Toddler Identity and the Scam of Product Marketing

Last week, I took my two-year old daughter to Target. It was intended as a quick in and out trip, with the intention of picking up a baby shower gift. She begrudgingly held my hand ( a requirement for walking in public places), and off we went to the baby section. Typically, I try to avoid any displays that are too enticing and invite wild displays of passion for whatever Target has decided to put at toddler eye-level.

Unfortunately for me, I missed the mega display of Disney princess, glaring pink plastic ride-on cars. Ugggh, seriously Target? Her eyes lit up, and she ran to the shelf like a moth to a light. I reasoned: “these aren’t ours, so we can’t play with them.” I encouraged: “can you help me pick out a gift for the baby party?” Nothing worked, except whipping out a box of raisins for her to eat as we walked.

I was a bit angry with myself for resorting to the last option, but we avoided a total meltdown, and she happily walked away. However, it got me thinking.

What is it about products marketed to toddlers that is like crack to their little developing minds? I can’t control what Target puts on their shelves (at eye-level, no coincidence), but I can control what enters my home and takes from my wallet.

Megan, co-author of The Other Baby Book, sent me an article link that explores the allure and concern of the Disney princesses. And not to pick on Disney Princesses or the Disney company in general (full disclosure: the hubs and I met at Disney World and also married there), but this article has an important message, specifically for mothers of little girls.

What role models should we put in front of our daughters? The anorexic, big-breasted, lusciously maned princess (who more likely than not, needs some rescuing), or a strong-willed character like Anne from Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, Laura of Little House on the Prairie, and Harriet of Harriet the Spy, to name a few?

Listen: my daughter is a normal toddler. Given a choice, she would watch cartoons all day, play in and with Princess garb and maybe even take to a Bratz doll. They’re colorful, sparkly, and have excellent (read: big money) ad campaigns.

But as a parent, I have a choice. And my choice is to pick the “boring” but reliable toys and role models that will build her self-confidence, inspire her creativity, and encourage her independence.

So the next time you’re in a big-box store, dragging your toddler away from the mega-display of Bratz themed candy (or whatever), while looking around to see who is watching, know that I’ve been there. And perhaps the princess line of little girl stuff is innocuous and isn’t harmful in the long-run. But who really knows. We have limited time to make a precious impact on our children, male or female. To shape their identity into one of strength and inner resilience.

What we spend our money on speaks to what we value most. It’s not easy to avoid the typical stuff geared toward little girls, but I’m pretty sure it’s worth it. And my daughter, who thinks her Pippi Longstocking doll (vintage: aka mine from childhood) and books are the best thing since breast milk, will be just fine.


Kate photo 2

Kate is a full-time mama, part-time professor, and lover of early childhood methodologies and gentle parenting ideas. When she’s not testing out new activities with her spitfire of a two year old and turning their house into a home, you can find her moonlighting as a blogger here on TOBB.