My younger daughter and I were innocently watching an online video previewing Disney on Ice presents Frozen the other day when, low and behold, to her wondering eyes appeared an advertisement with a picture of the exact same Frozen-themed art set that is a top request on her Christmas list.
Look, Mommy!" she said. "That's the art set I asked Santa for! And there's more!"
Yes, indeed. There was more. Stickers. Coloring books. Activity books. A manicure set. She saw them all as the ad scrolled through what seemed to be every single item out there that is at all related to a set of colored pencils and markers with Elsa's face all over them. I quickly shut the laptop so she couldn't see any more.
"Why was that on your computer, Mommy?" my five-year-old wondered.
What could I say? That I was actually Santa, getting all her gifts or doling them out to grandparents who are searching for ideas? I'd purchased the art set online a week before after I couldn't find it at a local retailer. We'd given it to her friend for her birthday earlier in the year. She's wanted one ever since.
I successfully steered the discussion to another important topic (candy), but she didn't forget. She mentioned it to her sister that afternoon.
These days, my laptop is a Christmas wish time bomb. I pull up one website and there are the athletic socks or boots or card games that my nine-year-old wants. I pull up another and you'll see the results of my search for a pop-up soccer goal and football for my five-year-old, all links that I sent on to a grandparent, who will purchase them.
There is an off switch and I have taken precautions. Online shoppers can clear their cache immediately after they have finished making a purchase. Then, the cookies that pull in those ads that pop up will be wiped from their browser. In other words, advertisers won't be able to target you by displaying pictures of items that you've just searched for or purchased.
Of course, that doesn't work when you're casually browsing online while your kids are sitting across from you, watching some kind of holiday special on TV and, during the commercials, one pops her head over to see what you're up to. Maybe you'd already quickly switched to another site to hide your activities, but, as you surfed around with her watching, a possible gift popped up.
Yes. That can happen.
I get it. This is how folks make money by tracking our movements online and enticing us with advertisements for things we've searched for and apparently are interested in.
And this also falls squarely in the category of "first world problems." Certainly, I could perhaps resolve much of this by not searching for these items online or by just telling my kids that I'm Santa. But that's tricky when grandparents are out of town and ask for ideas; my kids' top wishes can't be found locally; and I love that my kids love Santa.
Regardless, it sure would be nice to have some kind of automatic off switch during the gift-giving season.
Until then, I'll hopefully look for advertisements of European vacations or resorts in Hawaii. Then I'll know my husband is thinking about making all of my Christmas wishes come true.
Sarah is the mom of two and Go Ask Mom's editor.