Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adultcentrism at the Mall

Though it seems like kids are the center of the holiday season, with their demands for toys and their shopping tantrums, the Santa displays and all those stale Rankin-Bass specials on television, in reality, adults are and have always been the center of the shopping season.

Readers will take a step back at this point, put their hands on their foreheads and say, "don't we adults do enough for kids already? Half the time I look around and it seems like the kids are the center of the universe." This is somewhat true, and it's also part of the problem. If you actually look at the broad range of services supposedly set up "for children," or "for young people," you'll notice the wide, wide array of them aren't actually for kids at all, they're for their parents. Parents are the targets because these institutions, all this Christmas holiday hoopla "for the kids," while being done for the kids has nothing to do with them.

This is going to sound corny, but it's a good example of the point here. How many times have you seen a kid this holiday season or ever, at the point of tears for being forced to sit in Santa's lap at the mall? Better yet, how many times have you seen older children frustrated and angry for having to endure this humiliation? It's even made fun of in sitcoms and films, the older kids yelling at or beating up Santa and his helpers or kicking over display pieces and causing a scene.

Those kids are obviously not sitting on Santa's lap because they wanted to be there, no matter how much time and money is going into providing such a thing "for the kids." The rest of the kids enjoy it because they're more or less expected to. In all reality, the idea was arranged originally so that parents could shop and leave their children somewhere where they could at least be entertained for a while. Of course the idea of "leaving a child with Santa" is unheard of, but that's how the tradition started. This is not really an issue, but more of an illustration of what we're talking about.

I've been enjoying writer Adam Fletcher's video blog series on youth issues. As a consultant for communities and schools around the world for re-envisioning the role of young people in society, his knowledge and experience in this realm of thought has always been a great inspiration throughout the youth community. This particular video I think is important, because he describes some of the basic ideas surrounding what we mean when we say things like "youth issues."

There are implicit biases towards and against youth in society that go largely unrecognized because 1, youth don't have the power as minors to really be a threatening voice against such institutions, and 2, because they often don't realize the power they indeed do have to be a force of change. Besides, unlike racism, sexism, and other social prejudices, this is one that everyone "grows out of," so it's often passed off as unimportant. Unfortunately, because it is remains so pervasive, both youth and adult society have to live with the consequences, which aren't always minor issues.

Adultcentrism is similar to ethnocentrism, geocentrism, and any other ideas built on the egotistical perspective of one group over another with the common theme that "the universe revolves around us." Wealthy, white, men in Europe used to define universal human nature throughout philosophy based on the ideas they held about themselves. People used to believe the earth was the center of the universe. In the modern age, the adult remains the center of their own self-created universe .

So when you pass the over-the-top Santa display in the mall and gripe about how the whole holiday has gone to the kids, realize that it's the adults who make it that way. Far more often than not, the only reason kids are given any pedestal is because they are such useful consumers. Marketers know that children are a wonderful exploitable resource that can't complain, and can be used to dig at their parent's pocketbooks very easily, with the implicit expectation that though parents would scoff at purchasing such tripe toys when sitting on the shelves, their kids' pestering isn't as easy to shrug off.

It does exist, but it is rare that you see any of this holiday hoopla geared toward including the children and teens themselves in the "gift giving" part of the transaction. This is because of the expectation that kids just simply don't have the resources (ie. money) to do such a thing, so the whole design of the holiday ends up set up for the parents. Sometimes you'll hear on the radio various charities you can get the kids involved in where they can donate their old toys as a gift for other kids, Toys For Tots is very vocal about promoting itself this way, and it does a world of good.

On that high note, be sure to include the kids in the gift giving this year as much as they are the gift-getters, encourage them to give to charities and give yourself to show your solidarity, it'll give them something far more productive to be doing at the mall.

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