I came across a report yesterday about Hattie Garlick – a woman with a two-year-old son who has decided to try and spend no money on him during this next year.
This might sound like cruelty but I find it rather sensible.
She does not, of course, mean that she will not give him food or medicine as he needs it. Instead, she is talking about breaking the control of the insane world of consumerism we all seem to be stuck in.
Frankly I wholeheartedly agree.
You can read the full report here:
Better still, do what I did and sign up for her blog “Free Our Kids” and see for yourself what she has been getting up to so far. When I last looked there was this wonderful post of a Doll’s House they made together entirely out of cardboard and bits and pieces lying around the house. It took me back to happy, happy days in the 70s when I grew up and this kind of activity was the staple diet of playtime for us kids. I grew up in the grey area between working and middle class in Wigan, a northern England town and there wasn’t a great deal of money to spare for toys. The few I got were precious and my parents made it clear just how much of a struggle it was to afford any at all.
So paper, card, string, glue and a whole lot of imagination was the order of the day and I don’t regret a minute of it.
Living in Bangladesh now, in another northern area experiencing great poverty as well as great economic change, all of this hits home again.
My children’s peers in England enjoy, by and large, 24/7 broadband internet, TVs in their own rooms, laptops, X-Boxes, Wiis and mobile phones amongst a whole host of DVDs and other incredible luxuries that are now being considered necessities. Just recently, a German court declared the internet an essential commodity enabling one man to sue his internet provider when he lost connectivity for a period of time.
I don’t have anything against all of this per se but when it all goes hand-in-hand with everyone feeling the pinch in a global recession and increasing problems with children being unable to socially interact and greater obesity and so on, I question the value of such luxuries which bring an unhealthy gratification to the young and cause so many problems both now and for the future.
I have always maintained that children here in Bangladesh are much, much happier than those in my home country and after four years of living here I am still convinced this is the case. Most of these kids have precious little resources so they go out and make them for themselves - together.
And I think that is my point here.
My own children do have laptops to do their work on and limited access to the internet to keep in contact with friends around the world, so I am not ‘anti-technology’. Nor is Garlick. She uses the internet to swap toys with others as a way of not having to buy any. My point is that I believe we need to stop listening to the voice of the ‘Must Buy’ culture even when our own children are hooked on it and demand more. Some things are helpful; others are just lazy.
The clue, I feel, is this: Are we interacting with our children or are they spending the majority of the time alone in their rooms on computers, watching DVDs or TV or on solo games? If so, maybe we’ve got the balance wrong. What Garlick has done costs her time – not money. She has to play with her son, do activities with him, aid him to see his imagination come to life. He’s not placed in front of the TV for hours on end.
I’ve tried to do the same with my children. Thing I and Thing II have virtually no access to TV, they have limited ‘screen’ time for laptops and ipods outside of doing school work and almost all videos watched are done as a family together. We play games together one night a week (usually) and we eat all our meals together. They spend a lot of time playing outside with friends and reliance on ‘toys’ is limited. What’s most wonderful for me is that we actually like being together! Family time is a fun experience for us all despite my daughter hitting the teens soon and my son reaching the age of 10 in the next couple of weeks. This is a precious gift I don’t want to lose.
I have life in Bangladesh to thank for all of this. I’m not sure we would have succeeded had we lived the last four years in the UK. The temptation to ‘do what everyone else is’ is far too strong.
Hats off to Hattie Garlick, then, for being stronger than (I suspect) most of us.
- I’m going cold turkey on kiddie consumerism | Hattie Garlick (guardian.co.uk)
- The Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind – Christmas 2011 (richarddawkins.net)