Posts Tagged post-moral culture

Toys ‘R’ Us Uses Kids to Push Their Products

Published by — The toy corporations mocks environmental education to make a profit.

Here’s a painfully-clear portrait of our post-moral culture: A recently-released advertisement uses real kids, not actors, to deliver the message that Nature is deadly dull and that over-priced, made-in-Elsewhere consumerist toys bring true joy.

The kick-off to Toys”R”Us’ holiday season is here on YouTube.

At this point, everyone over age 5 is onto advertising’s lies. So clever corporate America has created a new technique called “reality prank,” which sets up a situation that captures real people having genuine, heartfelt reactions. The non-actor responses are hugely compelling. In two such “prank” ads — see here and here — unsuspecting people are put in scary if not terrifying situations. The pranks provoke pricelessly big, honest reactions — for the purpose of selling TVs and beer, respectively. Apparently using people for corporate or personal gain is okay, as long as it’s entertaining.

Toys”R”Us uses a busload of urban kids. The set-up is a fake environmental organization called “Meet the Trees Foundation,” which is taking them on a field trip to the forest. Actually, the one aspect that didn’t seem real was the kids’ seeming boredom about taking the trip. I’ve never seen elementary students be anything but thrilled to be on a bus taking them just about anywhere other than school. Not sure how they did that.

“Ranger Brad,” an actor, leads the expedition. As the bus pulls away, he preps them to play arguably the most boring game ever conceived: Name that leaf. Students yawn, as I would. When a boy gamely ventures a wrong guess, he’s gently put down, a moment designed to boil the blood of environmental educators.

But the pain is quickly over. Time for the reveal:

Ranger Brad strips off his colorless, tree-hugger’s shirt, revealing a deep red, designerly version of a Toys”R”Us employee shirt. His voice loses its environmentalist piety and amps up to full pitchman: “We’re not going to the forest today,” — because who on earth would want to do that? — “we’re going to Toys”R”Us!” The kids scream and whoop. Brad seals the deal with: “You’ll play with all the toys and you can choose any toy you want!” For a poor urban kid, life doesn’t get any better.

From there, the advertiser has easy, downhill sledding. We see shot after darling shot of kids loose in a candy store, riding bikes, wide-eyed at games, thrilled over the possibilities. “I’m going to cry,” says a kid in the throes of overwhelm. “This is sooooooo cool,” bursts another. This rich sequence ends as a lovely girl takes a fluffy stuffed creature into her arms and melts with pleasure. Cue corporate logo and cut.

The message is that environmental education is not good or bad, but why bother? Clearly it bores the daylights out of the team who made the ad. Why they threw Mother Nature under the bus is a head-scratcher, except that corporate America can’t make a buck off kids and nature.

Educators, ecologists and some parents would argue passionately that teaching children about protecting the environment is critical to our survival. I would add that Nature has a spirit that could become a real friend to urban kids, if they only had more access and exposure to it. Like any friend, kids need to become familiar with nature’s spirit, over time. Without bells and whistles, it’s not obvious what entertainment can be gotten out of it. Nature only “works” as a toy when you’ve explored it and know its treasures, like European kids who attend forest kindergartens. They whoop and scream too, but over mud, imagination, twigs and tools — much more accessible to a low-income kid.

Making kids happy is an ancient and desirable pleasure. In moderation, it’s a good thing. But thrilling urban kids with a shiny consumer object starts to look like a quick first fix. Hyper-marketed toys, like movie-tie-in products, are interesting for a surprisingly short time. Many new parents have been sorely disappointed to see the child far more thrilled with the box than the toy itself. As the novelty recedes, new and fancier toys must take their place to keep the child amused and not, God forbid, bored. The trendy toy of the year resembles the beginning of an addiction more than a prop for a child’s imagination and exploration.

But what I got from this whole phenomenon of “reality pranks” is that it no longer matters whom you use, or what values you trash, in order to sell product. In a post-moral culture the common good can’t possibly compete with entertainment. If we use kids — or terrify adults — to make the dollar, that’s kind of clever, no? Environmental educators matter so little no one is going to fuss about dissing them.

Although, I’m not the only one to object. Petitions are circulating. But as of this writing not even 1,000 people have thumbs-downed the ad. However insulting, unhealthy and greedy the message, the unfortunate values asserted are not much rocking anyone’s world.

But I can tell you that Toys”R”Us has seen the last of my dollars.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street.

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Extreme Efforts Get Kids into Functional Families.

Published by — Every child deserves a loving family, preferably with blood relations.

Charles Dickens filled his novels with orphans who’d “lost their people” by death or other circumstances.  The word “Dickensian” refers to a heartlessly industrializing world where such children were liabilities, plain and simple.  Actually, our current Congress seems to feel similarly about the hundreds of thousands of kids they’re hoping to throw off food stamps and subsidized lunches.  We’re no longer Dickensian, exactly, but in this economy, compassion costs too much money, plain and simple.  I guess we’ve finally arrived at a post-moral culture.

Happily, there still are people, non-politicians, willing to go to extreme measures to feed the hungry and care for the orphans.  In a moment we’ll meet a St. Louis group who developed terrific solutions that are kinder, more effective, and even cheaper than the gruel we’re giving kids now.

But first let’s meet Christopher Hatch.

Removed from his biological family at age 3, Hatch spent 15 years as a ward of social services.  States generally boot kids out of care at 18, figuring they no longer need adult guidance (and care costs tax dollars.)  Now he’s a college-going 23-year-old adult.  Apparently many Congressional members believe that poor, neglected or abused kids could be just like Hatch, if only they tried harder.  He did overcome a hideous life.

Speaking publicly, he ponders three what-if scenarios.  First, “What would things have been like if only I had been adopted by the first (foster-care) family?  We went to Disney World, camping.  There were no other foster kids.  They were my family.  One night they told me they weren’t going to adopt me.  No, I could not see my sister at school to say goodbye.

Second, “If only I’d been adopted by the second family.  But the social worker showed up and said they’d decided to get a divorce and were no longer interested in adopting.

As Hatch got older, PTSD from early abuse and changing families started catching up with him.  After about 10 years old, kids get less adorable, and less adoptable.

“They drove me to a residential shelter.  You start to believe you can be thrown away, that you’re disposable.”  Which led him to the third wistful thought: “If only I’d been placed with my bio brother.  There were records that showed he and I weren’t (He makes finger quotes in the air) “getting along” at ages 2 and 3.  But being permanent with anyone is a big deal.  Then later, at a summer camp, I saw a familiar kid, and I’m like:  He’s my brother!  He’d been living about 10 minutes from where I lived.  But the two sets of pre-adoptive parents didn’t get along.  So the relationship between us was severed.  Now he lives in Florida.

“The point of why I’m telling you this, is that it’s happening to kids and youth right now.  I promised myself I would try to make that stop.”

Extreme recruiting ends much madness.

In 2009, a St. Louis-based, 23-person committee vowed to get kids like Hatch into permanent families within 12 to 20 weeks, after coming to social services (Time Magazine first alerted me to them).

Later called the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition, they hired detectives, ex-policemen, to track down every possible member of the child’s extended biological family.  Go find the kid’s tribe.  Gather them into a Family Group Conference, the technique that humanized social and justice services in New Zealand.  Skype and similar technologies bring far-flung families into the room.  A facilitator guides the discussion about where a child like baby Hatch would thrive.  Yes, some families refuse to participate.  Which is why recruiting has to be extreme.  They need every single possible option.  This is not easy work.  But it’s powerful and effective.

After all, Extended Biological Family, this is your child.

Your flesh and blood.  Your responsibility.  The whole tribe needs to support whoever takes on primary custody.  And lo:  permanency rates soared to 70%.  Regular family-service agencies are lucky to get a 40% placement rate within 5 years, not 20 weeks.

Often, even if the first family didn’t work out, the child stays within the family network, maintaining ties.  Brothers stay in relationship if one family can’t take all the siblings.  While not a complete cure, it’s hugely better.

The Coalition’s website explains, “The old assumption was that if a child’s parents couldn’t care for her, everyone else in the family would have a similarly negative influence — that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. The new conventional wisdom is that having contact with family is critical to a child’s identity, and if you haven’t found any family members who can be a positive influence, then you haven’t looked hard enough.”

There.  Do that.  Surely extreme recruiting is cheaper than cleaning up after all the damage bouncing around in state care does.  Foster families are often heroic, and the system will always need them.  But blood relations work out best.

If we really valued families more, such measures would not seem extreme, but good dollars and sense.  Never mind the right thing to do.

Although “right” things sounds like compassionate morals, and as our leaders are demonstrating, morals are becoming completely irrelevant.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street.

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