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Football.Bookworm.Cinematic Music. "The greatest contribution from Africans will be to give the world a more human face" Bantu S. Biko,

Children As Lab Rats Of Sorts

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There was once a time when children were allowed to be exactly that, children. When they didn’t lose sleep over what their peers would think if they wore designer label clothes or not but it would seem that that has evaporated into the thin air of the instant gratification lifestyle of the 21st century. So much pressure is heaped on children to be mature and think of themselves as brands that it leaves little time, if any, for them to relax and act their age, whatever that is.

It has been said that children’s desires go a considerable way in influencing parents’ purchasing taste and that the kinds of cars and houses that they end up buying can be attributed to the fact that there’s a greater appreciation of parents’ efforts from the children and that certainly polishes parental egos. Marketing firm have realized that and have directed many products towards the child market in pursuit of greater returns. What parent doesn’t want their child to have a Ben Ten or Hannah Montana themed party these days? What parent wants their child to live through the ‘ordeal’ of not having a bathrobe, toothbrush or bedding of the High School Musical? Very few parents wish such a ‘curse’ on their children and judging by the proliferation of the aforementioned brands in many children’s lives and the cost implications that go with sustaining such expensive brands, I’d say not a lot of parents wish that for their kids. The authentic stockists of these brands are mainly the well established retail stores such as Edcon’s flagship store, Edgars.

I have seen toddlers clad in Nike, Adidas and Lacoste shoes amongst others. Those brands are generally considered somewhat pricy I’d like to think. Is the desire for their child to look good the only reasons parents splash out on these labels or are there other underlying factors? I’m of the view that ostentatious tendencies are transferred to the unknowing child when they are dressed in exorbitant clothing. What does a baby know about the value of those branded, if ever there is value, of course. Children are reduced to mere billboards were parents can advertise their latest purchasing power. I think if it were legally permissible those parents would buy their children Smirnoff Black Label and Johnnie Walker Blue Label or Chivas Regal whiskies just so the kids begin early to live a life of chivalry. The mentality of keeping up with the Jones’ has spilled over to innocent and unsuspecting younger citizens and this trend isn’t restricted only to the boarders of our Republic. When a friend and I had the pleasure of interviewing the NOMA award winning poet, Lebo Mashile, she lamented the trend of mainstream media shape thinking (or lack of it) of many a young people in today’s South Africa and how the same thing happened while she was growing in the US in the 80s and early 90s.

So when or where does it stop? What happens when the brand saturated child outgrows the Hannah Montana and Ben Ten of the world? Would each and every parent who willingly participated in raising that ‘billboard’ of a child be able to afford the ‘Hannah Montana’ of adults such as Gucci, Louis Vutton, Versace, Prada, DKNY and the like? When something is practiced with clinical consistency it’s bound to become a habit, a culture of sorts and one that ought to be maintained at times even at great cost. It’s not uncommon to read or hear of children who’ve gone as far as threatening to kill themselves if parents don’t make plans to get them a pair of, say, the most sought after Nike sneakers or any popular brand. It’s not unusual, at least in the townships of Gauteng, for people to be catergorised according to the type of designer labels they wear. In my native Vaal, there’s are people who are known as “Milanos” and they are known for their lavish appreciation of Nike and primarily Italian designer labels hence the name and I suppose because Milan, besides being home to footballing giants, is one of the fashion capitals of the world. It doesn’t just end with clothing because they are just a part of the sum total of the desired look. Does it make sense for girl children as young as 11 to be applying make up and wearing high heels, if it doesn’t, why then do some parents allow such? After the Jules High saga last year, 702’s Redi Tlabi spoke to a guest who mentioned seeing a bikini in the children section of a store that had “juicy” written on the crouch. What reason other than the sexualisation of children would that be put there?

Because a child can’t care for him or herself in their initial years, it therefore requires that parents make choices for that child and the kind that would be able to improve the child’s esteem as time goes on. A child may not use every advice that a parent gives but there’ll be that which the child will take with them into their adult life and it’s for those reasons that we ought to careful how we raise children as far as the material aspects of our lives are concerned. One isn’t advocating that parents don’t spoil their children but one is merely questioning the logic behind the purchasing expensive designer for a person who hardly cares whether or not they are wearing such clothes. Let’s let children experience the joys that accompany childhood. The late king of pop, Michael J Jackson is said to not have had a pleasant childhood hence the Never Never Land amusement park he built for himself. Every phase of human development ought to be afforded its time to command that person’s attention without insistence that it ought to be skipped especially for reasons that may not may not benefit the person.

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