Paranoid Dad: Pretend Play, Big Media Brands and My Son’s Future

December 13, 2012 at 13:32 | Posted in Dads, General | 1 Comment
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Pretend PlayWhen I was a little older than my son, I had a hero. He carried a light saber, routinely saved the universe and road around with a guy who could hit the speed of light.

When you’re five years old, these are admirable qualities.

Though maybe debatable, I’m pretty sure I turned out fine. Now, my son has his own hero, who has wings and a spaceship, seeks to beat infinity instead of light speed and has wholesome adventures with a lanky cowboy. I have no doubt his future is a bright one, too.

But, I still get nervous.

While it’s natural for a kid to have heroes pulled from the minds of mass media, I wonder about the long-term effects. The movies and toys that come from Hollywood, Orlando and Madison Avenue come complete with their own stories, enabling children to become actors rather than creators. I remember playing Star Wars with my friends – all of us striving for an accurate representation of the script. As I grew older, I found worlds, even universes, of my own to create, and found that far more rewarding.

This is what I want for my son.

While I won’t begrudge him his pre-packaged fun, I want to make sure he creates at least as much as he emulates, using the experience to decide that the former is far better than the latter. I want his imagination to flourish, as it’s the one thing that will stay with him through his entire life, ultimately morphing into the sort of creativity that will help him thrive later in life – particularly as a father himself.

Because of this, I view “Big Brand” toys, with predefined characters, with what I feel is a healthy suspicion. In the extreme, you could say I worry about Hollywood, et al. owning my son’s soul, confining him to the personalities and narratives they create.

When reason kicks in, the paranoia’s grip is loosened, but I do remain concerned about the long-term effects of relying on somebody else’s pretend world. And then, I get annoyed. To a certain extent, there’s no escape. He’ll get exposure to Big Brand from friends and from television. The rest of the world has accepted (even embraced) this approach, meaning that it will always encroach on our lives.

I understand that my son will need to do the same in order to relate to other kids. Hey, if I met another kid when I was six or seven who didn’t know about Luke Skywalker, my initial horror would have given way to a profound sympathy. In the end, I wind up letting the fear of Big Brand control subside, but remain committed to providing and encouraging alternatives.

Sidewalk Chalk

My son is three years old, and on my weekend visits with him, I make it a point to split time among his action figures, his own action and his imagination. From conventional toys, we’ll move to sidewalk chalk and coloring books. And after that, we’ll run around in the field, climb up slides and throw a ball around.

As he gets older, the mix will change, and he’ll begin to take more control over his interests. When that time comes, my goal is for him to know fully what’s available to him, and to favor his own creations over everyone else’s.

What do you think? Do you worry about the impact of Big Brands on your kids?


Tom Johansmeyer is a father, writer and professional. His work has appeared in Business Insider, Boston magazine, New York magazine, The Atlantic, SocialTimes and PR Daily, among others. The opinions he expresses here are entirely his own.

1 Comment »

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  1. I definitely have concerns about Big Brand influence, but I have found that living abroad and not connecting to cable has done wonders for maintaining a healthy minimum distance. (Though the space ranger and lanky cowboy are strong features here too.)


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