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More on Consuming Kids

I wrote a while ago about the Nag Factor chapter from Consuming Kids, after my mom watched the documentary The Corporation and passed along some choice, yet disturbing, factoids.

I wanted to take you back to the very beginning of Consuming Kids: as I’ve said before, it’s the book that I consider to be the Red Pill Bible, and one of the catalysts for starting this whole RPP enterprise in the first place.

From the underline-worthy opening sentence of the second paragraph of the introduction (italics mine) …

“With a single-minded competitiveness reminiscent of the California gold rush, corporations are racing to stake their claim on the consumer group formerly known as children.”

… to the simple sentence that says it all …

“Every aspect of children’s lives — their physical and mental health, their education, their creativity, and their values — is negatively affected by their involuntary status as consumers in the marketplace.”

… author Susan Linn continues to drain the ink in my bedside pen thusly:

* Marketers spend $15 billion annually marketing to children — 2.5 times more than what they spent in 1992 (this book was published in 2004).

“Even while I, like all American parents, am held responsible for the behavior of my child and for safeguarding her future, corporations bombard her with messages that undermine my efforts.”

* Children influence more than $600 billion a year in spending — a fact “not lost” on corporate America — which spends lavishly in order to create “cradle to grave” brand loyalty (and they do start in the cradle).

* Why children are more vulnerable to marketing, and why marketing directly to children is so insidious:

“Preschool children, for instance, have trouble differentiating between commercials and regular programming on television.  Slightly older children can make the distinction, but they are concrete thinkers, tending to believe what they see … Until the age of about eight, children can’t really understand the concept of persuasive intent — that every aspect of an ad is selected to make a product appealing and to convince people to buy it.”

“Yet to focus only on products is to underestimate the magnitude of the problem.  Of equal concern are the sheer volume of advertising to which children are exposed, the values embedded in the marketing messages, and the behaviors those messages inspire.”

Values and behaviors indeed.  Anybody here trying to raise a little Kardashian?  Not me.

* The average child sees about 40,000 commercials on television a year (and that’s just television, which doesn’t include movies, magazines, the Internet, billboards, other kids’ clothing, etc.).

Some jaw-dropping numbers: two thirds of children age 8 to 18 have TVs in their bedrooms, 32 percent of 2- to 7-year-olds do, and 26 percent of children under two do.  (In fact, the new mother I shared a hospital room with after the birth of my son, actually turned on the TV for her newborn.  In the middle of the night, of course.)  Linn points out that children of any age often watch TV by themselves, where “no adult is present to help them process marketing messages.”

“Electronic media continues to proliferate while, as a nation, our willingness to embrace technology constantly outpaces our understanding of its cultural, social and ethical implications.”

When did things change?  The Reagan administration deregulated advertising on children’s television in 1984, allowing programs to be created for the purpose of selling children toys.  “Within a year of deregulation, all ten of the bestselling toys were linked to media programs.”  It worked like a charm! (I wish I could find this list; all I can find is casual references to Star Wars, Optimus Prime and Teddy Ruxpin.)

Then in 1995, congressional Republicans passed a “near-fatal” funding attack on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is why PBS programs now have McDonald’s commercials.  Other than perhaps the quality of the programming, public television is not much different than commercial TV.

A psychologist colleague of the author says this:

“Ten years ago, when I asked kids how they saw their future, they talked about what kinds of professions they wanted to have … now, I find myself listening to a litany of things they want to own.”

* Ninety percent of parents currently believe that marketing in media contributes to their children becoming too materialistic.  (Huh.)

“Marketing … aims to affect core values such as lifestyle choices: how we define happiness and how we measure our self-worth.  Meanwhile, the very traits that today’s marketing encourages — materialism, impulsivity, entitlement and unexamined brand loyalty — are antithetical to those qualities necessary in a healthy democratic citizenry.  Instead of being a mainstay of American life, intensive advertising to children may be eroding it’s foundation.”

To this I say: “Oh, do we have a healthy democratic citizenry?  No, we certainly do not.”

“Children are multifaceted beings whose physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual development are all threatened when their value as consumers trumps their value as people.”

And that’s my last furious underline from the introduction.  RPPs, please, read the book, turn off the TV, talk to your kids about what advertising is, throw away all the branded stuff that YOU paid for (when those companies should have paid YOU to advertise for THEM) and watch your materialism, your entitlement, your consumerism.  It’s hard, but it’s the best fight you’ll ever fight.

So, dear readers: on to the next chapter, or should I just let you all read the book?  Tell me “More!” or “Enough!” — I’ll let you decide.  My stack of other clippings, books, topics, and notes is, literally (wait, I’ll go measure it right now) eight inches high.

– Red Pill Mama

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

kristiporski June 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm

The other day at Target , my daughter pointed out to me that they now sell a size “3T” bra. It’s been my observation that the same parents who would give in and buy something like this are the same ones giving in and buying all these toys and consumer items, be it for toddlers or teens, the approach never seems to change much in such families . They are also the ones who never turn off the tv. Honest, it really won’t hurt your children’s self esteem to not give in to their demands for tv and techno time, nor are they really “learning” anything watching Dora if they end up having to run to the store to buy the doll. For heaven’s sake..at the end of the day, no market = no sales= the offensive ads disappear. Supply and demand. Come on Moms and Dads, lets not start laying blame or calling for more regulations for those of us who are brave enough to stand up to our kids in order to accommodate those who are too weak to do the same…instead just say NO! when little Johnny wants the latest gadget. Why do we continually blame marketers and legislators when it really goes back to the personal responsibility issue. When did we get so weak that we were simply not able to say “NO, you may NOT have the Dora doll, you don’t need it?” How about giving an allowance and never agreeing to “add” money on beyond what they’ve earned to make that next purchase.. consumers become savers when they realize the energy involved in budgeting for that toy. Most often by the time mine have saved up enough to buy it they’ve lost interest in that particular item. Over time have learned that it’s nicer to have a piggy bank stuffed to the brim with money than a pile of plastic junk and a few pennies like their friends. It’s also a lesson to parents in how to parent .. it’s never easy to say no but it sure makes for some stimulating talks with your little ones about the value of money and motives behind marketing. You can’t legislate morality or common sense.. you have to teach it.

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