time. She realizes this is hard to do when our culture has such a narrow definition of success, but The Blessing of a B Minus argues that “some teens have talents and traits that are easy to overlook or difficult to measure with a number” and it’s just as important that they too are viewed magnificent.

Like the authors of Raising Resilient Children, which I blogged about in January, Mogel reminds us that “the most reliable predictors of adult success are not grades in high school or a collegiate pedigree. They are qualities that psychologist Daniel Goleman calls emotional intelligence: empathy, optimism, flexibility, a good sense of humor, the capacity to function as a team member, and a positive reaction to setbacks.” So resist the urge to measure and compare.

Still, parenting a teenager goes beyond acceptance of their innate personality. “It also means accepting that they are still developing. They’re not fully cooked yet. It’s not fair to expect them to act like young adults when, from a neurological and psychological perspective, they are still children.” So Mogel suggests you look for “occasions when you can truthfully and specifically praise your teen, not just for her potential, but for what she is right now.” A big sister who let a younger sibling tag along. Or a computer whiz who mixed a CD for you. This doesn’t mean you have to stop being their parent and start acting like a “creepy, middle-aged friend,” but Mogel explains your teen will find it reassuring if you “can see the beauty amid the pain of her transformation.

While my kids aren’t teenagers yet, I have spent many of my teaching years in the middle school setting, a place where young love, baggy pants, and vulnerabilities prevail. The Blessing of a B Minus advice that I found most consistent with my experiences was the following: “Life with teens will be more fun for you if you can derive at least some entertainment value from the experience.” When I thought I couldn’t take the back talk, bad attitudes, or feigned indifference another moment, my colleague, and best friend, would help me find the humor in the moment. Magically, somehow, this laughter would carry me through the often angst-filled world of adolescence; therefore, I suspect Mogel is on to something when she recommends you find comedy in your teenagers errors. After all, you were once a leg-warmer wearing awkward adolescent, too.


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Parenting By the Book – How to Stop Hyper-Parenting


While The Overscheduled Child by Alvin Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise tries to avoid giving advice because they believe “there is no single right way to raise a family,” at the end of the book, they do provide parents with some fundamental principles to help you make decisions about what might work best for you.

  • Limit Activities – Weigh the benefits of participation against the cost, which includes “time, energy, logistical effort, stress, and expense.”
  • Develop Healthy Skepticism – “Experts should help alleviate stress, not add unnecessary anxiety to an already overloaded life.”
  • Give Yourself a Break – “Do it your way. You only get one chance. The next time you experience it, you will be watching your children being parents. So embrace the uncertainty.”
  • Family Is a Priority – “If your family is too busy to hang out together, if you and your spouse hardly ever spend time alone together as a couple, adjustments need to be made. Family time should be as important as education, athletics, social activities, and other outside commitments.”
  • Buyer Beware – “We live in a market-driven society, where just about everyone is selling something, directly or indirectly. Go into the world with that awareness, and ask yourself whether a particular product or service will enrich your life or merely distract you.”
  • Character Counts – “Know that how you live your life in front of your child matters more than how you tell him he ought to be living his.”
  • Be Unproductive – “The fact that you, the parent, enjoy spending time with your child with no apparent goal lets her know you find her more interesting than just about anything else in the world – there is nothing that will bolster her self-esteem more effectively.”
  • Childhood is Preparation, Not a Performance – “By definition, children are immature and should not be expected to perform to adult standards. Resist the pressure from coaches, and the media, that tells you how to push your child to excel early.”
  • Pleasure Has a Place in Parents’ Lives – “If we aren’t having much fun with our children, spouse, friends – and even ourselves – we need to consider making some changes in our lives.”
  • Pleasure Has a Place in Kids’ Lives Too! “Childhood needn’t be an endless treadmill of productivity and self-improvement. Kids deserve to have fun.”
  • Leave Empty Spaces on Your Calendar – “Empty hours teach children how to create their own happiness – and that is an important skill we would all benefit from developing.”
  • There is No Single, Right Way to Parent – Still parents should make an effort to “rush a little less and reflect a little more.”
  • Trust Yourself


Of all the suggestions on this list, the one I find most effective is Leave Empty Spaces on Your Calendar. Here’s my twist on it, however. I know it might sound neurotic, but I can’t have empty spaces on my calendar. The reason being because when someone calls to make plans I quickly glance at my calendar and I think that I’m available when in fact I’m not, as I’m committed to myself or my family. If I write in “Stay home,” it’s a gentle reminder for me to stop the madness and slow down.

The next step I took to battle my overscheduled calendar was to tell people I had plans, without an explanation as to what I’m doing. This can be tough for me, as I always feel compelled to explain myself, but unfortunately, it was necessary. I found when I told people I planned to stay home and regroup, they often felt slighted, as if I was saying “I’m free, but I just don’t want to see you.”

Finally, I book family time in advance. Authors Rosenfeld and Wise argue, “If your child enjoys his time with you now, it will stay with him forever. And emotionally at least, the relationship that has meant so much to him as a child will stay with him and bolster him as an adult.” So at the beginning of the month, I take a look at the commitments we must keep. Then, I block out weekend days for us to stay home to together. The key is stay home. Family outings don’t count in my book. Whenever possible, we don’t leave the house – pajamas from morning to night if my kids so choose. Sometimes, it involves passing on a birthday party, forgoing a Girl Scout event, or skipping church, but for me, staying home as a family has become an integral part of our connectedness.

If you’re still not convinced, listen to Taylor Swift’s, “The Best Day,” a sweet song about the positive impact of days with her family during childhood. I’m willing to bet by the end of the song you’ll have tears in your eyes and empty spaces on your calendar.

The Overscheduled Child – Is Winning Everything?


While at the doctor’s office this week, I overheard an older woman discussing the upcoming finale of America’s Got Talent. The woman explained that even though she thought Jackie Evancho, a ten-year-old opera singer and only remaining child contestant, was phenomenal, she didn’t want her to win. “What kind of life would (a show in Vegas) be for her?” I believe The Overscheduled Child would agree as well. Rosenfeld and Wise write, “Many people complain that too many children are being unreasonably pressured today. But parents may find it really difficult to delineate where, exactly, lies the line between being enthused on their children’s behalf and exerting overzealous pressure on them.”

According to The Overscheduled Child, “It is not bad for a parent to have a vision for what they want their children to get from life; we all dream about what the future may hold, and indeed some of our kids will be happy enough to walk that path. “ The problem is that our unrealized dreams often drive our children’s overscheduled childhoods. “At the very time in life when we are coming to terms with the realization that many of our most cherished dreams for ourselves may never come true, children seem to offer us one last round in the ring, one last chance to be a contender.”

But as Rosenfeld and Wise point out, “The pressure we put on our children to succeed doesn’t chase the demons from their lives at all. It propels the poor kids directly into the waiting arms.” This constant quest for accomplishments actually puts in place a vicious cycle of inadequacy – always feeling that they have something to prove. “As we continually move from one challenge to the next, hoping each time for more adulation, we can never sit still long enough to notice how much is right in our lives or to recognize that such perpetual striving comes from an inner neediness that never stops gnawing at us, a demon that demands to be fed.”

But that’s other parents, not you, right? “Somehow it is harder to pin down what pushiness is when we ourselves are the forces behind it. Nor can we always easily determine where encouragement ends and intensity begins, particularly for children who, on their own, aren’t motivated to try new things or do much at all.” The Overscheduled Child suggests you think of it in these terms: “If saying ‘no’ to unreasonable pressures and schedule demands seems too difficult, we parents might need to take a serious look at what our motivations really are. “

Still, is it so wrong to bribe a slow reader with a financial reward if it means they might learn to love reading? Can we really blame the parents who sign their slightly clumsy kid up for soccer in hopes of improving their coordination? And what about the aspiring figure skater? Trading in the “normal” childhood experience would be worth it if she wins an Olympic gold medal, right? If being the operative word in that sentence. If she doesn’t win, would all the sacrifice still be worth it?

“While some people unquestionably thrive on the challenge of working hard to get to the top, a larger percentage likely would find that, in the end, a less pressured life is more meaningful and gratifying…which is why parents need to think hard about what our personal definition of success is. We need to weigh the price of being a ‘winner,’ to determine whether devoting our lives to wearing that label and getting our kids to display it early and prominently, is really worth the cost.”

Ten-year-old Jackie Evancho may not have won America’s Got Talent, but her gracious comments and tearless eyes proved that in many ways she was already a winner. While her year of touring with the show will undoubtedly bring her opportunities her parents may only have dreamed of, I, for one, hope they decide to protect her from the pressures of being a professional performer for a little longer. With a voice like hers, she certainly has more than fifteen minutes of fame coming to her so why not preserve her voice and her childhood, by giving her time to mature, before starting her inevitable singing career. As Rosenfeld and Wise argue, “Accomplishment is but a moment; most of life is spent on the journey.” Wouldn’t it be better to slow down and enjoy the ride?

The Overscheduled Child – Seeing Our Kids for Who They Really Are


In their chapter, Custom Kids, Rosenfeld and Wise explore how we strive to make our children into who we want them to be or think they should be rather than trying to get to know who they really are. As a result, instead of becoming well-rounded and self-confident individuals, according to The Overscheduled Child, “they end up insecure, feeling inept and devoid of real value.”

The authors argue childhood is no longer “preparation for adulthood but a performance in its right.” What has this happened? “The purpose of our children has become to make us proud and happy.” As parents, we no longer “need” them to help out on our land or in our house. Dual-income and affluent families can hire others to do whatever they don’t enjoy doing themselves. Therefore, Rosenfeld and Wise claim, when “we work so hard for them we want concrete evidence it is worth the effort.”

“Intellectually, we may understand that perfection is not possible, but when it comes to helping our children, we are not all that sure we see the harm in trying to get as close as we humanly can.” As a result, we feel we must fix every deficiency. But The Overscheduled Child argues while we see ourselves as simply trying to do what is best for them, from their angle, they feel criticized all the time, as if nothing they do is good enough. “This emphasis on perfection and perpetual motion is destroying family life.”

According to Rosenfeld and Wise, “Our intensity tells them that everything they do matters, really counts for something. With the lessons we sign them up for, the leagues they play on, the competitions they enter, the attention we pay to every aspect of their performance in life – academic, athletic, social, physical – we are always and eternally telling them that they can, and should, do better.” Ultimately, our behavior demonstrates that “what is important is how you look and perform, not who you are.”

While my eight year old is a voracious reader, her spelling has a lot of room for improvement because she favors speed over correctness. I suspect family and friends, upon receiving thank you notes for example, find her inventive spelling of often commonly spelled words baffling, especially when you consider I’m an English teacher. But eighteen years in education has taught me that confidence and initiative, two things my daughter has a lot of when it comes to writing, are more important qualities to nurture than perfection so I avoid correcting her mistakes whenever possible. This is an easy decision for me because I’ve seen the positive impact this approach has in my classrooms. The hard part about parenting is that we’re not experts in all aspects of it, which is why, as Rosenfeld and Wise point out, we’re often in a “rat race for what might happen a decade or two from now.”

The Overscheduled Child reasons we need to stop “turning ourselves inside out to get for our kids the things they want, or that we want for them, (as) we are actually damaging their inner sense of security and well-being and giving them access to exactly the sort of tools we don’t want them using as they go on to build their own lives.” So what do Rosenfeld and Wise suggest we do to avoid customizing our kids? We can start by learning the wisdom of 12-step groups: “God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The Overscheduled Child – Whose Life Is It Anyway?


After making the decision to cut back on afterschool activities, I decided to continue down this precarious path and try something else that had escaped me as of late –asking my eight year old what she wanted to do, as opposed to signing her up for things I thought would benefit her most in the future.  I set up a process of elimination that worked similar to how the contestants on her favorite television show, America’s Got Talent, got sent home.  Gymnastics or Spanish?  Art or piano?  Book club or choir?  As she’d whittled the list down to Girl Scouts and dance, the hyper-parent in me kept trying to prod her in a different direction, but my suggestions fell on deaf years.  She knew what she wanted, and after six months of nagging her to practice the piano, I gave up the fight.

“What really should be beginning to happen as children get older is that they start to take over more responsibility for their own lives, and their parents start to let go,” argue Rosenfeld and Wise.  “If the goal is for children to develop the skills they need to be independent and self-sufficient they need practice.”  In other words, they need to answer the following for themselves:  When should I start my homework?  What should I do when I’m done?  Who do I want to spend my time with?

The Overscheduled Child essentially argues that every single thing doesn’t matter; every minute of every day isn’t crucial to your child’s future success.  Parents don’t need to act as stage managers “responsible for all production details: casting, costumes, scenery, music, script changes, and making sure no one ever misses a cue or flubs a line.”  What parents need to do, instead, is give their children room to breathe, to learn, to grow.  Otherwise, “we deprive them of the sense that they are the authors of their own lives.”

While parents should do their best to provide a good life for their children, it’s counterproductive to personally edit every aspect of their lives to make them letter-perfect.  “Our children’s lives will certainly be richer and more meaningful if we let them – gradually and appropriately – begin to take responsibility for themselves.  And that includes, sometimes, letting them be flawed like the rest of us, to make mistakes, and to learn from them.”  According to Rosenfeld and Wise, “Putting so much emphasis on success by, let’s say, insisting on great grades (even if it means we must intervene to keep them high) makes it unlikely our children will learn about actions and their consequences.”

When my oldest daughter was little, I used to save all of her cutest outfits for special occasions and then be disappointed when she’d grown out of them by then.  I vowed that if I had another daughter she’d wear them whenever she wanted, and she has, often taking my laissez-fare attitude to the extreme.  I mean, why wait for Halloween when you can wear your tiara to preschool as a headband? Earlier this week, my four-year-old wanted to wear her Fancy Nancy poodle dress, complete with necklaces and a crown, to the Food Lion.  My first instinct was to say “no” but then I remembered the part of The Overscheduled Child where the authors wrote, “They need to wear Halloween costumes more than once a year.  They require the freedom to try on plenty of roles on their own, with no obligation to take them seriously.”

I know they are right still it’s hard to not worry about what others will think of your parenting choices.  Our culture worships the appearance of spontaneity (windblown hair and laughter), but “beneath the surface, the books and shows say that the best way to get there, to that place where life looks fabulous and fun-filled as a Coca-Cola commercial, is by planning as carefully as possible along the way.  We are told we can control it all – and we definitely want to do so, particularly when we feel so out of control by the demands of two, three, or four children!”

Rosenfeld and Wise realize “giving up on hyper-parenting seems like a bold and ill-advised step in the wrong direction.  We are utterly and completely convinced that good parents are fiercely attentive to every single detail of their children’s lives.  Anything less seems like negligence in the face of life’s greatest challenge.”   But I don’t want my good intentions to undermine my child’s sense of joy and discovery so off I went for groceries with my bejeweled daughter, trying hard not to think about the ways I may have stunted my oldest for never affording her the same opportunity.

The Over-Scheduled Child – Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap


Even though I’d sworn it’d never happen, it had.  By this past spring, my oldest daughter was enrolled in seven extracurricular activities: Girls Scouts, gymnastics, Spanish, art, piano, choir, and book club.  Ridiculous, I know.  Her participation had occurred innocently enough, as half of them required only a monthly or bi-monthly commitment.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t until all activities ceased this summer that I realized I had a problem.  Like so many Americans, I was guilty of overscheduling my child.

Therefore, this month, I’m reading The Over-Scheduled Child:  How to Avoid the Hyper-Parenting Trap by Alvin Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise, in an effort to affirm my decision to drop all but two activities from her list of commitments.  As Rosenfeld and Wise point out, “Hyper-parenting is born out of the best intentions.”  In my case, while my child’s school has a wonderful, small-town camaraderie, the teacher in me felt compelled to compensate for its less than stellar curriculum.  Of course, I know The Over-Scheduled Child is correct when it argues that “parenting should not take all our time, money and energy,” but I did it anyway.  While I know it’s not an excuse, it’s hard to not worry your kid will be missing out if you say no.

According to The Over-Scheduled Child, “When it comes to making life good for our children, we are not quite sure where reason ends and ridiculous begins…Virtually all of us in the American middle class and above are already providing our children with an enriched environment.  Compared to us, most of the world’s children live in abject poverty.  Relatively speaking, our lives are charmed.  Yet rather than feeling grateful, many of us feel anxious, precarious, and vulnerable.”

What do we do as a result? As Rosenfeld and Wise explain, “Many parents are acting as though life can be planned and children programmed, the ultimate goal being admission to a prestigious college and the supposed success that invariably follows.  But let’s not forget that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was a Harvard grad.”  Therefore, I think it’s fair of Rosenfeld and Wise to ask, “Should our goal be preparing our kids to get into the college of their choice or to live the life of their choice?”

“To succeed in life, does every child really need the level of intense involvement that has come to characterize family life in America today?  Does unquestioning acceptance of this fast-track lifestyle indicate a bankruptcy of common sense?  Are all American families so far gone in this madness that, in our blindness, we simply see no alternative?  Or is there, perhaps, a better, easier, more balanced and rewarding way for families to live?”

Like Bria Simpson’s book, The Balanced Mom, which I blogged about back in May, The Over-Scheduled Child, wants parents to consider the following: What do I really believe in?  What do I really want from this life?  While my daughter’s afterschool schedule in second grade didn’t reflect it, I do believe that less is more.  In the midst of the chaos, I’d justify her involvement to my husband by saying that she only went to gymnastics one hour a week whereas other girls her age went for three hours a night.  Granted, my track might not have been as fast as others still it was frantic enough to affect our quality of life.

The way I figure there are worse things than having the best of intentions but, as I’m finding, you can’t take your schedule back until you admit you have a problem.  So if there’s anyone else out there who’d like to come clean, feel free.  You’re in good company.


Born to Buy – Decommercializing Childhood


Schor makes no doubt about it – “constructing a less commercial childhood experience will not be easy.” Ads have infiltrated everything. Scholastic book order forms, “once a cheap and convenient way of getting books,” are now loaded with media and toys. “Beginning in 1995, the Girls Scouts began offering the ‘Fashion Adventure’ experience with the Limited Too.” And Schor points out even the children’s hospital at UCLA was renamed after Mattel. Places of worship are the only safe spots, at least for now.

“The strong presumption against active consumer policy remains. Parents know best. If they don’t like what’s on offer, they can turn off the TV, just say no, or ban the offending T-shirt, lyrics, Web site, or caffeinated sodas. Consumer culture is not an imperative, it’s a choice.” While this is certainly true to some extent, Schor does an excellent job of presenting the flaw in this argument. “In truth, consumption is a thoroughly social activity, and what one person buys, wears, drives, or eats affects the desires and behaviors of those around them.” This is especially when you consider how ads have also infiltrated schools.

Schor argues, “Advertising in schools violates a fundamental principle of consumer sovereignty: the ability to escape ads and marketing. Schooling is compulsory, unlike Internet surfing or patronizing fast food restaurant…Furthermore, the growth of corporate-sponsored curricular materials threatens fundamental principles of objectively and knowledge in the classroom.” Basically, Born to Buy maintains while schools might make money from Box Tops or McDonald’s McTeacher Night, ultimately, we’re all paying a price.

Personally, I think Schor devotes too much of the conclusion of her book to Congressional legislation and not enough time on concrete practices parents can adopt immediately. While in an ideal world, everyone would read her book and follow it up with a letter to their Representative, that’s not going to happen. And let’s be realistic. Even if it did, it’d be years before changes actually took place. I need solutions now. Schor briefly offers her own experiences as a guide for setting limits with television, but she never addresses all of the other questions that arise over the course of a consumer’s day. Unfortunately, other than an offer to “join the movement to oppose a corporate-constructed childhood,” Schor suggests little else.

It has been my experience that it’s really a matter of where you are going to draw your line in the sand. I do worry that prohibiting television and all that goes with it will backfire as soon as I relinquish control and I don’t want to cause my child to be socially excluded. While Schor writes that her research fails to prove either of those things likely, I still struggle with whether my child needs a basic cultural literacy to function successfully in our society. Therefore, the line in the sand at my house is constantly being moved based on my comfort level.

My oldest daughter loves to horde American Girl catalogues. I had always allowed her this indulgence, as we don’t have cable TV so her exposure to advertisements is extremely limited. But this summer, I found that she had begun to spend more time making lists of what she wanted as opposed to actually playing with her doll. When she won a Littlest Pet Shop through the summer reading program and lingered longer over the brochure for additional products than she did the toy, I knew something had to change. I gave her an expiratio n date and told her that everything would be recycled by the week’s end. Immediately, she began updating her list.

But as they say down south, my daughter comes by it honestly. I recently picked up an old issue of In Style Magazine at the library for 25 cents and dog –eared it in about a half-dozen places. The chances of me buying the $95 black camisole at Bloomindales featured on page 268 are virtually nonexistent and yet I noted it nonetheless. What I’ve realized is that by constantly questioning my consumer longings I’m actually doing my girls a favor. The reality is, as with drugs, alcohol, and sex, the temptation to consume in excess is out there. While they might be “born to buy,” with a little bit of honesty on my part, at the very least they’ll learn striking a balance between needs and wants is likely to take a lifetime.

Born to Buy – The Virus Unleashed


Long before The Truman Show came to the movies in 1998, ads were slowly infiltrating our everyday lives. Whether it was a corporation sponsoring a coliseum or Carrie, of Sex and the City, typing on her Mac, Schor argues the virus had been unleashed. Continuing to captivate me, Born to Buy tackles how an advertiser’s need to create a buzz is transforming friendships.

Apparently, there is a company called Girls Intelligence Agency, which capitalizes on the growing business of peer-to-peer marketing. “Girls as young as six are recruited to become GIA agents, and once they’re accepted, they become part of an active online network.” According to Schor, in 2002, at the company’s start, 40,000 girls, aged eight to eighteen, were ready to “swing into action on the drop of a dime to create buzz for whatever product the company sends their way.”

Here’s how it works. GIA’s trademark product is the Slumber Party in a Box, which “takes places in what the company calls the ‘inner sanctum’ or the ‘guarded fortress,’ that is, girls’ bedrooms.” Schor explains “parties have featured toys, film, television shows, health and beauty aids, and other products. The host girl (a GIA agent) invites up to eleven of her friends to the party. Their first instruction is to put on pajamas and ‘eat too much junk food.’ Then partygoers are given a product sample that they use during the evening.” Girls are encouraged to be “slick” and “find out some sly scoop on your friends.” When it’s over, after receiving only the product as payment, the host is required to provide feedback. As Schor points out, the party essentially becomes a natural, intimate focus group or sales session.

I felt violated just reading about it. While Schor explains that this trend will eventually make word-of-mouth feedback corrupt, I worry more about an even more serious consequence she highlights, the corruption of friendship itself. “Marketers are teaching kids to view their friends as a lucrative resource they can exploit to gain products or money.” It’s just not right. Still, with the company estimating it reaches 20 million girls nationwide, it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.

My preoccupation with this fact prevented me from reading more. All I could think about was how sleepovers would never be the same again. Before the worst thing that could happen was a bra in the freezer or maybe a hand in cold water. (I was always the girl who fell asleep first so I’m familiar with all the “fun.”) Now I’ve got to worry about my children being manipulated by someone who has taken a Kim Possible fascination too far.

Feeling like I’d received a wake-up call with no way to turn off the alarm, I decided to temporarily put down Born to Buy in lieu of a book my friend lent me. Amish Peace by Suzanne Woods Fisher claims to offer simple wisdom for a complicated world. When I came across the following Amish proverb – “You can’t keep trouble from coming, but you needn’t give it a chair to sit in” – I knew I’d found my answer. Just because the average American is addicted to excess doesn’t mean I have to be. Easier said than done, I know. So, I’m hoping in Schor’s final chapter, Decommercializing Childhood, she’ll recommend some practical advice.

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