Monday, September 28, 2015

Cultural Messages and Chocolate-Chip Cookies

I made chocolate-chip cookies last week. I baked a double batch so I could take some of them to a Pedal the Cure fundraiser that Beth and Curt were hosting, and would have some to take to my friends who just had a new baby, and would have some left over for our house.

Since I was baking them for other people, I didn't enlist Zuzu's help, but later in the day, she asked me if she could have a cookie.

She was so excited when I gave her the cookie. She held it in her hand and said, "This is so yummy, Mommy!" She held it up for David and my parents to see: "Mm-mm! This is good!"

She still hadn't taken a bite.

She took the tiniest little nibble off the side. "Yum-yum-yum!" she said enthusiastically.

And then she just kind of sat there with the cookie in her hand.

"Honey, you don't have to eat it," I told her.

"Okay!" she said. She put the cookie down the table and went off to play.

Zuzu obviously does not like chocolate-chip cookies. She doesn't have much of a sweet tooth at all. She isn't into ice cream, and she'll eat plain Greek yogurt by the spoonful.

But she obviously knows she's supposed to like chocolate-chip cookies.

A three-year-old, whose television exposure is pretty limited, whose parents generally try to eat pretty healthy, whose schools have never served sugary snacks, can recite the things she's expected to say about chocolate-chip cookies, even though she doesn't actually want to eat them.

It really makes me think about all of the other unintentional messages that we send her, and how readily she absorbs them. And then consider all the messages that our society is sending her about how she is supposed to act and look and think and feel.

Liking chocolate-chip cookies seems pretty harmless, and we all laughed at her enthusiasm for a treat she obviously didn't want to eat. But what happens when she starts to absorb other kinds of social messages? You know the ones I mean--Math is hard. Girls should be skinny. Alcohol makes everything more fun. A little more troubling than Chocolate-chip cookies are delicious.

She performed the cultural ritual of celebrating a chocolate chip cookie even though she didn't really want to take part in it. She wanted to be part of what everyone else makes a fuss about (even though we didn't realize we were making a fuss--we obviously were!). Like every kid, she wants attention, pleasure, positive reinforcement. That's normal. But it's scary to think about how quickly she'll want those things to come from places other than her parents, and how the cultural messages about what will bring her attention, pleasure, and positive reinforcement are not necessarily the messages I want her to receive.


  1. The other scary thing is how quickly these messages and images are going to fly at her, particularly images. TV's got nothing on social media.

    Plus, we stick cameras in their faces all the time - I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I don't ever remember being photographed outside the obligatory photos at entrances to theme parks or by the ocean or in front of the Christmas tree. I do photograph my kids, and they still request them (particularly to mark something interesting they've found - like this enormous leaf F found recently), but I try to limit it, and I also sneak photos of them when they aren't looking. I'm trying to do better at the way I dole out positive reinforcement as well. I think my kids look cute every morning, but when they come downstairs dressed for the day I try to say "You look ready for the day!" instead of "You look SO cute - let me take a picture of that outfit and send to grandma." (Then I sneak the picture on the walk to school and send it to grandma!) I don't know, I'm no expert. I just want my girls to go into new things with confidence that isn't solely based on how cute their outfit is.

    E's got a class this year called academic lab - and one focus is on the study of cultural messages and diving deeply into various influences in media today. I'm really excited about it - I think it's a great component of her middle school curriculum, and I'm excited to read some of her papers she does for the class.

    We talk about this all the time - particularly about food. The conversation has expanded some with my oldest daughter now that's she's twelve. We both like to listen to the show "On the Media" on Sunday afternoons on NPR - we have great conversations around that show, and it's gotten her excited for Academic Lab. Webster U. has a Media Literacy requirement for all students, which I think it essential in any college coursework.

    1. I think about this same thing in regard to praising appearance. Zuzu will put on a dress and say, "I look beautiful! Like a princess!" and I know she's referring to how the dress fits (if it's long-ish or twirly), but it also makes me think about how many interactions she has with adults that start with them commenting on what she's wearing or how cute she looks. It's our go-to when we're not sure what to say and we want to make conversation. I certainly say it to other adults as well. There's nothing wrong with it, but as much as I delight in her adorable clothes, as you say, I want her confidence to come from elsewhere. Maybe I should start telling her she looks "comfortable" in her clothes...

      E's class sounds awesome.

    2. Brooke, thank you -- this was a really interesting post... you've had me thinking about it for days!

  2. She is so cute! I wish my kids hadn't been served sugary treats at school. It's never ending and makes me so mad! Anyway...I know what you mean about the messages they get and their need to fit in. The other day I overheard our neighbor girl say a very inappropriate thing to my 5 and 7 year old. They laughed along but had no idea really what she meant (thankfully). After I told the girl off for her language and sent my kids into the house, I explained to them that we don't have to laugh or go along with things just because it seems "cool." If someone hits your friend but laughs about it - do you laugh to? Do you go along with it? No. You stand up for what's right and you use your OWN mind. Anyway, I think talking about upholding their own standards from a very young age is helpful. One can hope! :)

    1. I can remember my mom telling kids at the swimming pool to watch their mouths when they were being inappropriate and I wanted to die of embarrassment. Now I TOTALLY would say the same thing! Haha.

  3. Also, my friend was a Pedal the Cure organizer - glad you got to attend!

  4. That's a great observation - it would've been so easy to just laugh off the cookie situation without thinking any more deeply about it!

    I homeschool my kids, and it has been really interesting to see how their tastes and opinions have developed differently than our publicly schooled friends - we don't make a huge effort to shield them from pop culture, but they get it in different ways, maybe, than most kids? We do limit social media access, but I don't want them to grow up and have no cultural connections to their own generation. I guess one side to it - not necessarily good or bad - is that we're able to have more impact on their tastes than my friends and siblings do. I think our opinions carry a bit more weight. But the older two are teenagers now, just barely, and they're definitely breaking loose, as well they should.

    Homeschooling is (done the way we do it, anyway, but frankly I think isolating your kids from their own culture is a harsh thing to do) no cure for the input they receive from all the other sources in the world, but I do like that it's kind of kept their dad and I within their peer group, in some ways.

    I think for most children, though, that solid connection with their parents IS their safe haven from less positive input from the rest of the world, knowing that (hopefully) unconditional love is there waiting for them at the end of the day.

    Also, I try really hard to find even one good thing about a kid's behavior to comment on. Today, there was a burly little dude playing with my petite chicklet at the playground, and I was so impressed that he took care not to step on her feet or hands on this crazy climbing structure they were on together, so that's what I commented on, despite his darling curls! He chose to be careful - her didn't choose those curls! I wanted to give credit where it was due.

  5. A) alcohol does make everything more fun (just don't tell Z I said so) B) sloane brought up the skinny thing last week... I almost died. Not ready for this.

  6. I think about this a lot. Not the cookie connection because Benjamin's interest in sweets is SERIOUS.

    But the cultural messages. I'm also a little surprised that at the ripe age of three, just about every kid at Benjamin's preschool walks out with either a Disney princess backpack or a Ninja Turtle one. Benjamin's is black. He didn't have a choice. There's nothing wrong with liking these things. It's just, they're already so influenced. Benjamin is equally, but I am trying to shield him a bit from assuming ALL things must be just like every other kid. The concern with being okay with blending is assuming you ALWAYS have to blend.

    I desperately want both of my kids to like what they personally take interest in and follow their own paths. There is so much influence and it's frightening.

  7. Finn is the same way with most treats and it really baffles me. Mary has my sweet tooth.

    This is so true and I like Kristin's comment about saying "you look ready for the day" - I am try to remember that kids are great imitators and we need to be who we want them to be, but it's easy to fall into the "do as I say not as I do" trap from time to time.