And once again, a restaurant gets threatened because the parents don’t want to say no.

Parents, when a restaurant pushes out commercials advertising x toy with y meal, and you don’t want your kid(s) anywhere near that restaurant whether they’re giving out that specific toy or $150, do you:
1. Tell them no and stick to it, telling them exactly why you’re keeping them as far away from that restaurant as humanly possible
2. Tell them no and that’s it, falling back on the old classic “because I said so”
3. Eventually switch from telling them no to giving in and taking them to that restaurant to shut them up
4. Tell them you’ll take them to that restaurant after they do x for you
5. Organize a consumer group and sue the restaurant for having the nerve to include a toy in that meal

If you said 5, I’d like to introduce you to this group, who’s decided to threaten McDonalds with exactly that.

“McDonald’s marketing has the effect of conscripting America’s children into an unpaid drone army of word-of-mouth marketers, causing them to nag their parents to bring them to McDonald’s,” Stephen Gardner of the Center for Science in the Public Interest wrote to the heads of the chain in a letter announcing the lawsuit.

The centre, which has filed dozens of lawsuits against food companies in recent years, is hoping the publicity and the threat of a lawsuit will force McDonald’s to negotiate with them on the issue. The group announced the lawsuit in the letter to McDonald’s 30 days before filing it with the hope that the company will agree to stop selling the toys before a suit is filed.

Ah, but it’s not really about the toys, says the article. It’s about those nasty marketters who’re forcing those poor kids, who’re then forcing those poor parents to drive to McDonalds so they can stuff their faces with crap that even on their healthiest happy meal isn’t exactly overly healthy.

The fast food company made a pledge in 2007 to advertise only two types of Happy Meals to children younger than 12: one with four Chicken McNuggets, apple dippers with caramel dip and low-fat white milk, or one with a hamburger, apple dippers and milk. They both meet the company-set requirement of less than 600 calories, and no more than 35 per cent of calories from fat, 10 per cent of calories from saturated fat or 35 per cent total sugar by weight.

CSPI argues that even if those Happy Meals appear in advertisements, kids order the unhealthier meals most of the time.

Nice switch, folks. So now it’s a health thing–that just so happens to be focused on whether or not the chain happens to be selling a toy with those particular meals they’re claiming kids shouldn’t be allowed to have. And yet, they still virtually ignore the fact that it’s not up to the restaurant to parent these people’s kids. Oh, wait; no they don’t. They just gloss over it.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, says it’s the parents responsibility too, but he equates the toy giveaways to a door to door salesman coming to a family’s house every day and asking to privately speak with the children.

“At some point parents get worn down,” Jacobson says. “They don’t always want to be saying no to their children. We feel like an awful lot of parents would be relieved if this one pressure was removed from them.”

News flash, folks. Sometimes, parenting sucks. I’m not a parent and even I know that. Saying no to your kids is part of life. If parents are under that much pressure over a 2 dollar toy in a 5 dollar happy meal, I’d really hate to see what kind of pressure they’d be under when the kids stop looking for the toy in the happy meal and start looking for the car they just saw on TV instead. Are they going to start suing car manufacturers if they start doing something like giving away free MP3 players when you buy a certain model car? Which could, quite likely, start happening what with certain models now able to actually store music locally on their own physical hard drive. Are they going to start suing Wendy’s, because you can get a soft drink with your meal for the same price as a thing of milk?

You can’t legislate good parenting, folks. And you can’t enforce it in the courts, either. Not if you’re enforcing it against people who aren’t even responsible for the parenting of your kids. End of the day, you chose to drive to McDonalds with your kids. You chose to let them order the burger, fries, coke and whatever else their little heart desires. No one forced you to do it.

I wrote this post back in May about advertisers, their marketting strategy, and whether or not they’re ultimately responsible for you deciding to buy a particular product. As I said in that entry, all the advertiser’s doing is letting you know what’s available. You’re the one deciding whether or not that thing that’s available would actually be useful/beneficial to you. The same can easily be said for this situation as well–McDonalds advertises what it calls a healthier happy meal. Parents know this. If they absolutely must take their kid to McDonalds–and I firmly believe no one’s forcing them to even do that–if they want their kids to eat healthier, it should be their responsibility to make sure they actually do that. I’d argue the first step in that would be to not go to McDonalds, but if the parents are feeling that unavoidable pressure, part of parenting is actually, you know, teaching your kids which, of the current options, is actually better for them. If you can’t seem to do that, then I seriously question whether you should even be parenting. You certainly shouldn’t be suing a restaurant chain because they’re not doing the parenting for you.

Have an opinion?