Commercialized Bananas, Freaking Fruit Chews, and Sex Tips at the Checkout

The most fun I’ve ever had grocery shopping was when my daughter was just over two years old, my son three months old, and my daughter shimmied out of her sundress and I had to chase her little diapered, sprinting bottom down the cracker aisle and around the corner into the cereal aisle, all the while holding my breasts so they wouldn’t leak as my newborn shrieked two aisles over. Good times.

You know what is also fun? Trying to make it through the aisles in the grocery store without one of those precious “teachable moments” parents get thrown in their laps every five minutes because of our marketing-saturated culture. My family needs bananas. Thus, we buy bananas. In fact, on many a grocery run it looks as though I might be raising chimps by the number of bananas I purchase. But this spring, when the bananas were sporting stickers for the new “Rio” movie (that we loved) I got a little annoyed. I miss the days when a banana was just a banana. For the record, I also miss the days when ballparks had real names and weren’t carrying the titles of banks or telecom giants.

Back to the bananas. My kids spent a good five minutes searching through all the fruit, picking out only the ones with stickers of the “Rio” characters.

“Guys, we need to buy bananas by the bunch. We can’t pull them apart and pick and choose ones with stickers.” -Me

“But Mom! I want the one with Rio and Benny wants the one with Jewel and we both want the dog.” – Amelia (5yo)

“Amelia, we buy bananas because they are healthy food to eat, not because they have stickers. Please choose two bunches, and let’s finish our list.” -Me

Things are usually pretty smooth at the grocery store, until Aisle 7. The freaking fruit chews are in Aisle 7, across from the craptastic sugar-loaded cereals we never buy. Fruit chews are my nemesis. We very rarely buy them, but there are boxes that sport the kids’ favorite characters: Penguins of Madagascar and Spiderman.

“MOM! Mom. Mom? Can we det the Fiderman frwuit zoos?” -Benny (3yo)

“Buddy! Look! You found Spiderman at the store. But you know, fruit chews aren’t good for our teeth.” -Me

“But but but I want dem.” -Benny

“I can tell that you want them. But we are working so hard for no cavities, and fruit chews give us cavities by leaving junk in our teeth.” -Me

“But I want dem.” – Benny

“How ’bout we finish up here, and when we get home we’ll color our Spiderman book?” -Me

“Otay.” -Benny

That round played out neatly. Sometimes it can get pretty hairy, and I use distractions like racing to the pickles or throwing something shiny on the floor.

And then there is Amelia, lobbying for her box…

“Mom, we can get these because it says Vitamin C on the box.” -Amelia

“Do you want the fruit chews because they taste good, or because of the cartoon you see on the box?” -Me

“Welllll……” -Amelia

“I know they look fun because of the Penguins on the box and we love that show, but these are not healthy for us, and we can get Vitamin C from other foods that are more healthy.” -Me

So what’s the best way to survive a trip to the store, with movie and cartoon characters jumping out at your kids, usually found on “food” that really isn’t food, luring those little kiddies into the purchase? Why you grab up that media literacy “teachable moment” and have them question why they want it. Question everything.

Depending on the age of your child, you can ask questions related to health or marketing and see if they understand why the cartoons are on the food.

~”Is that a food we normally buy? Do you think that is a healthy choice for our family?”

~”Why do you think the people who make that cereal want to get kids to buy it?”

~”Do you think Spiderman eats these fruit chews, or do they just use his picture on the box?”

~”You’re right, those are Disney Princesses on the grapes. Do princesses eat grapes? We eat grapes because they are a healthy fruit for us.”

Image from blogs.longwood.edu/brittanyclaud

So after fifteen aisles of shopping fun, more enjoyment awaits at the checkout lane. If you have a kid that can read, headlines like “Too FAT for her lover” and “25 Sex Tips That Will Blow His Mind” await you. With girls entering puberty earlier than their generation of mothers did, and our pornified culture, we need to start talking about body image and sex much earlier than we might remember learning. This is best done with a bunch of little talks, not one big “birds and bees talk” that looms over our heads sometime around puberty. Same goes for body image – it is hundreds of little conversations or statements made over the course of childhood, laying a foundation for how your children will think and react to information that comes later. And you know? You just can’t hide from it.

In fact, when our kids ask us questions about sex,  they give us a really awesome opportunity to give them accurate, safe information about something that will be a part of their lives forever. I’d rather my kids learn from me than another child whose information and family values might be far different from mine. Amelia knows that babies grow inside of moms, and the two ways babies come out. She has watched nature videos where animals give birth. She always wanted to know how they came out, but not until last week did she ask how they got in.

My sister-in-law and best friend just announced they are expecting early next year. Hooray for babies! But wait! The 5yo wants to know how the babies got in there. Well, I started off with, “Uncle Eric and Auntie Lisa waited until it was the right time and made sure Auntie Lisa’s body was ready and healthy to be a mama again, and then she got pregnant with a tiny tiny baby that will grow in her belly into a big baby and then it will be born and we will go visit to give him or her lots and lots of kisses!”

As she asks more questions, I will give her more information in short, factual statements. At 5yo, she just needs to know the mechanics of sex as she asks for that information.  The penis goes into the vagina. The next time she asks, she’ll get more information. We’ll get into our family values and morals around sex as she is older and ready to handle that information.

What’s the best way to handle the tabloids at the market? You could have your child stand close the checker, holding your coupons or bank card. Your child could help bag the groceries. I know a couple of parents who whip out their smart phone and let the kid play a game while they wait. You can discretely have them face the other direction and play I Spy.  You could not pick up the magazines yourself, teaching your child they really are just garbage wallpaper to begin with. And you can answer their questions honestly. If they ask what a headline means, or why there is so much cleavage and talk about sex, give them the info they need to know. Better they ask and learn at the age of 12 the definition of a blow job from you, than at a co-ed birthday party because they are being given in the bathroom by one of the guests.

Sometimes stores will have Family Friendly checkouts, with no candy or magazines. If your store doesn’t, ask the manager to consider it. It might be something they have never thought of before.

For more help on how to have those conversations about sex with older kids, I recommend Dr. Logan Levkoff’s book “Third Base Ain’t What it Used To Be”.

For more help with the little guys (but kids of all ages, too!) I highly recommend the work of Amy Lang, Birds + Beeds + Kids. You can find her book here.

Comments

  1. Great post! The magazines haven’t been too much of a problem for me since I mostly shop with my son who can’t yet read and is too busy heaving things from the cart to the belt, but the junk food has come up on occasion. BTW, I’ve not seen stickers on bananas here yet, although I’m sure they’re coming. Thanks for the excellent tips on how to deal with those banana billboards and the other junk food that grabs kids’ attention.

    • Banana billboards…that’s a keeper Crystal! Piglet pomegranates next? (one of the first pieces I ever wrote on SY was about cartoons/stickers on fruit Sept 2006. sigh. After so many hacks/attacks/spam-n-eggs over the years it’s not popping up in the archives so will try to reconstruct)

      Melissa, I LOVED this post ‘from the mouths of babes’ as it truly drives the point home of what parents contend with in snapshot form. (plus you’re a fab writer who paints a great picture w/first person prose!)

      “Back in the day” I recall pester power in play for “Strawberry Qik, Rootin Tootin Raspberry packets and Fizzies” (just to add a ’twas ever thus angle) BUT as we all know, veeeeeeeeeeery diff level of saturation, strategic shelf placement and direct mktg in play now…In fact, they used to have a ‘holding pen’ for kids outside the commissary on base painted in bright colored zoo animals…the cage/kids metaphor always seemed blatant to me. That’d be ‘rebranded’ today for sure!

  2. When we moved from the Los Angeles, CA area (where every square inch is plastered by advertising – blech!) to Lancaster County, PA (um, yeah, can we say CULTURE SHOCK?!), we immediately noticed there is much LESS blatant advertising around. And what is around is MUUUUCH more “tame.” (Ex. No billboards for the local “Gentleman’s Clubs,” etc. … as if there’s anything “gentlemanly” about going to a club that objectifies women in that way? Sigh.)

    I also noticed right away that though most grocery stores still have magazines at the checkout, many either use the “covers” (the plastic things that say “Vogue” or whatever on them and cover up the actual magazines), or I would find that people had actually turned the front magazine backwards to cover them up. Most of the more offensive covers tend to be placed higher than others, too … though I wish they were not there at all.

    I do like the idea of suggesting “family friendly” checkouts! Going to give that a try!

    FUNNY SIDE STORY ABOUT THE BACK OF MAGAZINES:

    I don’t read or subscribe to magazines due to the fact that most of them are TOTALLY, as you say, CRAPTASTIC and full of the objectification of women, etc. … but the other night when my hubby and I were on our date night and were hangin’ at the bookstore, I decided to pick up a People magazine. There was an article about Jaycee Dugard (sp?) that I was curious about. Well, I skimmed the article and then was walking around with the magazine in my arms, waiting to head back to the magazine section to return it. I turn the corner to where my husband is browsing books and he says, “WOAHHHH, what kind of magazine is that?!” Huh? “People. Why?” Husband: “You might want to look at the back of that!”

    The back had some advertisement (still don’t know what for, I practically dropped the stupid magazine like it was on fire) with a virtually NAKED woman on it (breasts BARELY covered). ACK! I had been walking all around “advertising” this crap for all to see! GEEEEEZ! I can only imagine what people thought! Haaaaa. (And the irony of it being ME showing off some woman in this way is even funnier!)

  3. Excellent. Two typos: 1) You wrote “discretely” when you meant “discreetly”; and you left out the word “one” in “than at a co-ed birthday party because they are being given in the bathroom by one of the guests.”

    Checked out the Submarine Kids site. Weird site: It doesn’t fit inside the browser window and has no scrolling option. Oh well. I guess their site designer is as dim as the rest of them.

  4. Absolutely AWESOME post!!! You hit every nail square on the head!!!!!

  5. I love you.

  6. christine says:

    Do you have a Trader Joe’s to shop at? Limited but healthy food without as much relentless marketing.

    Somehow we missed the banana marketing. Yay.

    And ah, yes, the fruit chew aisle. They even have baby food fruit chews in the baby food aisle.

  7. Great post – with or without mentioning me! I so hate how much our kids are being inundated by advertising. They are constantly being told what’s important by someone/thing other than us!

    I really hate how kids are being taught gender roles by media and advertising. So Sexy So Soon is a great book that addresses this.

    It makes the Mama work twice as hard some days!

  8. Popular culture is a minefield for parents. I cringed when I read your post because I know we will get there one day. My son just turned three and without any older siblings, he is blissfully ignorant of sketchy marketing, although he does love fruit snacks, he could care less what they’re shaped like.

    Great idea with family friendly checkout lanes!

  9. While I don’t have children, I can sympathize with your feelings about unhealthy foods, and sexualized magazine ads.

    While not an option for those living in the suburbs, if you happen to live in a town with a market, you can often accomplish a lot of your shopping there. They have the benefit of only carrying whole foods, no magazines or processed foods at all.

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