Artifact from the Free-Range Past: A Circuit City Ad

Hey Readers! Got this cool letter today from a guy named Mike:

Hello Free-Rangers:  Remember that Circuit City commercial in the ’90’s where the young boy buys a Walkman, and goes to Circuit City to get his price match? Here it is:

There are a number of points that this commercial highlights for me that show how far we have fallen.

1. The father tells the son: “You bought it, you take care of it.”

2. The boy walks to Circuit City completely on his own, taking what seems to be the long way while he gathers the courage to ask for his price match.

3. The boy is talks to the man behind the counter and gets his price match


1. The parent likely wouldn’t let their child take care of the return, nor allow them to purchase it on their own in the first place.

2. They would drive to the Circuit City.

3. The boy would never be allowed to speak to a strange MAN (because all men are potential molesters of course)

And so it goes — Mike

Lenore here: I actually think the parents might allow the kid to talk to a clerk, no matter what gender. But I agree: It would be a family affair, and they’d get there by car.

39 Responses

  1. The saddest part of all that is that kids back then were in more danger than kids are today.

    Damn it, the next time my boy wants a burrito, I’m sending him to the taqueria solo!

  2. True, if they took the kid they’d possibly let him talk to the clerk, but I’m guessing the more likely scenario would involve one of the parents taking complete care of it because it’s not little Johnny’s fault Circuit City messed up, so why should he have to lose fun time to deal with it?

    I feel like my comment sounds like it’s made jokingly, but I’ve seen this scenario play out in families around me with kids much older than the one in this commercial . . . old enough to not even need a ride from mom or dad.

  3. haha! good for you anthony!!! :~D

  4. There’s another angle to all this. Imagine how chastised Circuit City would be if they were to air an ad like that today?

  5. I’m all nostalgic for cassettes, now. 🙂

  6. I remember that commercial.

    Ds10 asked to walk over to RiteAid to buy ice cream this summer. I thought about it, let him, and he took his little brother who is 7.

  7. I remember loving that commercial as a kid.

    Sadly Circuit City went out of business last year (though another company bought them for their online presence) so no driving to the store even.

  8. LOL! Great post.

    @Michele: It’s not really unfortunate that CC went out of business. They were really doing some nasty things to their employees – like firing those with tenure to hire people that they could pay 7.00/hr to instead. That’s why I stopped shopping there – major boycott. It’s why I’ve stopped shopping Wal-Mart too. Just look them up. I’m sure somewhere Google can dig up archived stories on CC and their atrocious treatment of their people.

  9. Oh the memories. lol Notice all the traffic, secluded (yet calming side streets), and even…yes…kids in a playground. Not to mention, these days, no clerk would dare help a kid without a parent present.

    Such a sad world we live in now. I’m glad I grew up when things were much more simple, educated, and FUN for kids. The 70s were a great time for growing up before your teens. Although the 80s in your teens were pretty good to.

    What I’m curious about is if the kid in the commercial has a family of his own now, and whether he was like his commercial dad, or the scaredy cat parents of today.

  10. I used to buy all my electronics and even appliances at Circuit City. They had very knowledgeable people who could actually answer my questions (and my questions were often highly technical). At some point, they fired all of their knowledgeable people and hired a bunch of know-nothings.

    It might be interesting to make a list of free-range kids in the media. There are several movies that I remember from the 70s and 80s that featured young children going out and about without adult supervision. One that comes to mind is Cloak and Dagger. The kids had bus passes and seemed to have the whole city of San Antonio as their playground. The story itself is far-fetched, but nowadays it is even farther-fetched since I doubt that many 11-year-olds would have their own bus passes and be allowed to go out like that. Not to mention the little neighbor girl accompanying him.

  11. From the time my kids were any age, I encouraged them to take care of their own transactions, ask for clarification where needed, order their food in restaurants and, you’re right, often clerks look around the kid to the parent. So I have gotten into the habit of physically removing myself. I find that generally, clerks are more than happy to help them, but seem astounded to see a kid speaking for him or herself.

  12. @Mallory, when clerks do that with Logan and me, I simply smile and point at Logan.

  13. @EricS: The kid was played by Austin O’Brien. (He was in the TV show “Promised Land”.) I don’t think that his IMDB information has been updated in a while since it still shows him attending university and he would be 29 years old now. He might have started late or is going for an advanced degree I suppose.

  14. I was raised free-range in the 60s and 70s because both of my parents worked to support the family. Therefore, I raised my son free-range during the 80s and 90s not only because I was raised that way, but because I raised him on my own from the time he was two years old. Sure, I worried sometimes, but what’s a parent to do in that situation. You teach them the best that you know how and then let life teach them the rest. Sometimes the School of Hard Knocks is the best teacher for them. Too many kids these days have no concept of taking responsibility for their own actions because their parents neglected to teach them and refuse to let life teach them. I believe that this applies to home life as well. My son learned to do his own laundry at age seven because he complained one to many times that I was doing it wrong. I’m his mother, not his maid! He also learned to cook and to do basic sewing repairs. He left home knowing how to survive on his own.

  15. Today, parents would yell at the sales clerk. For no reason.

  16. Great, loved this

  17. Lenore,
    Love your blog. I tell all my friends who are helicopter parents about it… It’s easier for me to point them to this blog than directly criticise their parenting.

    Anyway, I found this article.

    The most important point? I’m sick of being made to feel like I don’t love my children as much as my friends love theirs just because I don’t know where my 5 year old is on our 1/2 acre lot at every second of the day.


  18. I always liked that one because the kid was so shy but brave. You can imagine his dad is trying to teach as much about being assertive as being responsible. But, what strikes me as dated (even at the time) was the use of a cash refund. This almost never happens at large electronics stores, Amtrak yes, Fry’s no. This commercial felt to me like a bit of a throwback to an earlier time even when it came out.

  19. Don’t forget the probability in this day and age of someone calling CPS on these parents for letting their child out unsupervised at his age… Oy.

  20. I have always expected my kids to speak up for themselves first and if that doesn’t work, then I’ll step in. I can’t stand it when waitresses expect me to order for my children who at 10 and 12 are clearly capable of ordering for themselves. This is a life skill that kids need to learn to be functioning adults. This is part of socialization. Sorry, as a homeschooling mama I can’t resist a dig at how school is not the only place to learn social skills 🙂

    Love the commercial!

  21. I expect my daughter (3)and son (2) to order for themselves when we are at a restaurant. Granted, I might have to “translate” for the waitress.

    Just last night, I was with both kids at Starbucks and my daughter wanted another (overpriced) fruit bowl. I handed her $4 and told her what to go get it, and then just sat back and watched. It took about 5 minutes because she was nervous, but she handled the whole thing by herself – she even put the change in the tip jar!

  22. Lenore,

    For some reason I can’t seem to find the link to email you directly anywhere on the page, which means it’s probably right in front of my face. Just wanted to share one of those stupid chain emails that my mom forwarded to me today that made my head explode:

    “Please take a minute to read this. This is very scary and could happen to any of us.. Seems like every nice thing people do for one another can be perverted.

    A new twist on kidnapping from a very smart survivor:

    About a month ago there was a woman standing by the mall entrance passing out flyers to all the women going in.

    The woman had written the flyer herself to tell about an experience she had, so that she might warn other women.

    The previous day, this woman had finished shopping, went out to her car and discovered that she had a flat.

    She got the jack out of the trunk and began to change the flat. A nice man dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase walked up to her and said, ‘I noticed you’re changing a flat tire. Would you like me to take care of it for you?’

    The woman was grateful for his offer and accepted his help. They chatted amiably while the man changed the flat, and then put the flat tire and the jack in the trunk, shut it and dusted his hands off.

    The woman thanked him profusely, and as she was about to get in her car, the man told her that he left his car around on the other side of the mall, and asked if she would mind giving him a lift to his car.

    She was a little surprised and she asked him why his car was on the other side.

    He explained that he had seen an old friend in the mall that he hadn’t seen for some time and they had a bite to eat, visited for a while, and he got turned around in the mall and left through the wrong exit, and now he was running late.

    The woman hated to tell him ‘no’ because he had just rescued her from having to change her flat tire all by herself, but she felt un easy! (Trust that gut feeling!)

    Then she remembered seeing the man put his briefcase in her trunk before shutting it and before he asked her for a ride to his car. She told him that she’d be happy to drive him around to his car, But she just remembered one last thing she needed to buy (Smart woman!!)

    She said she would only be a few minutes; he could sit down in her car and wait for her; she would be as quick as she could. She hurried into the mall, and told a security guard what had happened, the guard came out to her car with her, but the man had left. They opened the trunk, took out his locked briefcase and took it down to the police station.

    The police opened it (ostensibly to look for ID so they could return it to the man). What they found was rope, duct tape, and knives. When the police checked her ‘flat’ tire, there was nothing wrong with it; the air had simply been let out. It was obvious what the man’s intention was, and obvious that he had carefully thought it out in advance. The woman was blessed to have escaped harm.

    How much worse it would have been if she had children with her and had them wait in the car while the man fixed the tire, or if she had a baby strapped into a car seat? Or if she’d gone against her judgment and given him a lift?

    I’d like you to forward this to all the women you know. It may save a life.

    A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle. I was going to send this to the ladies only; but guys, if you love your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, etc., you may want to pass it on to them, as well.

    Send this to any woman you know that may need to be reminded that the world we live in has a lot of crazies in it. Better to be safe than sorry.


    1. When has this ever happened? I MEAN REALLY.
    2. “Seems like every nice thing people do for one another can be perverted.” Enough said.
    3. Here’s what I would have done if I’d ever been in this situation. I’m in a crowded parking lot in the middle of the day and I discover I have a flat. Honestly, I’d call AAA anyway because I don’t know how to change a flat. But if I COULD, and a nicely dressed guy offered to stop and help, I would take him up on his offer! I’d obviously be WATCHING and if he locked his briefcase in my trunk (how would he even have done that without the keys?) I would know something was odd. Finally, if I REALLY felt that paranoid, I would tell the guy that I was sorry and really appreciated his help, but I don’t give strange men a ride in the car and I would give him some money as a thank you. Or, for the love of god, you’re in a MALL PARKING LOT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY.


  23. I’ve given little bits of help many times over my life (often to women, as it turns out), and I’m 99% sure I’ve never raped or killed anyone.

    I guess I need to pay more attention to what I’m doing!


  24. I would add, today’s kids don’t seem to like to receive coins — see my blog — — so a boy in 2010 might look less enthusiastic about receiving spare change. He might even throw them into the garbage can! Sigh. The good ole days weren’t so very long ago! We CAN get them back if we unplug our kids and let them play outside!

    Lessons From Teachers and Twits

  25. Depending on the distance to Circuit City, I would have drove my kid or let him walk (like I said depending on the distance in all fairness), but I would have told my kid (at about the kids age) tell him ok you do the math and you can walk in by yourself to the customer service desk and say, “hey can you match the lower price? If you do need me then call me on the cell phone.”

  26. I remember that commercial. I was sad to see Circuit city go.

    At any rate, looking at all that stuff is making me feel old, and I’m 33. I used to stroll through stores on my own so long as I never left the store when my mo took me shopping at the mall. We lived out in the sticks and some of our neighbors were miles away so we walked or rode our bikes on the road or went into the nearby woods alone.

    My ex-fiancee’s son doesn’t even play in the yard alone today.

  27. That story is the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard. How did the guy know that the car didn’t belong to some guy who could pound him to a pulp? Because he watched the woman into the mall, having no clue how long she’d be? Then he had to let the air out of her tires without being seen, in a mall parking lot, and then somehow hang around without raising any suspicion so he could be standing by her car when she came out, 15 minutes to four hours later?

    Yeah, right. Newsflash, people, serial killers who keep weapons and duct tape handy for more or less random victims do not set up complex (and almost impossible to pull off) scenarios like this — they are looking for crimes of opportunity. The kind of person who makes up stories like this and spreads them via e-mail is far more of a genuine menace to society than imaginary men who spend hours hanging out at malls pretending to be good Samaritans.

  28. You know, this is one of the things I like about FRK. My instincts are not all that Free Range, though I’m trying to shift my conscious choices in that direction.

    So, I almost certainly “wouldn’t have” encouraged on of my kids to handle something like this on his own. But every time I see a story or an example like this here, it becomes more likely that in the future, I “will.”

  29. Let it be said that very few big box stores or shopping plazas are pedestrian-friendly.

  30. Meg,

    Thanks for raising my blood pressure with that stupid chain e-mail. 🙂 I hate those things. I’m sure my Mother in Law will forward that to me any day now. I’ve gotten everyone else to stop sending me those things, by replying to all with a complete debunking, but my MiL just won’t get the hint. Then again she also thinks Obama is the Antichrist (seriously) so I’m not sure I have much chance getting through to her about anything.

  31. My son is only 1½, so assuming this kid was 13 or so at the time, that would mean I would be in this situation some 11 years from now. This would be a LONG time from when this commercial was done.

    But, if it could be done when this commercial was made, it could be done now, and I have no doubt it could be done 11 years from now too.

    As such, that’s how I intend to raise them, society’s attitudes be damned. I don’t care. I’m the parent, not them. The day they CREATE him and pay for his daycare, etc, THEN and ONLY then can be tell me how he will be parented.


  32. #4. The boy read a newspaper. 🙂

    So funny seeing this commercial again, brings back so many fond memories.

  33. There is a shop in my office, right across from where I work. Today, a mother came in for a few things. She must have forgotten something, because a few minutes after she left her preschooler wandered back in with money and a note for the sales clerk explaining the forgotten item. She was busy putting her baby in the car just in front of the main doors. Too busy to watch a capable child make a business transaction twenty feet away in a non-profit office building.

    Even though the transaction went smoothly from what I saw, I was still terrified because an hour earlier I saw a man give another kid a quarter for the candy machine and we all know what that leads to. Only perverts carry change. We also have a director who encourages kids to go into his office for old promotional items like hats and pens.

  34. Meg,
    I also reply to insane FWD’s with debunking?, I cant tell you how many times I sent links to Snopes! I never get a reply, but I still do it.

  35. I’ve been told I’m a “rebel” for allowing my kids to do this sort of thing (just as you were Lenore!). But on the other hand I’m told “how grown up they are” when people can actually have a conversation with my children because they have learned how to interact with adults. I’d have it no other way!

  36. I remember this commercial vividly. I think it is great.

    The things I like about this are those that are implied. Mainly, it appears that the kid had saved his own money to purchase the walkman, and then was still following up afterward and saw that it was cheaper somewhere else.

    This lesson in being a savvy consumer is another thing that I’m trying to pass on to my kids. My daughter really wanted a Nintendo DS. (A big purchase for a 7 year old)

    She saved allowance, birthday money, easter card money, did special chores and extra yard work for nearly 6 months to save up enough to buy one. At one point, I gave her a matching incentive to help her choose to save money rather than spend it on another Polly Pocket – 6 months is a LONG time for a 7 year old.

    When she finally had enough money, I took her to Toys R Us. She handled the transaction herself when it came time to purchase. They had a special bundle and she got to choose the color of the DS, the carrying case she wanted and 3 games from a list of about 10 different choices. She was so proud of herself – especially when she pulled the old Mickey Mouse watch tin out of her bag, that she had her money in – a few $20s, several $10s, some $5s and a LOT of $1s – and the last 5 dollars or so in change (nickels, dimes and quarters – I did make sure to take the pennies out and replace them with silver).

    I made sure that we went at a time the store was not busy so we weren’t holding up other people in line, and the clerk was very understanding and encouraging of my daughter… she counted out the money and paid for her purchase. I was a bit nervous about letting her spend so much money on one “toy” at age 7, but she’s been really good about caring for it – nearly a year later, she’s still playing with it and it is in fine shape. She’s proud of herself at least as much as I’m proud of her.

    As for exchange transactions like this, we haven’t had nearly as much opportunity for that. The closest thing is, that from a very young age, both of my girls are allowed and encouraged by me to go back the counter at a fast food place to ask for a different toy with their kids meal if they don’t like the one that they got… sometimes they come back happy, sometimes not, but they always know that they tried and got the best possible choice of what was available and they get a little more confidence in themselves that they didn’t need mommy or daddy to take care of it for them.

  37. Actually, the 90’s were actually MORE dangerous than today… but yet, even then, parents weren’t all freaky about “danger”. I mean, crime peaked in the mid-nineties and has been dropping considerably since then. I think that now since we have online newspapers and news on TV as well, in addition to regular newspapers, people seem to get tricked into thinking that the world is so dangerous. Love the ad, though. I just wish that everybody would see things that way…

  38. I agree with you on many things however I knew someone in college who was murdered by the good Samaritan who stopped to help her when her car broke down on the side of the highway. I don’t think we need to be overprotective of our children, but I Do think we need to teach them to be safe and use common sense. We dont need to think they will come to harm with every thing they do, but we also can’t go completely the opposite. I don’t like to be judged either way. Let me use my own best judgment, and take it situation by situation. Love the site, not trying to be critical. Just thought of this when I read about that chain letter.

  39. Man, I remember that walkman, the yellow Sony one. It was dope, i had one once, and i used to listen to it all the time while I walked home from school. I could have used the bus system, i just liked to walk. Never once was i molested, attacked, abducted, sold drugs, forced into child slavery or infected with wild germs. There was some damage, however. Those walkman had intense volume, and too much Metallica in my ears for too many years had led to some tinnitus that just isn’t going anywhere – can I sue retroactively?

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