Child Autonomy and the Civil Rights Movement Intersect Forcing Brands to Look at their Bottom Line
Updated: Apr 9
Children need a level of autonomy so they have freedom to grow straight and tall. I suspect mom’s intuitively know this -conscious or not — and are embracing child targeted brands and products as a way to shift perceptions of ownership to quasi sovereignty as they attempt the same. Children's’ brands and products enact this struggle for self rule. I can see them as both a reflection of children being treated like commodities by their families and institutions and a striving for agency. The need for legal autonomy is just one of many attempts to break free from corporal control. Along with cherishing our children as people while resisting projecting our own needs on to them.
We are slowly shifting our perceptions of women and children. Many spiritual leaders speak of the role parents and the greater community should take. Kahil Gibran speaks directly to the role parents must play in their children’s lives. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”
Amma, a woman many people consider a living saint, recently said, “Children live in a world of total innocence. They grow up telling stories to flowers and butterflies. Looking at their world we have such a feeling of wonder. Their nature is to be happy and spread happiness to others. But instead of imbibing their children’s innocence, parent are more interested in dragging their children into their own world- the world of competition and frustration.”
Brands now exist that are junk food for children. Gerber selling mother’s cheese puffs for their toddlers should have been a non starter. Gogurt, string cheese and animal crackers balance the mother child relationship and are best sellers. Yoplait and Sultana (a Dutch brand of biscuits) are a few positioned to include the whole family. Yoplait reminds me of the hawker stands in South East Asia, everyone can find something they like, meet back at the table to eat together — bond intact.
The food industry should take this movement to heart. Cull brands and products that take away from the value of the mother/child bond. Develop new brands and products that place children in a place of greater social importance instead of parsimoniously seeing them as another source of revenue. Catch up with the trend where they are valued, heard and empowered.
Promoting the bond of family (in whatever way that looks like) in healthy and loving light. And families need to step up, be aware of what they are literally buying into, and work towards more thoughtful relationships with the children in their lives.
Media is already moving this way and has caught the subtle shift in attitudes. A plethora of books, movies and television series focusing on real and imagined child characters with greater abilities, dominates the marketplace. All revolve around children with extraordinary acuity (The Secret Benedict Society) , supernatural powers (The Incredibles), clarity in gender politics and ability to critically think (the new Sabrina on Netflix), and to break free from their parents polarity to write new stories (Disney’s The Descendants). Taking children out of the shadows and moving them center stage. All embracing self-determination and some control over their lives.
On a more vocal front the #MeToo movement, increasing exposure of child exploitation scandals in every profession, news coverage of institutions who protect predators and a very corrupt family court system coupled with a failing Child Protective Services are all connected to a greater movement to break down existing power structures to make way for something new to take its place.
The food industry could help quicken the pace by infusing self-control into their efforts. Think about long term implications of their brands and messaging instead of short term stockholder pressure. We as parents and guardians of the children need to do better, untangle power and control from love and care. And stop dragging them into our world of competition and frustration.
Luisa Nims Nims Consulting develops the emotional connection between consumer and product or service. Maximizing the ROI of marketing and communication budgets.