When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own.
So kick back with a cuppa or some freshly pressed cider, help yourself to a cider donut, and chat a while…
It’s that time of year again…the nights are getting a bit longer and crisper, and sometimes I can pick up a hint of coming frost. Here in the Northeast, the first tinges of color are appearing on leaves, and the apples, sunflowers, and balckberries are ripening…
And that means that the back-to-school ads are in full swing – on TV, on the radio, and even in our mailbox.
School is usually portrayed as a wonderful place where kids go after a summer of boredom. They get to hang out with old friends, and make an impression on the In Crowd. Having the perfect look, gadgets, and art supplies, or eating the right breakfast cereal, will ensure social, athletic, and academic success.
An illusion of school is a cool and happening place every kid wants to be is being sold as certainly as clothes, shoes, backpacks, technology, and art supplies.
This propaganda is pervasive and unrealistic. In school, cliques abound, and some kids are the Cool Kids, while others aren’t, and no amount of money spent on trendy clothing or gadgets will change it. Aside from that, is looking good the reason parents send their children to school?
What if ads stopped presenting school as a social gathering place for dancing, happy children, and were realistic instead, showing how, a few weeks in, the excitement of the new will wear off under the day in, day out grind that is school?If they were honest that school can contain a great deal more drudgery than pageantry?
Of course, that probably wouldn’t sell as many clothes, backpacks, tech gadgets or art supplies….
But that’s not the worst…
It was intended to be funny.
I think it’s mean-spirited and insensitive – a version of kicking someone when they’re down. Most kids in school don’t have a choice. They get those precious few weeks of relative freedom each summer, and then, ready or not, vacation is over and it’s back to work.
What if the televisions at every adult-oriented vacation resort played taunting ads celebrating the pending return to work? What if that was used as an excuse to sell things?
Kids have far less control of when and how their vacation time will be spent than adults do. That’s why shows like Phineas and Ferb and games like Minecraft are so popular with kids – they offer a fantasy of real, meaningful freedom most kids don’t experience in their own lives.
Do the people who design these ad campaigns consider how this feels to kids? Indirectly or not, children are being told they’re not welcome during these hours of their parents’ lives. Yet, each fall, those ads roll out, without regard for the feelings of the people who are about to be tethered to school schedules, assigned more work to fill their non-school hours, and placed at the mercy of bullies – not just other students, but sometimes teachers and other school staff. Isn’t that the opposite of freedom?
Wouldn’t it be better to understand that another word for ‘students’ and ‘kids’ is ‘people’, and that all people, even young ones, have their own perspectives, their own priorities, and their own emotions? Wouldn’t things be better if advertisers respected that, and approached the coming school year with a sense of compassion for these young people?
Wouldn’t it be better to focus on helping each child to feel welcome and safe at school, to be seen and valued for their own individual strengths and character, regardless of the labels on their back-to-school duds, or which store they came from?
It might not be as good for selling things, but it could do wonders for how kids feel about that return to school, if they knew adults remembered that going back to school can be anxiety-ridden.
Once in a while, though, an ad gets it just right.