Friday, October 16, 2009

Parents still know more than their children

When I was in the third grade, I told my parents that I didn't need to go to school anymore. I said that I knew how to read and write, add, subtract, multiply and divide and, with that knowledge, I didn't need to actually report to school every day.

I wasn't stupid enough to think I didn't have more to learn, I just thought I could do it on my own without showing up in a classroom. Being 8, though, I didn't think about how I would gain the further education I needed - I just didn't want to go to school. My parents were not persuaded and I did continue my education at Edgewater Elementary.

Parents will tell you that children always think they 'know better,' especially when in the teenage years. But having been children themselves (I know - it's still hard to believe), parents always knew that wasn't exactly true.

Except that, today, the message that children know more than parents is permeating our culture ... through advertising.

I've seen several commercials where kids are reading information on the Internet about their parents' medical condition and telling them to go see their doctor about some new medication.

There may be some validity to this scenario in that many children are more Internet savvy than their parents, but whatever happened to parents teaching children about how to be discriminating in terms of the information they read? I certainly remember my parents telling me that you can't believe everything that's written down, just because it's written down.

While questioning the tactic of having kids advising parents about medical research, along comes a Sears commercial using a child to influence a parent on the purchase of appliances.

In the ad, a father comes into the Sears store and tells the sales clerk that a bunch of people (who are pictured behind him) have told him he needs to get a new energy efficient washer and dryer. Included in that group of people are his local anchorman and his daughter. There is then a close-up of the daughter holding a picture of a polar bear and looking sad. The daughter says something about 'remember the polar bears, Dad.'

The premise that man-made global warming is a threat to polar bear populations is tenuous, at best. One of the original reports on which such 'science' is based is not accepted by all. Furthermore, forecasting scientists say the U.S. Geological Survey reports on which the polar bear 'endangered' status were based are "critically flawed."

Professor J. Scott Armstrong of the Wharton School says, “To list a species that is currently in good health as an endangered species requires valid forecasts that its population would decline to levels that threaten its viability. In fact, the polar bear populations have been increasing rapidly in recent decades due to hunting restrictions. Assuming these restrictions remain, the most appropriate forecast is to assume that the upward trend would continue for a few years, then level off.

“These studies are meant to inform the US Fish and Wildlife Service about listing the polar bear as endangered. After careful examination, my co-authors and I were unable to find any references to works providing evidence that the forecasting methods used in the reports had been previously validated. In essence, they give no scientific basis for deciding one way or the other about the polar bear.”
Prof. Armstrong and his colleagues concluded that the most relevant study, Amstrup et al. properly applied only 15% of relevant forecasting principles and that the second study, Hunter et al. only 10%, while 46% were clearly contravened and 23% were apparently contravened.

Further, they write, the Geologic Survey reports do not adequately substantiate the authors’ assumptions about changes to sea ice and polar bears’ ability to adapt that are key to the recommendations.

Therefore, the authors write, a key feature of the U.S. Geological Survey reports is not scientifically supported.

The consequence, they maintain, is significant: The Interior Department cannot use the series of reports as a sound scientific basis for a decision about listing the polar bear as an endangered species.

But despite the valid scientific questions regarding the existence of man-made global warming, this commercial shows a parent making a major purchase based upon a child's unfounded fear for an animal.

There's another issue in the commercial when the clerk says that the amount of money saved in energy costs could pay for the dryer over time. The father turns to the group and asks, 'why didn't you tell me that?' The response is for the anchorman to repeat the claim - as if that makes it true.

I suppose an adult could be forgiven for expecting that 'facts' reported on the news by anchormen have been checked for validity and that both sides of an argument are presented. However, we know that such expectations often go unfulfilled in this day and age.

Children, however, are gullible - believing many things told to them without the experience and training to think critically about the issue. Why would a parent fork out between $900 and $3,300 for a washer and dryer based upon a child's indoctrination?

For that's exactly what this is. Children are not taught in school to think critically anymore. They're not taught to question, research and then evaluate. They're told what 'is' and then told to tell their parents the same things.

And what they're told is having an impact. In a poll done earlier this year:

One out of three children aged 6 to 11 fears that Ma Earth won't exist when they grow up, while more than half—56 percent—worry that the planet will be a blasted heath (or at least a very unpleasant place to live)...
On a sliding scale of anxieties, minority kids have it worst; 75 percent of black children and 65 percent of Hispanic children believe that the planet will be irrevocably damaged by the time they reach adulthood.
28 percent say that they fear animals, such as polar bears and penguins, will become extinct and disappear from the planet more than any other environmental concern.
59 percent of kids in metro areas are more concerned that the Earth won’t be as good a place to live when they grow up compared to non-metro kids (47 percent).

Most parents would be shocked by what this poll discovered and then do everything they could to reassure their children that such fears are not founded. That's what parents do. Allowing children to influence major purchasing decisions based upon said fears is ridiculous and certainly not conducive to the reassuring role parents are supposed to play.

While I take exception to such commercials, I don't think the problem is the advertising company that put it together nor even the company that paid for it.

The problem is the parents. Rather than take the time to research issues and provide perspective to their children, many often just 'give in.'

Children should be included in discussions about major purchases - not so much so they can influence the decision, but so they can learn how and why such decisions are made. Parents should explain the need for a new appliance; discuss the capacity or amenities that are necessary to meet the needs of the family; talk about what is 'necessary' versus what is 'desirable' in the product; and, especially, explain the family's budget - including what other purchases are sacrificed in order to acquire the 'needed' item.

Children, by hearing and participating in such discussions will learn how to make similar decisions on their own. And, in doing so, will learn to base their own decisions on reason and logic - not just emotion, like the advertisers would like.


Tim Higgins said...


Perhaps we can assign some level of blame to the NEA and a progressive education movement that borders on indoctrination, but I believe that you are correct that the final responsibility remains with parents.

This is not to say that I remember influencing purchasing decisions of my parents, for I grew up in the Dark Ages when schools taught "reading, writing, and 'rithmetic". I did participate in the raising of three children however, and the only advice that I recall asking for had to do with the color of automobiles (heaven forbid they should be embarrassed when being dropped off for school).

As for the knowledge of children:
"Children have always been smarter than their parents. If you don't believe me, just ask them."

Kadim said...

May I suggest that your eight-year old self was more wise than you thought, and knew that a lot of time in school was wasted, and that, while you didn't have another plan, you knew that something better was out there?

Keep in mind though, I don't buy into the idea that schools have somehow gotten worse, I think they've always been bad.

I've come to the conclusion recently that great cultures have always prized the wisdom that comes with age, but didn't necessarily ignore the enormous observational and information gathering skills of children and youth (see The Emperor Has No Clothes.)

I am reminded of an anecdote from a NYC mother who said that her two young sons would spend weekends studying the ins and outs of the NYC subway because they were fanatics. When people would ask her how to get from one place to another, one of her sons would answer, and then the guy would look at her oddly. She would reassure them that he'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows the subway system better than her sons.

It was the Western Industrial Revolution when youth and old were so harshly separated and each started assuming that they had nothing to learn from the other, because they were living different lives. (Well, youth has always been stubborn, admittedly.)

The Internet age reversed that, and the old needed to depend on the young again in a significant way to function in society. I think this will level out over a few decades, but I think it will be a better balance, as it was before the Industrial Revolution.

whatever happened to parents teaching children about how to be discriminating in terms of the information they read

I've come to the conclusion that that wasn't all that common.

I think the commercial you cite is actually using the child as a way to guilt-trip the hypothetically environmentally conscious father, and not necessarily is offering information that he didn't have before. In that way, the commercial is rather dumb.

And of course, it all depends on the child and the parent.

When I was young, my father and I argued about a VCR purchase. He insisted that Betamax with a corded remote was the way to go, I insisted that VHS with a cordless remote was the way to go.

I think he bought the VHS with the cordless remote to prove me wrong, and it only took about a year or two for me to get satisfaction.

To this day, he is at a loss to explain why VHS won over Betamax.

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