Food for thought (well, cereal, actually)

I know it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but I occasionally love a bowl of cereal.  That, and our children enjoy munching on Cheerios and Kix and other somewhat more innocuous varieties.  Sometimes we have name brand items on hand.  Other times, we have the generic, store-brand knock-offs. 

It should be noted that I like to read.  In that, I like to read in the same way that I like to breathe.  I can’t imagine not doing it.  If I have 10 seconds of spare time, I’m probably reading something.  At times, the only thing handy to read is the back of the cereal box or bag, and so I’ll read that.  And I’ve noticed something curious.

When I was a kid, the backs of cereal boxes and bags were for kids.  There were games, gimmicks, giveaways, promotions, contests, and the rare educational material.  But whatever the angle, it was angled for kids.  But on several occasions in the past few months, on store brands and generics, I’ve noticed that this has changed.

The backs of these bags and boxes are often for the parents, not the children.

This brings up some interesting questions.

** Who does the manufacturer think is primarily eating cereal these days?
** Who does the manufacturer think is primarily reading cereal boxes and bags these days?
** Is this a comment on the eating habits of our kids?
** Is this a comment on the reading abilities and inclinations of multiple generations of video gamers?
** Is this a comment on the attention span of children, who won’t bother to read a box or bag anymore?
** What is it that manufacturers think parents should or would like to know?

It’s this last question that I find most particularly compelling.  Manufacturer’s aren’t trying to get parents to buy things.  Nor are they attempting to entertain them.  And perhaps they know better than to try and convince them to save box/bag tops for contests and promotions.  But they are attempting to educate parents.

About their kids.

These cereal boxes and bags are plastered with helpful information about how to interact with your kids.  How do you get your kids to be active?  How do you get yourself to be active?  What are things that you can do with your kids when you have time together with them?  How do you entertain them and yourself?  How do you start conversations with them?  How do you teach them? 

All of these things and more I’ve found on the back of cereal bags and boxes.  It’s commendable in some ways.  In many more, fundamental ways it’s deeply frightening and disturbing.  Do parents have this little contact with their children?  Are parents this poorly equipped to interact with their children?  Are parents so self-absorbed that they don’t think to interact with their children?  Are television and video and the Internet and video games so pervasive now that when parents have some time alone with their children, they reach first for these things to occupy the kids before attempting to interact with them?  Is this what the children have grown to prefer?  Is this what the adults prefer?

I think it should probably be alarming that manufacturers seem less interested in trying to sell something to us, and more interested in trying to just get us to interact with our kids.  As the father of three small children, I know how daunting that task can be at times after a long day of work.  I also know how rewarding it is, and how essential it is if I hope for my children to grow up healthy and well adjusted in body, mind, and spirit.  I don’t need a manufacturer to tell me this.  But apparently I’m in the minority.  I don’t claim to be the perfect parent, or to have all the answers about parenting and parents.  But I do know one thing.

I hope parents like to read cereal bags/boxes.

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