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Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes


The Rise and Fall of Children’s Shopping Carts

Last week I saw a segment on the news about an initiative at Target to withdraw the child-sized shopping carts that the company had tried out in 72 stores in August. A Google search of “Target kid’s shopping carts” finds numerous articles and YouTube videos with titles that describe the initiative as a “Shin-bashing Menace…” (Fortune, 9/23/16), and “nightmare” kids' carts that are “vehicles of mass destruction” (Business insider, 9/22/16). The storyline in the various news outlets is about the power of social media to bring about rapid response and change. But I believe the story of the shopping carts is an interesting story about parenting and about setting expectations for a child’s behavior.

Among the viral communications that seem to have affected the abandonment of the initiative are one of a mom taking time to look at a product while her child continuously bumps her kid-cart into her, and another one where the children are zigzagging down aisles. There were other postings of moms (and it was primarily moms who posted) whose children were devastated when they needed to put back all the items that the child had accumulated in their kid cart, and those who lamented that their shopping time had doubled as they needed to direct and redirect their child.

When I viewed the various videos and vitriol that parents about this initiative, I was struck first by the rather shortsighted understanding of early childhood behaviors. I lamented the opportunity lost in the outcome.

How is it possible that neither parents nor those at Target who introduced the idea failed to take into account how children interact with new toys? Did everyone really believe that a young child with a shopping cart would walk calmly up and down aisles mimicking what their parents did? Actually, those children who filled their baskets and were upset that they couldn’t own all those items did a better job of acting like their parents. Perhaps their parents hadn’t told them about making choices and not being able to own everything they want.

The outcome - remove the object – is similar to the thinking behind censorship of books, movies, technology, and various toys. Instead of teaching children how to use something in a responsible way, many simply prefer to remove the object. The outcome was probably the right one for Target. There was probably a law suit in the making with some child recklessly knocking over a customer or a display. Nonetheless, the outcome is paradigmatic of how we often approach things that we perceive to be “dangerous” to children.

I tried to imagine another scenario. A parent with a toddler finds kid-carts at their local Target. At the outset, the parent engages with the child for a minute about how to walk with the cart making sure that the child doesn’t bump into anyone. In that same conversation the parent talks about putting some of her items into the child’s cart and some into her adult cart so that they are sharing the experience of “gathering the things that are on our list.” In future visits, they could generate the list together. Older children could practice reading the list or comparing prices, or develop their independence by seeking out an item on their own.

At Wornick, we provide children with scissors, glue-guns, and computers. Large groups of children walk through halls and up and down stairs. Children play with sand and water, they climb structures, they go on field trips to the city. Older children fly to far away cities, they participate in ropes course activities, hike over some challenging terrain. Every activity is carefully supervised and planned. But the most important reason that every one of these activities work, is that we spend the time teaching children how to navigate all of these potential dangers.

At Trader Joe’s and Lunardi’s supermarkets in our area, there are still kids’ sized shopping carts available. I would guess our children — and our parents — are up to the challenge!

If you’d like more guidance about how to parent in this way, I highly recommend Julie Lythcott-Haims’ recent book How to Raise an Adult.

Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Monday September, 26, 2016 at 07:46AM

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