Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
December 1, 2011 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a book or a movie geared at younger kids (mine is 7), that would start a conversation about things not always being as they appear. Kinda like how toys on TV never end up to be as cool as they look, or how some people make promises that sound good, but they just don't deliver. I'd like to help my daughter start to develop the intelligence and skill set to truly discern the difference between substance and smoke.
posted by lakersfan1222 to Human Relations (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And feel free to chime in also even if you don't have a book or movie recommendation, but have some experience in this do you approach it, what tools do you use to illuminate this kind of thing in a child's world? etc.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:10 AM on December 1, 2011

Best answer: This is the theme of the movie Coraline - I haven't read the book yet.
posted by jb at 9:11 AM on December 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, there was a great series of specials that HBO did in conjunction with Consumer Reports back in 1990 called "Buy Me That!" which sound like exactly what you're looking for. The tone was pitch-perfect for kids -- not too hyper-intelligent but not too pandering either -- and it got into some of the tricks that advertising uses to convince people to buy things. The focus was mainly on toys and toy ads, but they also had a segment with a food-ad doctorer demonstrating some of the tricks they use in food ads (using Crisco for ads about ice cream, or glue to stabilize the cereal flakes in cereal ads, things like that).

I can't find a place online where you can buy the video, but it looks like they're up on YouTube. (There were two specials: "Buy Me That!" and "Buy Me That Too!")

Consumer Reports also has a kids' edition called "Zillions," but that appears to be out of print.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:13 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: feel free to chime in also even if you don't have a book or movie recommendation, but have some experience in this area

Some of this just comes from the child experiencing it, and you noticing it's happening and talking about it. It happened for my nine-year-old son last Christmas: He had been lusting after the fushigi ball for months, convinced it was the greatest most amazing omigosh thing ever. Instead, biggest let-down ever. We then had a good, solid talk about what marketing and advertising are, and how it's the job of certain people to make things seem like they're worth buying, and why it's important to have a very critical eye when you're being advertised to. He's been very savvy about it ever since.
posted by jbickers at 9:15 AM on December 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Ooh, I also remember the second one having a feature that seems eerily prescient -- a monologue by a guy dressed up as a sandwich talking about how those fun-looking pre-packaged "lunchables" type things may LOOK all cool, but you had way more garbage to throw away, and you were stuck with the ingredients they gave you -- but if you took a sandwich like him to school, you could make it exactly the way you wanted and you wouldn't have as much packaging to throw away. If you're daughter's into being "green" that would also appeal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 AM on December 1, 2011

Best answer: One huge thing you could do as a parent would be to intentionally limit the exposure your kid has to advertising. Give them the tools to succeed, then slowly relax your limits.

I would have a TV in my house if I had kids, for example, but I would do everything in my power to make sure my kid never saw a commercial--no cable, just netflix, or something similar. Advertising is huge, and kids are a targetted demographic. Don't let the barrage of images become 'normal' too early.

Another thought: I tend to believe children are far more interested in the world than people give them credit for. Your kid may not have the right personality for it, but if she does, why not make watching and then talking about documentaries a regular part of your bonding time together, along with reading and playing outside and so forth?

Not only do documentaries do a great job of sharing interesting stories and facts, they themselves are always worth talking critically about. Why were the stories shared in that order? Were there perspectives omitted? Is life ever as "neat" as what they are arguing in this documentary? Is it ever that one sided? Were certain segments played out of order in order to create a stronger narrative? How could you tell something like that? And so forth. I can't imagine not having a good talk after a good documentary.

The best documentaries are by Errol Morris and are as much about these kinds of questions as they are about whatever they are supposed to be documenting.

I tend to think that a healthy dose of respectful interactions with adults treating them like real people with autonomy and intelligence is sometimes good for kids. That's what I remember of my own life, anyway. So don't limit yourself to age-appropriate, kid-oriented resources. Sometimes the kid will be perfectly capable of operating at a much higher level than you may believe. And at other times, there may well be a lot of value for a kid in being just a little out of their depth, particularly since you'll be there to help bridge the gap.
posted by jsturgill at 9:36 AM on December 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm going to nth jbicker and say now is the time to do this. Do it in real life and your child will have the experience and never ever forget it.

When I was a child (probably the age of your daughter or even younger), like most kids, I was enamored by every sparkly promise for a grandiose toy on TV. My mother waited until I went on and on about wanting some special doll: Rub-a-dub Dolly. My mother knew from observation that dolls did not hold my interest at all. As we watched the commercial occasionally together, she would point out: "You realize if you get this, there will not be music and lots of children around you playing with it like in the commercial, right? Are you sure that you want this?"No, I needed the magical toy in the commercial.

I did get it as a big birthday or X-mas gift.I knew within days of receiving it that it was "meh" but I was too embarrassed to say anything. Well, my mother brought that doll back to me a few months later, when it was discolored/brown (because I left this so-called trinket that I wanted in the water and never remembered it all). Then we had a conversation again: Why had I wanted this? Did I get what the commercial promised? What is the goal of people who make commercials? What kind of things do you see in commercials that entice you to want something or buy something.

This was one lesson that I remembered forever , and trust me, at this point I question everything: Commericals, giant head on TV speaking about X,etc. But I will always attribute a lot of my questioning to that incident.
posted by Wolfster at 9:40 AM on December 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

When I was a kid, I had a subscription to a magazine, Zillions, which was also put out by Consumer Reports and was for exactly this. It had reviews for kid products like water guns and boomboxes (early 1990s!), as well as articles about saving money (I particularly remember the story of kids who had a fun weekend while spending no more than 5 dollars total) and how advertisers try to fool you. It looks like the magazine isn't made anymore, and the CR website is pretty limited for non-subscribers like me, but I did see a few references to a new "Consumer Reports for Kids Online" part of the website that was meant to replace it.
posted by heyforfour at 9:43 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about The Incredibles, for something lighter? One of the major plot points is about a job offer that is in fact too good to be true, plus there are lots of others instances of people or things not being exactly what they seem.
posted by true at 9:51 AM on December 1, 2011

Down The Mysterly River by Bill Williamson is a book where nobody is quite what they think they are at the stories start, aimed at kids.
posted by Apoch at 10:19 AM on December 1, 2011

Best answer: Regarding commercials and advertisements, I have explained to my 4-year old that their purpose is to get your money, and sometimes we watch them together and discuss the ways that they tried to make you want to buy the product. It's like a game -- guess how they're trying to get your money.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:24 AM on December 1, 2011

An utterly fantastic book about how things are not always as they seem: Black and White by David Macaulay. It's a wordless picture book, but a very deep and thinky one, age-appropriate for a 7 yo. It's not overtly about advertising or intentional misleading, but definitely gets the gears whirring in that direction.
posted by apparently at 10:25 AM on December 1, 2011

Spirited Away
posted by jay.eye.elle.elle. at 10:29 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mute the TV during commercials when you're watching TV with her. Then you can control the dialog, and point out what they're doing visually to manipulate people's feelings.

My middle school library had all the back issues of Zillions, which I dutifully read during free periods. Didn't stop me from getting all worked up, and then subsequently disappointed, for the Power Glove.
posted by hwyengr at 10:30 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's not as hard as you think to teach critical thinking.

I like to do this by pointing out absurd things in TV shows or commercials to my 6 year old. "Wait a did they get a horse into space? Horses don't fit in spaceships!" He loves this, because it's funny, and it's not a lecture, and it makes him feel smart when he finds absurd/nonsensical things and tells me about them.

But by far the best thing you can do is limit commercials. We found this out inadvertently by being too cheap to pay for cable. When we would go to his grandparents and he "got to watch" the kid cable channels, it was stunning how many commercials you had to watch just to see a half hour cartoon (which is of course often a form of commercial for selling toys itself.) That shit is relentless, and worse, it's loud and obnoxious, and if you care at all about raising a nonsexist kid, really sexist in the kinds of toys that get sold to girls versus boys. Even a kid with good thinking skills is likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume and repetition of it.

I am not worried, strictly speaking, about teaching him that stuff you buy is not always awesome, because life will do that for me. In fact, he's had toys once or twice that broke immediately, and then we talked about how some things just aren't made very well so they're not worth buying.

When it comes to people not always saying what they mean, that's a bit tougher. But, some of the better kids' shows get into this anyway. Martha Speaks on PBS has some recurring villains who frequently try to fool Martha into thinking they're someone else so they can kidnap her (because she's a talking dog).
posted by emjaybee at 10:41 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I should have also noted that Coraline is a brilliant film, for its animation as well as its story. I am now a massive fan of that studio/director. Spirited Away is also brilliant, though the theme of "things not being what they seem" is a bit less obvious (it's one of several themes).

On the more consumer side, Street Cents was a show that aired in Canada between 1989 and 2006. It was a consumer awareness show, which tested the truth in advertising, but aimed at kids. I have no idea whether you could get your hands on episodes now and they would be dated, but it was an excellent program.
posted by jb at 11:59 AM on December 1, 2011

I came in to recommend Spirited Away, and am glad to find I'm not the first. The magical deception is a bit subtle, though.

The other family-friendly film I can think of that requires a bit of critical thinking to decipher between real and fake is Galaxy Quest. It's about as far from subtle as you can get.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I nth the recommendation for Coraline - an amazing movie that is sure to capture a child's interest and encourage further discussion about things not being what they seem. I also agree with the poster who suggested using "teachable moments" in life as an opportunity to explore the subject. It may be a bit challenging to bring up the subject without something immediate to reference.
posted by luciddream928 at 1:00 PM on December 1, 2011

A little hippy-dippy perhaps, but she sounds like the perfect age for the album, video, or book version of Free to Be You and Me. It's a collection of short stories, poems, and songs written and recorded by a great cast of '70s celebrities. The Carol Channing bit about the artificiality of TV commercials for cleaning products is priceless and, sadly, as relevant today as it was thirty-five years ago. Several other bits also touch on the theme you're describing.
posted by maxim0512 at 2:26 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Coraline is a good fit. I read it yesterday, and Gaiman notes that he wrote it for his kids when they were about the same age as yours.

How to Train Your Dragon - a kid finds that, once he questions the traditional wisdom that dragons are evil, that dragons are in fact nice.

Scooby Doo - the ghosts are never ghosts, they're always people in silly costumes.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:45 PM on December 1, 2011

Best answer: As others are alluding to or outright saying, it's not about one book or movie--or a series of books or movies. It's about capturing the teachable moments--sometimes that capture will result in a serious conversation, sometimes it will result in a silly joke, and sometimes it will result in a question posed to your least this is how i approach it w/my 6 y.o.

We read some stuff with messages, some stuff that's pure fun, and lots of stuff that's both. We watch things along the same lines (although I agree that avoiding tv commercials is huge--we only do netfilx at this point).

I would say that the more you can give your child opportunities to employ critical thinking, to question what's on the surface, and to come to her own conclusions about things, the better. This can occur during any moment of any day if you're quick on the draw and on the lookout for such moments.

It's a many-year-long endeavor, I our kids enough perspective and independence of thought and confidence about questioning norms that they can up and leave us and we can feel okay about it.
posted by aimeedee at 7:37 PM on December 1, 2011

I'd be amiss if I didn't add Lemony Snicket to this thread.
posted by AnnaMaple at 6:30 AM on December 2, 2011

Best answer: Arthur's TV Trouble is by Marc Brown is exactly abut this. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a Berenstain Bears book about it as well.
posted by Biblio at 6:51 AM on December 2, 2011

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