A Chicago dad’s 5 least favorite summertime impulse buys for kids

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 6-year-old daughter Viva, who always wins in the battle over purchasing gum at the cash register.

Kids have no impulse control. It’s what they’re most famous for. They climb whatever’s in front of them, they punch whomever they meet and they want whatever they see. They’re like humans, only worse. And so, it’s easy to sell to them – all you have to do is show them something that’s cute, or that moves, or that’s pink, or that’s sparkly, or that implies violence, and they’ll want to buy it. Of course, kids don’t have any money, but they have an uncanny knack for shaking you down for yours.

Because kids can’t control their desire and parents can’t control their gullibility, one ends up spending more than one likes to admit on child impulse purchases. Wintertime is terrible because kids are indoors and (depending on your screen time rules) exposed to commercials, exposed to peer pressure at school, and thinking about the holidays. In the summertime, the predatory marketing and sales is even more immediate, because you’re literally walking right into traps.

Here are my least favorite ways salespeople use my daughter to reach into my pockets in the summertime:

Carnival games

Why are there still carnivals? We don’t have freak shows anymore (Well, we have the City Council, I suppose), we don’t have medicine shows anymore (outside of the hippie plugging the benefits of kefir next to the hemp ponchos and the incense table), but we still have games of chance and hastily assembled rides on the outskirts of festivals all over the country. Perhaps worse than the rickety tilt-a-whirls, which MIGHT kill you but probably won’t, are the games that WILL rip you off. Games that are rigged, or just impossible to win, or “Winner Every Time” but with the cost of playing so impossibly much higher than the sweatshop-manufactured poison-leaking prizes your child will win that even the winners lose. But go ahead, try and walk past a balloon pop wall or a clown squirter thing without having your child go into a full tantrum.

Toy stands

Even at a super-squaresville art festival you’re going to end up walking past a tent or table with some kind of doll, or whirligigs, or train whistles, or some other gewgaw that your kid is going to want. If I wanted to be forced to deny my kid a worthless toy, I wouldn’t be listening to folkies at a street fair, I’d go to the mall and have to turn down the little spinny helicopters or the ride-on robot plush animals just like I turn down the weird massages where people watch you get rubbed with your face through a toilet seat.

Nighttime light-ups

You’ve just finished watching fireworks, or a washed-up hair band, or a yacht rock tribute act. You’ve been at a festival all day, it’s dark, the mosquitos are biting, your kid is melting down, and you are ego depleted – unable to make choices or put up a fight anymore. That’s when somebody rolls by selling light-up Minecraft swords or lightsabers or magic wants or deedly-bobbers. Remember in your teen years when you felt pressured into buying your girlfriend a single rose on the walk back to the car after an Aerosmith concert? Well, this is that but more expensive and even more likely to elicit tears if you don’t comply.

Ice cream trucks

Noise pollution, ice cream of dubious origin, traffic danger, predatory marketing and jingles with racist lyrics: there is nothing good one can say about ice cream trucks. (Except that ice cream is tasty.) How these are legal in a world that bans lawn darts and polices tweets is beyond me. It’s hard enough to manage ice cream consumption in the home – I don’t need mobile child-fleecing booths whose siren songs pulls my kid into the street. (I’m just glad there isn’t an Italian Beef wagon that circles my block playing “That’s A’more”… I’d be broke.)

Face painting

Face painting is great fun, my kid loves it, and over the years face painting has advanced from a black “S” or a red “C” on your cheek to denote whether you like the Sox or whether you are lame, to full face sparkly creations. It’s also gone from something you paid for upon completion to something usually paid for by the event and free when you walk up. USUALLY free, but not always – and therein lies the rub. Kids are now so used to free fancy face painting, it’s hard to explain why it’s sometimes a cash operation and they can’t get it. It’s like a wedding, really – go to enough open bars and the cash bars quickly become cause for a riot. I want free whiskey sours at a reception and free Spiderman faces at fests or I’m kicking over tables.

All these sleazy little moves can be countered, and all of these points of sale are learning opportunities. You can teach kids about impulse control, about saving, about budgeting with an allowance, and about priority – but it’s painful, because you have to be the bad guy and you have to face a lot of tears. Worth it, maybe?

Or maybe you’ll just buy the Sponge Bob Ice Cream Bar and limp home hating yourself, but in peace.

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