Kids and Kommercialism

Okay – I love that song. It’s catchy, and witty.  And I can totally relate – I loved eating a huge bowl (or two, or three) of cereal while watching cartoons on Saturday morning.  My favorite breakfast cereal, Life (Mikey likes it), doesn’t appear to be in their list, and the TV shows seem to be those of someone a bit younger than me (though a couple of my faves, like “Fat Albert,” are still there), but, you know – great song.

I was thinking about it when I read a review of

Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture

According to author Juliet B. Schor, (the review states) the average 10-year-old has memorized about 400 brands, the average kindergartner can identify some 300 logos and from as early as age two kids are ‘bonded to brands.’

Kindergartners can identify 300 logos? I was appalled but at the same time not at all surprised by that figure.  We live in such a media saturated, commercialized world, constantly bombarded by images, slogans, logos…  But what Schor focuses on is not the generalized mass mediated world, but the specific world of marketing to children, and what she documents in Born to Buy exceeds even my gloom-and-doomy expectations:

Ads aimed at kids are virtually everywhere — in classrooms and textbooks, on the Internet, even at slumber parties and the playground. Product placement and other innovations have introduced more subtle advertising to movies and television. Companies are enlisting children as guerrilla marketers, targeting their friends and families. Even trusted social institutions such as the Girl Scouts are teaming up with marketers. Drawing on her own survey research and unprecedented access to the advertising industry, New York Times bestselling author and leading cultural and economic authority Juliet Schor examines how a marketing effort of vast size, scope, and effectiveness has created “commercialized children.” [from the publisher comments]

Around the same time this book was published, a Task Force of the APA (American Psychological Association) announced the results of its four year long study:

Television Advertising Leads to Unhealthy Habits in Children

Particularly disturbing was the task force’s finding that “children under the age of eight are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased,” and the task force called for restrictions on ads aimed at young kids. [The press release on the task force’s findings contains links to the complete report and also a summary of findings.]

When I’m hanging out with other parents (I have a twelve year old boy), one of the big topics of conversation, particularly with parents of younger kids, is about media access. How much, if any, TV should they watch, and in what context? What about playing computer or video games, or spending time online? We can limit our kids’ mass media and commercial exposure. My stepson didn’t watch much, if any, unsupervised TV for most of his life, and even watching with us it was pretty much limited to public television, movies and the odd TV show on DVD. So no commercials, which we all appreciated. And that kind of approach, severely restricting commercial TV exposure, seems to me pretty common these days, at least amongst the middle class intelligentsia with whom I tend to roll.

(A moment of silence for the loss of that Saturday morning cartoon + sugary cereal experience celebrated in the song. Okay – moment’s over. Our kids will have to make do with different childhood memories to be nostalgic about when they’re 40.)

But what Born to Buy highlights is the fact that this strategy of limiting commercial media exposure isn’t going to do all that much to limit our kids exposure to commercial culture – they’ll get it “in classrooms and textbooks… at slumber parties and the playground.”  The limiting of TV exposure may be a particularly important step to take, for example in light of the APA’s findings about kids’ inability to “critically comprehend” TV ads, but we need to think about how to go further.

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One response to “Kids and Kommercialism

  1. Pingback: Kids and Kommercialism – The Boob Tube, pt 1 « the bad days will end

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