Like all parents, my husband and I try to do what is right for our child and guide her according to the principles that we strive to live by. Often though, this means going against the mainstream. A couple of examples are we don't let our daughter (she just turned 2) watch TV at all, we don't drink soda/eat candy or junk in our house (less the occasional BBQ gathering and such where we bend a little), we don't buy commercially-related toys (don't get me wrong, there's a Sesame Street doll in our house, but we did not purchase it), and we seem to be in the minority about how/when/whether to vaccinate (i.e. we've decided to forgo flu vaccines). We try to make informed decisions that work for us and we are comfortable with them. But what I am now beginning to struggle more with is how to talk with other parents who have made different choices. I honestly do not care whether Sally's mom lets her eat Doritos all day in front of the television--maybe that works for them and it's none of my business. Yet, when someone asks us when we're going to get our flu shots or asks my daughter to identify a commercial character on a sticker that I know she does not know, I am at a loss as to how to respond. I don't want to sound condescending, yet it seems that no matter what response I give, it seems to bristle people. For example, as to the last question, I would usually just mattter of factly say "She doesn't know who that is" and leave it at that and change the subject. Then I'll be asked "why?" to which I respond "she doesn't watch TV". Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but I feel like they are taking my answers as some sort of judgement on them. That is not my intent. What I worry about is that over time, my daughter (who is otherwise just like any other two year old) is going to be ostracized by her peers and be at a loss to understand or explain why we do things differently (or worse, say something that sounds judgemental). Advice?
From: Sleepymama, South Shore
Hi Sleeepy Mama,
First of all, you're gonna have to develop thicker skin.
A person who asks "Why?" is not necessarily passing judgment -- she may be genuinely interested. But your answer, "She doesn't watch TV," sounds as if have a chip on your shoulder and are daring the person to challenge you. "She" doesn't watch TV because you have placed a value on not watching TV. Say that instead: "In our family, we don't watch TV." And then when that person asks why -- not as a challenge but because he or she just might be interested in hearing your reasons. There's fodder here, here and here. And here's some for the issue of commercialization of young children.
At this age, children are not going to be penalized or ostracized by their peers. I recommend you start now to share your values with your child by saying, simply, "In our family, we ...." as a preface to whatever you suspect has the potential to be a source of difference later on. That way, you are grounding her in your family values.She may not understand now what that means, but it will have some meaning for her in just a few years. Certainly by age 4, children understand that there are differences in the world, including that families are different.
They understand this not as a value judgment but as a statement of fact in the same way that they understand that one child is tall and another is short. The younger your child is when you start to share the idea that there are differences and differences are OK, the more able she will be to tolerate intolerance of differences when she runs into them.
I'm not suggesting she will be inoculated against the value judgment of peers; that would be foolish thinking on my part. But I do believe it will help. Here's a true story, told to me by a grandmother at the end of a talk I had given on the impact of media on children:
The woman's daughter was a single mom who did not own a TV because she believed that viewing adversely affected children's imagination. Her son, then 12, had never complained or expressed unhappiness to his mother about not being able to watch what all his friends watched. But the grandmother, who spent a lot of time with him, knew that "South Park" was very popular among his friends and intuited that he was, indeed, out of it for not being able to even talk about the show. For his birthday, she gave him a South Park t-shirt. When he opened the box, he began to cry. He told her, "This is the best present I've ever had."
At first, the mother was angry. But she quickly realized that this t-shirt was social currency for her son. He wasn't asking to watch the show; he accepted his family's values. But he wanted desperately to belong to his peer group. This simple, inexpensive t-shirt was his ticket in.
I guess I offer that as a cautionary tale: Children do need to be aware and feel part of the culture in which their peers partake. It is their currency. I'm not suggesting that's true for a 2-year-old. But 4 or 5? Probably. And, as this story conveys, there are ways to do it without violating your heartfelt values.
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