Any parent reading this knows how hard it is to resist bargaining with your children, i.e. “do your chores right now or no TV time tonight.” Why, we ask ourselves, must there always be an incentive program associated with a task? It creates enough stress and competition in the adult workforce, and here it is getting indoctrinated into little people at such a tender age. Plus, for the insecure and imbalanced among us (who, me?), it’s hard not to go into that neurotic place wherein you’re sure that they know that you know that what you’re really saying is “do your chores right now or I will withhold affection from you and you will have much fodder for therapy after you finish college.”
So imagine my chagrin when I came upon this story from Seminole County, Florida, where the local McDonald’s is rewarding students who get good grades by giving them a Happy Meal.
Suddenly, any incentive we can come up with, like, say, an extra play date or more TV time is undermined by unhealthy food with a toy prize jammed in next to it. Come on, corporate America, we parents have enough trouble trying to get our kids to see the value and satisfaction in doing a job well without any bonus goodies attached to the outcome. Now you’re setting unrealistic expectations we can’t fulfill with our feeble Dad or Mom powers, and our children will be utterly unprepared for a world where every accomplishment is not reinforced with special sauce. This could leave them so ill-equipped to succeed in the workplace that the only question they’ll be asking as an adult is the one you’re asking them now: “you want fries with that?”
One of the more intriguing tidbits in the New York Times story about this controversy concerns a woman who did not take kindly to it. Susan Linn spoke out on behalf of her advocacy group in Boston called (are you ready?), “The Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood.”
A commercial-free childhood?! That is right up there with world peace as a very tough goal to bring to fruition. Not only that, the implications for work/life balance are extraordinary. After all, growing up without being susceptible to advertising could well mean growing up without unattainable role models, without cravings for things you don’t really need, without, in fact, any great and consuming wants at all. Imagine a child saying, “Mommy, can I have that?” only they’re pointing to your heart instead of the television.
Well, a commercial-free childhood is something to strive for anyway. I wouldn’t mind a commercial-free adulthood. Just yesterday as I drove to a meeting I heard an ad on the radio from someone who kept insisting that I could make a fortune in the real estate market. And just for a second, I almost believed him. If he’d thrown in a hamburger and a shake, I probably would have been on board.