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Monday, June 9, 2008

AWESOME ENDEAVORS: Podcast Interview with Pamela Paul, Leading Social Critic and Author of “Parenting, Inc.”

Listen to HSM’s Podcast Interview with PAMELA PAUL, a leading social critic and Author of Parenting, Inc. - How We As Parents Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers -- and What It Means for Our Children.

The Author will talk about the over-commercialization of parenting and babyhood and how sometimes "less is more". Parenting, Inc. has received ample praise. To listen to the Hip Slope Mama "Awesome Endeavors" podcast interview please click "Play" directly below.

Read an abridged version of the podcast interview:

HSM: First of all, I have to say what a relevant topic for a new book this is! As a new mom, I can totally relate to the anxiety most parents feel over what they need versus what they want for their babies. What made you decide to write this book? And why now?

PAMELA PAUL: My interest in the Parenting Industry goes way back to before I had kids. When I was 23 years old, I started working in a division at Scholastic called Parents Publishing. What I ended up doing was managing a book club. My focus was on parenting books and toys that were meant to help a parent foster their child’s development and education so a lot of my time was spent sifting through samples from the parenting industry and also working on marketing to parents so I focused on the inside and found it kind of fascinating and also depressing and scary because really what the parenting business does is target parents based on their fears, anxieties, desperate hope, guilt …sort of capitalizing on all of those deepest emotions about what we do as parents and then selling us stuff on it. Which is basically what happens in advertising and marketing overall. It just seemed to me like a little bit predatory.

Then, when I was pregnant with my first child in 2003/2004 when I registered for my baby shower, it was kind of terrifying if you don’t have kids already. It’s really daunting, you’re like… I don’t know the difference from a number one to a number two nipple? What’s the difference between a “My Breast Friend” and a “Boppy”? What kind of safety things do I need? Am I supposed to register for a high chair? How old is a baby when you need a high chair anyway? It had just seemed like I had entered this cult and there was no explanation/guideline for what parents should and should not buy and I was desperate for some sort of guidance. I think many other parents have experienced this and you can’t always ask your parents because 80% of this stuff didn’t exist when our parents were raising us. And friends aren’t always helpful because your not necessarily having children at the same time as your friends. You can be a first time mom at 23 or at 42. It’s not like we’re all in this together necessarily. When I had kids, a lot of my friends were still single.

The third thing that was the impetus for me to write this book was based on my reporting for Time Magazine. We were working on an issue that looked at ways to optimize your brain and I asked the very basic question for my story, which is “Can toys make kids smarter?”, so that launched a big investigative look into the toy industry and the technology that has been developed to supposedly educate children. I was really appalled by what I found there and just the lack of evidence to support the promises of so many of these toys and products. You know, you go in and your interviewing the executives at these companies and they are actually pretty shameless about what it is that they do, and what their stuff is based on and how they target parents and create the messages that they send to parents. And I felt that if parents had that information they would be both, I think appalled, and then, in turn, empowered. I wanted to find a way to get that to parents in a medium that went beyond a 1500 page story that was in-and-out of print in a week.

Click on image above to buy book

HSM: Parenting, Inc. makes the point that in some ways we are being trained to “buy” our way into being good parents. There are obvious negative effects this might have on the parents themselves, but how does it also impact our children?

I think that we have ended up spending a lot of money thinking that we are helping our children and actually really hurting them in many ways. So many things that are supposedly educational actually limit a child’s development. It’s not just the “Baby Einstein” videos, but also the computer programs that are created for children. The supposedly educational toys that are just tricked out with all of these bells and whistles that again are not just unnecessary, but when you talk to Neuroscientists and Child Development Experts they are less educational. The golden rule is, basically, the simpler the toy the better. In other words, the more boring it is the better it is for the child. Because the best toys are about what the children put into the toys, not what the toy shouts out and bleeps outs at them. A good toy, like a basic wooden block, is 90% child and 10% toy. I’ll often pull out the Ben Franklin example. I mean, here is a guy who grew up to be a scientist, an author, a diplomat, basically anything that you would ever want your child to be ambition-wise and the Teddy Bear hadn’t even been invented and he did fine.