02.Guilty as charged
You can't help but want to care for your child - you can't resist it - and marketers know that.
- Dr James Best
Dr James Best is a Sydney-based GP who specialises in babies and children and is the author of an upcoming book, Kidsense. He says that the levels of guilt and anxiety of parents he sees in his practice are on the rise, particularly when it comes to what they think they should be doing – and buying – for their children.
Best says that where once parents would have learned from “the village” and other parents, in modern life they tend to learn from marketing, the internet and advertising. “Many parents I see, particularly with their first child, are absolute sitting ducks for vulnerability in all kinds of respects. You can’t help but want to care for your child – you can’t resist it – and marketers know that. What the marketing implies is that you must be perfect you must do everything and tick every box.
“Your child must do every activity. What if they miss the chance to how learn to play the piano? The marketing implies you’d better do it or you’re a failure as a mother. You go into shops and see a vast array of guilt-driven messages thrown at parents. You get people being provided with so many choices that even if they’re smart and well-educated they’ll start making illogical choices.
“As an example, you’ll see parents tying themselves up in knots to provide their baby with perfect organic meals – when perhaps something out of a jar would be just fine. But then they’ll go and buy something such as an amber teething necklace, which is a choking hazard. It’s easy to lose perspective.”
The kiddie industrial complex
Lenore Skenazy, US-based author of the best-selling book Free-Range Kids, tours the world speaking about what she calls the “kiddie safety industrial complex” and modern parents’ obsession with safety and the stuff that we need to buy to supposedly protect them. “The market these days supports the idea that somehow our kids are too vulnerable, and that we are too inept, to keep them alive without a phalanx of stuff no other generation in history ever needed,” she says.
“There is a onesie (jumpsuit) that monitors your baby’s breathing and sends you a text. There are baby monitors that allow you to check on your baby via a special camera, helmets and harnesses to help them learn to walk. These are the kind of things that went from the special needs market to the normal children’s.
“The marketplace has taught us that the babies won’t ‘work’ on their own – that you need to buy ‘stuff’ to allow them to work. As soon as you implant that fear in a parent you can extract money from them.”
Proceed with caution
So how do parents avoid the marketing guff and work out what’s really necessary? Barker says there are a few basics that babies really need and beyond that, let common sense prevail. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Products promising to induce sleep or stop crying particularly irk Barker. “It’s a shame when a mother takes her child to a pharmacy and says that the baby is crying. But instead of being told ‘that’s what babies do’, the pharmacist will probably try to sell her some kind of product for colic or wind that we know won’t work.”
She is equally dismissive of the vast range of kid-specific food, drinks and personal care products available in most supermarkets. “A baby can eat full-strength yoghurt from the very beginning, so they don’t need special baby yoghurt. Equally, babies over the age of 12 months don’t need special toddler formula or milk – they can go straight onto regular cow’s milk.”
However, Barker does concede that the lure of the market is more than many can stand. “It’s full-on – and I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I’m a willing and happy consumer too. But when it comes to baby products I really feel that less is more. You have to have your antenna up, and remember advertising is advertising.