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Mommy the Hypocrite

By Jessie Christensen

My little boy is turning six in a month, and for at least six months I’ve been hearing all about the Angry Birds cupcakes he wants for his birthday party. Every time he mentions Angry Birds I change the subject. I don’t like Angry Birds. I don’t want Angry Birds at his birthday. In fact, I don’t even understand why he likes them so much. I don’t own any sort of smart phone or other similar device and I’m pretty sure my son has never actually played the game. We don’t own a video game system and my kids don’t watch any television, so my son’s fixation on the latest craze is baffling, and frankly a little irritating to me. No matter how much I want to keep my children’s childhood commercial free, those stupid little birds are plastered all over everything. Even my two-year-old brightens up when she sees them and chirps “Angry Birds!”

And yet, I feel like a total hypocrite. You see, last year my son turned five and had his first “friends” birthday party, based on Scooby-Doo. I borrowed a cake pan from a friend and spent over two hours producing an intricately-frosted cake that showed Scooby himself eating a giant hamburger. After three trips to different stores I put together games, coloring sheets, goodie bags, and elaborate decorations. I even spent too much money on a giant mylar Scooby balloon the same size as my son. My son loved his party and talked about it for months afterwards.

And so, like most parents, I am inconsistent. I don’t let my kids watch television, but we do watch shows on DVD and I’ve been known to not-so-gently urge my youngest to watch Dora so that I can finish grading some papers in peace. I generally don’t buy them products with commercial characters on them, but when my sister bought my son a pair of Converse with Superman and Batman on them, I thought they were the perfect gift. My kids have no clue about sports teams, but even my two-year-old can name the members of the Justice League because their dad likes to read comics with them (age-appropriate ones, of course). I also think that part of the reason why I like don’t like Angry Birds is because they are new and different. Scooby-Doo, Barbie, My Little Pony, and G.I. Joe are the icons of my childhood and most likely to provoke nostalgia. Angry Birds just provoke irritation. Perhaps in twenty years my kids will talk fondly about their childhood memories of Angry Birds cupcakes and Club Penguin stickers, but for right now I hope they forgive me if I want to plug my ears and run away screaming.

 How do you manage your kids’ relationship with fads and trends? What things do your kids love that you loathe? Did you have any obsessions as a kid?

About Jessie Christensen

Jessie served a mission in Spain and graduated from BYU with bachelor's degrees in Spanish Translation and English, as well as a master's in Spanish Literature. She currently works full-time at a university library and nurtures her three children, one cat, and a fluctuating number of fish. She relaxes by reading, baking, canning fruit, and putting together jigsaw puzzles.

26 thoughts on “Mommy the Hypocrite”

  1. I think it's for this exact reason that echos of childhood marketing are revived every 20 years or so: GI Joe, Strawberry Shortcake, Smurfs, Pound Puppies. I'm expecting next up will be Captain Planet and another round of Troll dolls. It's easier to let our children have our childhood than their own.

  2. I wouldn't make my child an Angry Birds Cake, purely because one of my sisters made on for her 4 year old. It was brilliant, and playable- that's right we used the sling shot to hurl angry birds at the pigs, and knock down the walls. It was brilliant. All the children loved it, especially the big ones 🙂

  3. I don't know Jess, try Angry Birds, you might like it. I resisted it for a long time but after watching friends play it on their phones, I find it oddly charming.

    And that cake looks fantastic, Chippy!

  4. My girls watch She-Ra on netflix which I now listen to and shake my head, but I LOVED it as a kid. (Why isn't Gem and the Holograms back?) I steered them toward it instead of the dreaded Wow Wow Wubbzy or Eloise. Part of me thinks that the topics of the shows and the language used in the cartoons was more wholesome 20-30 years ago. But maybe it is all pure nostalgia.

    I feel the same way about books. I try to stick with Newbery winners and some of the classics of my childhood (Summer of the Monkeys, Ramona series, Little House on the Prairie, etc.) but my early readers always want to read those darned Rainbow fairies series and Katie Kazoo. I guess I loved Sweet Valley High, so I had better bite my tongue.

  5. Think of it this way: Angry Birds teaches them physics. They have to think about trajectories when they aim the birds for the piggies house. Same for Bey Blades — it's centrifugal force! It's sneaking math into their play, just like we sneak veggies into their food…

  6. My 5-year-old also wanted angry birds a few weeks ago, and I totally was happy with making a green sheet cake and then putting the board game "Angry Birds, Knock on Wood" on top. Not only was he happy with the cake, but the board game has proven to be more of a favorite than the tablet game. I love that it's a building game (the cards tell you want to build), and that he spends hours setting it up and knocking it down in real life. Best of both worlds perhaps?

  7. Janell & Emily–I liked what Janell said about how it seems easier to let our kids have "our childhood instead of theirs". Stuff that I loved as a kid seems more familiar and 'safe' to me–I've had the same issue with books. My daughter loves stuff like Secrets of Droon and 39 Clues, and I never would have read stuff like that when I was a kid. It feels weird when they don't share the same things with me.

    Michelle and Andrea–you have almost convinced me to give Angry Birds a chance 🙂 Does Scooby Doo teach teamwork and problem solving skills?

    And thanks for the cool cake ideas; I'm still undecided about what will do for this year.

  8. I try to encourage my kids to understand both high culture and pop cultural objects. Part of the challenge is to teach them how to do critiques. So it's more of how they manipulate these "texts." Granted, they could know more about the Epic of Gilgamesh, Shakespeare and Emily Dickenson than they know about iCarly, My Little Pony and Dr. Who. Well, actually Dr. Who gives my son a pop-culture introduction to more high-brow stuff. In any case, I am not afraid of pop culture, but I could work harder at giving them more "Cultural Literacy" information (a la E.D. Hirsch, Jr.) In the meantime, "Let them eat (Disney / Nickelodeon TM) cake!"

  9. I think there is a bigger issue here…one to consider anyway. How does your little guy know about angry birds and do you want that influence? How can you stop it, guide it, or allow it in the best way? I think pop culture has so infiltrated our lives that it is good to push back…even further back than our own childhoods. I love KDA's "high culture" comments. Why not a scripture based birthday party? Seriously. Our youth are too distracted. I was too distracted in my youth.
    I am not against pop culture but it sure seems to be consuming our children's lives. Less is more!Less pop culture=more knowledge of eternal things and accomplishment… And way easier, more affordable birthday parties! I bet our kids would love more one on one than the time spent preparing an elaborate party anyway…but that is a whole different subject…

  10. My parents were significantly older than those of my peers'. It was less a generation gap and more a generation canyon. All of my friends parents listened to late 70's and early 80's music. Mine listened to late 50's and early 60's. A common exchange between my friends and I—

    “Have you ever heard of Led Zeppelin?”
    “No. Have you heard of Chubby Checkers?”

    Yeah, it was weird.

    Still, I'm grateful because my parents never discouraged my obsessions with things of the times (unless directly opposing the gospel or something). Instead, they shared the best of their youth with me for what it was. And you know what? I always saw the specialness in those things and they influenced my life for the better.

  11. I have set my feet and relented (Harry Potter – didn't let the older kids read it, my oldest read it under her covers with a flashlight after I went to bed until a friend convinced me to try it just for the metaphors … at book FIVE). Love it now. I've set my feet and never relented (what was that annoying animated series about bratty children … RUGRATS… ugh, still can't stand it.) I've not set my feet on Angry Birds, but wasn't interested until one time my 3rd at 16 came in and saw me playing it and laughed at the look on my face (I'VE BEEN ON THIS LEVEL FOR AN HOUR) and they all pretty much lost interest in it about the time I had a week of it. It's actually kind of boring after about a week.

    What works best for me is to talk with them and find out why they are interested in stuff. They hear a lot of "no, we don't need that" and "do you just like that because everyone else does?" and "if you had to choose, would THAT be it?" and they aren't as susceptible to fads anymore.

    But there were a lot of yu-gi-oh cards in our past …

  12. We all need to relax.

    You think my mom liked Cabbage Patch dolls? No. She told me they were ugly, but made one for me anyway. She also bought me a porcelain doll that SHE wished she would have had as a girl.

    I bought my son a bean bag chair because it's what I wanted when I was a kid. He could not have been less unimpressed.

    Our children are having different childhoods than we did and we should embrace their experiences and pop culture. We can teach them to choose the good, to discern the bad, and to have healthy interactions.

    As for a scripture party, if it's not what the child wants, don't be a jerk. Or make it a Song of Solomon party. I'd go to that party.

    So your kid wants an Angry Birds party. Have fun with it. Go all out. It's a small thing to make a child's dream come true.

  13. My daughter is turning and will be having an Angry Birds birthday party in a couple of weeks. I have an iphone, the only one in my house, and my daughter and her dad LOVE playing Angry Birds together on my phone. We are not inundated with a barrage of other cultural influences. She doesn't have her own phone or access to the game unless she's playing mine, which is rare. It's something she thinks is fun to do with her dad, that has cute-ish characters and provides lots of ideas for a homemade birthday bash. Sometimes a flying pig, is just a flying pig. I think it's important to let our kids love what they love and validate their interests as long they're motivated by good things.

    I was never allowed to watch She-Ra when I was growing up. It was too violent.

  14. I battled and battled with my oldest (when he was about 8) about Yugi-Oh cards. They were so expensive and he spent SO much of his money on them. It was so frustrating to me. Finally I prayed about it and the very clear answer that came shocked me. "Learn to play the game" (for the uninitiated, Yugi-Oh is a card game) "and then teach it to him." Gasp. So I quit fighting him about it, did what I was guided to do and once he knew how to play the game his interest dissipated. I felt bad about it later–that if I had paid more attention in the beginning, rather than making a war zone out of it, it could have been the means to draw us together. Once more a proof that God is smarter than me. (I do not mean to suggest that immersing ourselves in pop culture is ALWAYS the answer, just that in this case it worked. Maybe what I am trying to say is that prayer is always helpful?) 🙂

  15. I got an Annie Oakley skirt, blouse and vest for Christmas one year when I was about six. It also came with a double holstered set of pistols. I am wearing that outfit in so many candid family snapshots for several years in a row, until I could no long squeeze into it. I really wish I still had it. So cool…But, with our children, we didn't have TV for many years. I read classics. We didn't buy Disney things—no special reason. But when the kids were interested in My Little Pony and GI Joe, we bought them. And remember the Transformers? Who knows? It's just one birthday cake.

  16. I've been thinking about this thread for the past day. I wanted to comment on the idea that several have expressed that we as parents need to let our children have their own childhood rather than trying to impose our own dreams and desires on them. My feeling is that in the context of what we are talking about here (video game and TV characters and pop culture), this is not a child's "own" childhood either. This is Disney corporation's definition of childhood. Or whatever other company has created that show or game or character or the dozens of themed toys invented to market it and bring in millions for the company. I disagree with the idea that it's somehow OK for that company to have a large say in what my child plays with, but not me as the parent.

    I had more to say, but morning soccer games call.

  17. I think eljee is spot on. The world is too full of commercial interests dominating childhood creativity. I do not advocate banning commercial entertainment from your home completely, but I also feel that every mother or father who makes a birthday cake is not in the least obligated to make it reflect mass media entertainment.

    My childhood fantasies of "the perfect birthday party" were wild and frilly and probably much influenced by Disney fairy tales. My actual birthday parties were modest, fun and creative as my mother did the sort of things that she knew I would like (even though I didn't know I would) that were not copies of what was on TV or in the movies nor catered to my fantasies. I learned a tremendous lesson: that experiences could be fun and enjoyable even when they did not meet my fantasies or were not dictated by me. This has been a HUGELY helpful truth to know in my life and has been a major source of peace in challenging times.

    If you do not wish to do angry birds for a birthday party, don't do angry birds. Don't make a big fuss about it, just explain that you won't be making one and plan something else with your child. If he has a hissy fit before, during and after the party, you have a spoiled child who is in dire need of the lesson you are teaching. If he only has a hissy fit when you tell him, then you have a pretty normal child who will start the process of learning the beginnings of a wonderful truth, and who will enjoy the things you plan instead.

  18. eljee wrote, "This is Disney corporation’s definition of childhood. Or whatever other company has created that show or game or character or the dozens of themed toys invented to market it and bring in millions for the company. I disagree with the idea that it’s somehow OK for that company to have a large say in what my child plays with, but not me as the parent." This comment confuses me. Who, if not you as the parent, allows your children to be exposed to the Disney themed toys? Who buys them the merchandise or reinforces it's okay-ness? We watch TV at my house, probably so much that it disturb many of you; however, my kids don't have a "Disney/Nickelodeon" childhood. My daughter's favorite toys are her (non character themed) stuffed animals and son likes to play sports. He refuses to wear clothes with labels or pictures of people on them unless he's being paid for it. (His idea–he's eleven.) There has been a corporate battle for children's interests and money since way before I was I was a kid and had strawberry shortcake, etc. dolls. In my opinion, the solution is not to blame to the industry, but rather to strengthen our relationships with our kids and help them build interests in other things.

  19. I'm sorry my statement was confusing. I agree with what you said. I wasn't saying to blame the industry, but to recognize the influence of the industry and how widespread and deep that influence is and then make your own choices. The vibe that I got from some of the comments was that the pop culture that our children currently live in is normal and that it's just what "is" for kids nowadays, we had our own pop culture when we were kids and now they get theirs. And I was saying that, no, I as a parent get to have a greater say as to what "is" for my kids than those companies do. In my case, I do it by refusing to by Barbie or Disney or Dora or whatever else. Others make different choices and that is fine, as long as we recognize what is behind the influences we are facing, which is money.

  20. I've always avoided Character and cartoon-themed everything because, frankly, I think it's tacky. Which is why I was so furious when my husband took our five-year-old daughter out to buy a bike on her birthday and they came back with one plastered with Snow White. Here it is two years later; the bike is still her size but she refuses to ride it because Snow White is too girly and babyish.

    I have had many years of never taking my kids to the shoe store because I knew if they got a choice they'd want something with either cartoon characters or, heaven forbid, flashing lights. Instead I pick out shoes for the kids, bring them home, try them on and exchange if necessary.

    I agree with eljee; even if you try to keep that corporate stuff out of your house, it seeps in all the time. Grandparents are the worst at showing up with Disney everything!

    That being said, we have spent thousands of dollars on Pokemon cards and I've made a Scooby cake too. If there is a passion for it, I can get on board. But if there is a casual, passing interest I try to channel it in another direction.

  21. I think this is a great topic for two reasons. 1-I also won't buy clothing with merchandise logos on them (don't mind the flashing shoes for the little ones though) and 2-my husband works in the animation industry and I see all the effort that goes in to creating appealing characters. These artists love to create drawings that are fun and creative. Saying it is only about money negates that corporations are made up of people with talents they want to share.

    When we see Angry Birds characters at the store, my husband gets to show the kids which bird he designed the face for (the Rio movie one). That said, I don't like Disney channel shows and Sponge Bob has been forbidden at our house for years. Just too weird!

  22. These are all great comments. I was trying to go for funny in my post, but it's hard to get the right tone in writing online. Either way, I think it's an important issue that can be tricky for parents to negotiate.

    Fads have been around for a long time. Over a hundred years ago, everyone wanted to dress like Little Lord Fauntleroy, then there was Shirley Temple, and Annie Oakley, and Davy Crockett. Even the Nephites apparently had problems with consumerism. I think they are a good example of where we don't want to go as far as fads are concerned.

    Every family is different and has to figure out what relationship they want to have with the fun and somewhat frivolous things of the world (Sage–I'm with you on Sponge Bob, it's so weird!) I think the biggest things I've learned, and I've seen in comments here, is that we have to be aware of what our kids are interested in, be flexible in how we approach it, and have the ability to be open to accepting the fact that other families probably won't make the same choices that we do.


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